The Alkestis of Euripides


THE third episode begins with the sudden and unexpected appearance of Heracles. He is not even descried and announced by the chorus previous to his entrance ; but the traditional club and lion-skin are without doubt a sufficient introduction to the audience.

He has been sent by his tyrannical master to Thrace for steeds, but that the Thracian king is a son of the war-god Ares, and that his mares are fed on human flesh, he now first learns from the Pheraian elders. A sigh of repining for his hard earthly destiny escapes him: —

Heracles. The task you tell of well befits my lot,

— That evermore is grim and arduous, —

. . . But never man shall see Alcmene’s son Cowering in dread before his foeman’s hand.

Chorus. And lo, here is the ruler of our land, Admetos, coming from his palace forth.

Admetos. Hail to thee, son of Zeus, from Perseus’ race !

Her. Admetos, hail, the king of Thessaly!

Adm. Thou wishest well to me. I would ’t were so.

Her. Wherefore in mourning guise dost thou appear ?

Adm. I celebrate to-day a funeral.

Her. Ill from thy offspring may the gods avert!

This line is of course really an anxious question, and the reader will perceive in the form of speech that natural dread, common to ancient and modern men, to utter a word which may be felt as an omen of evil.

Adm. My children yet are living in my halls.

Her. Thy sire, if he be gone, dies not untimely.

The greater bluntness of this speech does not affect the truth of our remark upon the last line uttered by Heracles, but on the contrary is a striking illustration of the ancient feeling, of which we must say more presently, that, for the old and feeble, death must be considered a blessed release from unbearable wretchedness.

Adm. He and my mother live, O Heracles.

Her. ’ T is not thy wife Alkestis who is dead ?

With the certainty that Heracles does not know of the queen’s death, there now comes into Admetos’ mind the feeling that it is his duty as a hospitable prince to conceal his loss. With only a moment’s hesitation he answers :

Adm. The tale is twofold I may tell of her !

Her. Is she of whom we speak alive or dead ?

Adm. She lives, and lives no more ; and grief is mine.

Her. I am no wiser, so obscure thy words.

Adm. Dost thou not know the fate allotted her ?

Her. I know that she consents to die for thee.

Adm. Is she then living, having promised this ?

Her. Mourn her not yet. Await the appointed time.

Adm. He is dead who would be so. The dead are not.

Her. To be, and be not, are accounted twain.

Adm. This is thy judgment, and the other mine.

Her. — Why art thou sorrowing, then ? What friend is dead ?

Adm. A woman. ’T was of her I spoke but now.

Her. A stranger, or of kindred blood with thee ?

Adm. A stranger, but connected with my house.

Her. Why did she end her days within your home ?

Adm. Her sire was dead. She dwelt an orphan here.

For many reasons this dialogue pleased an Athenian audience better than we might at first suppose. Heracles was far from being the ideal hero of the Ionian race, and they were always eager to see him depicted as dull-witted as he was stout of limb. Hospitality was claimed as an especially Hellenic virtue, for which even veracity might very properly be sacrificed ; though indeed the king, unless in his first word, “ She lives,” which is immediately reversed, avoids a direct untruth. His skillful evasions would be eagerly followed, and the double meaning of some of his lines probably tickled the ears of more than the groundlings. Nevertheless we frankly confess to liking Euripides least where his dialogue has the most of that subtlety and perverse ingenuity which remind us, and reminded his ancient hearers no less, of a lawyer’s examination of a slippery witness.

In concealing his bereavement Admetos himself knows that he is exposing himself to general condemnation; and for the scene as a whole we shall perhaps be compelled to offer the final and rather desperate excuse that it is necessary to the chief events of the rest of the drama. Heracles must remain, and he must at first be ignorant of Alkestis’ death.

The hero finally yields to the persistence of Admetos, and is escorted by a servant into the inner apartments of the palace. The king is reproached by the chorus for concealing his grief, and replies : —

He never would have passed into my house,
If he had known at all of these my woes ;
And I shall seem to him not wise in this,
Nor will he praise me ; but my palace can
Nor turn away, nor fail to honor, guests.

With these words Admetos reenters his home, to complete the arrangements for carrying his wife forth to burial.

The third Stasimon celebrates the princely hospitality of Admetos, which has made even the divine exile Apollo content to dwell with him. The unmistakable tone of vague hopefulness at the close is no doubt partly inspired by the opportune arrival of Heracles, the queller of monsters and friend of suffering man.


Hail, O princely home, to strangers free and open ever!
Here the Pythian lord of song, Apollo,
Deigned to make his dwelling, —
Deigned to tarry in thy domain
As a shepherd, piping
Melodies hymeneal
Along thy winding valleys,
Where the flocks were grazing.
With them, loving well thy music, roamed the spotted lynxes,
While the tawny herds of lions, leaving
Othrys’ dales, approached thee,
Danced, Apollo, about thy lyre.
From the lofty-crested<br/> Forest came with nimble feet
The mottled fawn, rejoicing
In thy gladsome singing.
Therefore rich in flocks unnumbered
Is his home beside the Boebian lake,
Gently flowing; and the bounds of his domain,
Pasture-land and planted fields, afar in the Molossian clime,
By the dusky stables of the sun are set.
He is lord of the Ægean wave,
Even to the cape of Pelion harborless.
Now he opens wide his portal
Welcoming with tearful eyes his guest,
Though he mourns his loving wife, who even now
Ceased to breathe. A lofty breeding renders men so reverent,
Nor is any noble action all unwise.
In my soul the cheering trust remains,
Not unblest his lot shall be who fears the gods.

The long and varied fourth episode begins with a scene which is repugnant to most modern readers. The funeral train is just issuing from the palace, and starting for the tomb outside the city gates, but is delayed by the entrance of Admetos’ father, Pheres. The latter has apparently abdicated in his son’s favor, on account of age, like Laertes, Odysseus’ father, in the Odyssey. Pheres comes attended by servants, who bear a costly robe. This he bids them lay upon the bier, to be buried with Alkestis. He makes a dignified speech of sympathy for the living and praise for the dead, but is rudely rebuffed by his son in a long harangue, the tone of which is sufficiently shown by a few of the opening lines : —

Admetos. Not bidden of me thou comest to this tomb,
Nor do I count thy presence dear to me.
And in thy robe she never shall be clad;
Not needing aught of thine is she interred.
Thou shouldst have shared my pain when death was near;
And having stood aloof, though old, and left
The young to die, wilt thou lament my dead ?

He closes his speech with an often-quoted taunt:—

’T is folly in the old to pray for death,
Lamenting their old age and length of years.
As soon as death is near, not one desires
To die, and age is burdensome no more.

Again we see the general feeling about age which is taken for granted here.

The old man’s reply is well worth hearing in full, for we shall enjoy listening to so vigorous an expression of our own feeling toward Admetos.

Pheres. Whom dar’st thou, boy, so bitterly assail, —
A Lydian slave, or Phrygian bought with gold ?
Dost thou not know I am Thessalian-born,
Of a Thessalian father noble and free ?
Great is thy insolence. Rash words at me
Thou hurlest. Not unanswered shalt, thou go.
I did beget and rear thee lord of this
My house, but am not bound to die for thee.
No law, ancestral or Hellenic, bids
The fathers die to save their children’s lives.
Thy lot, or sweet or bitter, is thine own ;
And what thou shouldst receive from me thou hast.
Many obey thee ; wide-extended lands
I leave thee, for I had them from my sire.
Wherein, then, have I wronged, of what deprived thee ?
Die not in my behalf, nor I for thee.
Dost thou rejoice to see the light, and deemest
Thy father does not ? Long, methinks, the time
We spend below, but life is brief, yet sweet.
Thou shamelessly hast striven not to die,
And livest by evading destiny,
[pointing to the queen.
Destroying her ; and dost thou cast at me
My cowardice, — thou, baser than thy wife,
Who perished in thy stead, my gallant youth ?
Shrewd is thy plan, nor need’st thou ever die,
If thou canst still persuade a wife for thee
To perish ! But wilt thou, so base thyself,
At kinsmen rail who do not this for thee ?
Be still! And deem that life, if dear to thee,
Is dear to all ; and if thou speakest ill
Of me, thou too shalt hear much bitter truth.

Certainly we are all in hearty accord with nearly every word of this. And yet, it is probable that little, if any, of the sympathy of the Athenian audience was won by the old man’s plea. The prevailing feeling of the time, as mirrored in the literature of Athens, was that old age was an insufferable burden, which a man of any spirit should be only too glad to lay down, especially when offered so honorable an opportunity as had been presented to Pheres.1

His aggressive defense must have fallen upon the ears of the Athenians as an amusing and ingenious piece of sophistry. Admetos does not feel that it demands any extended reply. He merely rejoins, —

Speak, I have said my say : but if thou’rt pained
To hear the truth, thou shouldst not do me wrong.

Moreover, in the rather undignified single-verse fencing to which the two heroes now resort, the father is quickly driven to utter the line, —

My good repute concerns me not, when dead,

a sentiment so utterly abhorrent to the Greek feeling that it clearly shows where the poet’s own sympathies lie.

Pheres departs after calling Admetos the murderer of his wife, and being almost cursed in return by his son. The latter now resumes his place as chief mourner. Followed by the retinue from the palace, and also by the chorus from the orchestra, Alkestis is carried slowly off the stage toward the tomb.

Alas ! alas ! Thou daring of deed,
Thou bravest and noblest of women by far,
Farewell! And kindly may Hermes below,
And Hades, receive thee : and if even there
There is honor for merit, receiving thy due,
At Persephone’s side be thy station !

As these choral anapaests die away in the distance, the servant who was especially charged with the entertainment of Heracles comes forth from the palace. He apparently knows nothing of the heroic character of his guest, and the chorus is no longer present to enlighten him. He is bitterly enraged that he must witness a carouse in the house of mourning, while his fellows are following to her grave their gracious and beloved lady. While he is yet speaking, Heracles himself appears, flushed with wine, crowned with a garland, and grasping in his hand a cup wreathed about with ivy-leaves. (As no motive is assigned for their coming out into the open air at this time, it is possible that for this part of the episode the scenes opened, and disclosed an inner apartment of the palace, where Heracles sat at table.)

The reader must have noticed already that there are elements in this play much lighter and less dignified than are found in the older Athenian tragedy. It is well known that in the quartette of dramas brought out together by the poet the Alkestis was performed last, and this position was usually occupied by a “ satyr-drama,” or farcical afterpiece. This may account for a certain playfulness and lightness of touch, and perhaps for the happy close of the play; but we are unable to see anything really comic in the drama. Least of all do we find anything amusing in this episode, although Heracles is undoubtedly somewhat affected by wine. The scene must have greatly heightened the painful effect just produced by the death and funeral of Alkestis, and is no more out of place than the grave-diggers’ scene in Hamlet.

But we are detaining Heracles, who is impatient to speak, though he has very little to say.

Heracles. Fellow, why dost thou look so grim and sad ?
A servant should not sullen be to guests,
But entertain them with a cheerful heart.
But thou, who seest here thy master’s friend,
With knitted brows, sad-faced, receivest him,
Giving thy thoughts to mourning for an alien.
Come hither, that thou mayest wiser grow.
Dost know the nature of our mortal state ?
Nay, surely ; for how shouldst thou ? but shalt learn.
It is the fate of all mankind to die;
Nor is there one of mortals who is sure
That on the morrow he will he alive.
We know not how our destiny will turn:
That is not to be taught, nor learned by art.
Now having heard and learnt this truth of me,
Rejoice thee, drink, and count the passing day
Thine own ; but all the rest belongs to chance.
. . . Leave thy excessive grief,
And come beyond the gate, and drink with me,
Covered with garlands ; and I know the splash
Of wine into the cup will drive from thee
Thy present gloom and sulkiness of soul.
The thoughts of mortals should be mortal too ;
For to these gloomy men with knitted brows,
Ay, all of them, if I may be the judge,
Life is not life, but a calamity.

Of course, when Heracles addresses such words to the servant of his host, he is very much under the influence of wine; but the curt and gloomy reply of the attendant —

All this we know; but that which now we do
Is suited not to joy, and fits not mirth —

recalls all the hero’s thoughts to the mourning within the house; and from the replies drawn out by his questions he presently discovers the true state of tilings. By this shock he is completely sobered, and is horrified at what he has done, as well as grieved by the deception practiced upon him.

Heracles. Why, I did see thine eyes all wet with tears,
Thy shaven hair, thy looks; but I believed
He bore a stranger’s body to the grave.
And in my insolence of heart I passed
The gates, and feasted in my guest-friend’s house,
In all his misery. Then I made me merry,
With wreathed head. ’T was wrong to hold thy peace,
When such calamity befell your house.
— And where is she interred ? Where may I find her ?
Man-servant. By the straight road that to _ Larissa runs
Thou ’It find the polished tomb, outside the town.
Her. Now, O my much-enduring heart and hand,
Show what a child Tirynthian Alcmene,
Alcetryon’s daughter, bore to Zeus in thee.
For I must rescue her who died but now,
And must restore to this her home again
The lady Alkestis, for Admetos’ sake.
I go to watch for Death, the black-robed lord
Of ghosts; and I shall find him, as I think,
Drinking the blood of victims by the tomb.
And if I dart from out my lurking-place,
And seize him, and about him throw my arms,
His aching frame for him shall no one free,
Until he yield, and let the lady go.
But if this hunt shall fail, and he come not
To seek the bloody offering, then I go
To Kore’s sunless dwelling, and her lord’s,
To find her ; and I hope to lead her up
And place her in the arms of this my host,
Who entertained me and repulsed me not,
— Though smitten by a great calamity, —
But through regard for me concealed his grief.
Who is more kind to guests in Thessaly ?
Who in all Hellas ? — and he shall not say
His noble courtesy has found me base.

With these words Heracles rushes from the stage.

At the same moment Admetos appears, returning from the grave. As he slowly approaches the palace, the Kommós, a lament for the queen, of mingled recitative and lyrical verses, is carried on by the king and the chorus in alternation. Some portions have a very operatic tone; for example, the following passage, which was undoubtedly sung. It is an antistrophe ; that is, a passage with precisely the same metrical form, and evidently set to the same music, had occurred shortly before, the exclamations of the king being exactly the same there as here.

Chorus. A grief, a grief befalls that may not be withstood! Admetos. Alas! Cho. No limit dost thou set unto thy sorrowing ! Adm. Ah me ! Cho. The blow is hard to bear, and yet — Adra. Woe is me ! Cho. Endure ! Thou ‘rt not the first to mourn — Adm. Woe! Woe ! Cho. A wife: but sorrow comes, in ever-varied form, Yet comes to all mankind.

The most striking passage of recitative is this soliloquy of Admetos at his own gates : —

O familiar shape of my palace-home,
How can I endure to enter and dwell
In conditions so changed ? How altered is all!
For then by the torches of Pelian pine
And hymeneal songs I entered in,
And my loving wife I led by the hand.
Then rose the resounding festal song,
In praise of my queen — who is dead ! — and of me:
How we were wedded, of high descent,
Of illustrious lineage through mother and sire.
— But now there is wailing for nuptial hymns,
For the garments of white there are robes of black,
And they bid me go in
To a home bereft and lonely.

After the Kommós ends, the long and extremely varied fourth episode is finally closed with a sad speech of Admetos. He is still thinking chiefly of himself, of course, but has at least come to realize more fully how unheroic a figure he has become in the eyes of other men.

Admetos. O friends, my wife has now a happier lot,
Methinks, than I, although it seem not so ;
For sorrow never shall approach her more ;
She is gloriously freed from many ills.
But I, who should have died, evading fate,
Shall spend, I feel it now, a wretched life.
. . . The solitude within-doors drives me forth,
When I behold my lonely marriage-bed,
The chairs whereon she sate, the untrodden floor;
And when our children, clinging to my knees,
Lament their mother, and the household mourns
The mistress who has perished from the home.
. . . And every enemy, hearing this, will say,
“ See him who lives disgraced, who dared not die,
But barters, like a coward, her he wed,
To avoid his doom ! He claims to be a man ?
And hates his parents, though he would not die
Himself ? ” Such evil name have I to bear,
Besides my grief.

Dreading to enter his desolated home, the king remains upon the stage, while the chorus sing their last Stasimon. They celebrate in the striking verses of the first pair of strophes the terrible might of Necessity. The third stanza counsels patient submission ; the last declares that Alkestis will be adored henceforth as a benignant divinity.


High aloft have I been lifted
On the poet’s wings of song,
Many sages’ words have pondered.
Nothing have I seen or known
Mightier than Necessity.
Neither in the Thracian tablets
From the Orphic voice recorded,
Nor in all the drugs that Phoibos to Asclepioschildren gave,
Is a charm to break her power for the troubled sons of men.
She alone has neither altars
Nor an image to adore.
Offerings she regardeth never.
— Come not, Goddess, in my life,
Sterner than now thou art, to me.
For whatever Zeus decreeth
Is fulfilled with thy assistance.
Even the Chalybean iron thou subduest in thy might,
And thy unrelenting spirit never knew regret or shame.
Thee, too, O king, in her hands irresistible holdeth the goddess to-day.
Yet be thou patient. Thou never shalt raise by thy tears to the light of the sun
The vanished below. Even children of gods
Must fade to the gloom of death.
Dear when she dwelt among us on earth,
And dear is she now, although dead;
Of all womankind the most valiant
Was she who has shared in thy home.
Not a mere mound for the lost and departed the tomb of thy wife shall be called ;
Let her be honored no less than the gods, by the wandering pilgrim adored.
Whoever shall enter the foot-path that runs
By the side of her grave shall say,
She for her husband perished of old,
And now is a spirit divine ;
Hail, lady! we pray for thy blessing!
Such words shall they utter to her.

(With these last lines the English reader may be glad to compare the treatment of a very similar subject in Collins’s dirge for Imogen, in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, beginning,To fair Fidele’s grassy tomb.”)

The Exodos, or final scene, begins with the reentrance of Heracles, leading with him a veiled lady. He chides Admetos gently for the deception practiced upon him, and then begs his friend to receive and take charge of this maiden, — whom he has won, he says, in a wrestling-match, — until he himself returns from Thrace. To this Admetos demurs : first, because any woman would be to him a reminder of his loss; and then, because both her fair fame and his own must suffer if she should enter his palace at such a moment. Meantime he steals a glance at the veiled and silent figure, and cries out in a tumult of emotion which he himself cannot fully comprehend : —

— And thou, O woman, whosoe’er thou art,
Know that thou hast the very stature of
Alkestis, and a figure even as hers!
By heaven! I pray thee take her from my sight,
Nor smite the fallen: for I seem to see
In her my wife ; and all my heart is dark,
And from my eyes the fountains pour. Ah me!
I know at last the taste of bitterest grief !

It must be supposed that Heracles is in all kindliness prolonging this scene, because he is somewhat anxious as to the effect upon his friend’s mind of the tremendous revulsion from grief to joy. Listen especially to his suggestive and almost wistful words a moment later: —

Heracles. I would I had such power that I might bring
Again to daylight from the abode below
Thy wife, and win for thee so great a boon!

The group upon the stage is one the artist might well wish to detain a moment longer without change : the hero returned triumphant from the most wondrous of all his tasks, the bowed and black-robed king, and between them the silent, tremulous lady, her eyes gleaming with tears through the enshrouding veil.

After a few more lines in regard to the king’s bereavement, Heracles again insists: —

Heracles. And now, receive this woman in thy home. Admetos. Nay, I beseech thee, by thy father Zeus! Her. And yet thou ’rt wrong to leave this act undone. Adm. But if ’twere done my heart were gnawed with grief. Her. Grant me the boon. Perchance’t were not ill-timed. Adm. Alas ! I would thou hadst not won her in the strife ! Her. And yet thou sharest in my victory.

Admetos thinks this merely an allusion to the proverbial “ Friends’ good is common good” (τὰ ϕίλων κοινά).

Admetos. ’T is nobly said. But yet, let her depart. Heracles. If it must be: yet first pray look on her. Adm. I must, if thou wilt not be wroth with me. Her. Not without reason do I hold this wish Adm. Have then thy will, though nowise sweet to me. Her. Erelong thou ’It praise me. Prithee do my will. Adm. (to attendants). Conduct her, since our palace shall receive her. Her. Nay, not to servants will I give her up. Adm. Do thou thyself, an’t please thee, lead her in.

Her. To thine own hands do I confide her, then

Adm. I touch her not, but she may enter in.

Her. In thy right hand alone I put my trust.

Adm. I am forced against my will to do this, prince.

Her. Consent to extend thy hand, and touch thy guest.

Adm. I extend it, but as to the Gorgon’s head!

Her. Thou liold’st her?

Adm. Ay.

Her. Heaven bless thee ! Thou wilt call Full soon the son of Zeus a noble guest! But look upon her, if she seem to be Like to thy wife ! Shake off in joy thy grief!

Adm. Ye gods! What shall I say? A miracle! Is this indeed my wife I look upon, Or doth a bitter joy from heaven smite ?

Her. Nay, but it is indeed thy spouse thou seest.

Adm. (still half-dazed). I fear it is a phantom from the shades!

Her. No necromancer hast thou made thy guest.

Adm. And do I see my lady whom I buried ?

Her. Ay! ’T is no wonder thou ’rt incredulous.

Adm. And may I touch and greet my living wife ?

Her. Greet her! Thou holdest all thy heart’s desire.

Adm. O face and figure of my dearest wife, I hold thee, whom I never hoped to see !

Her. May this not rouse the gods to jealous wrath!

Adm. O thou most noble child of Zeus supreme, I hail thee! May the sire who got thee save Thy life, for thou alone hast rescued mine. — How didst thou bring her from the shades to day ?

Her. By joining battle with the lord of gods.

Adm. Where was this strife between thyself and Death ?

Her. I seized him from an ambush by the tomb.

Adm. — But wherefore does my wife thus silent stand ?

Her. It is not lawful for thee yet to hear Her voice, until to the Infernal gods She pays due offering, and the third day comes.

— But lead the lady in, and all thy life, Admetos, just and hospitable live.

— And now, farewell. The task appointed me By Sthenelos’ royal son I go to do.

Of the rescue of Alkestis we hear nothing more. Euripides seems to have felt that it was an incident which would only be made less credible by any attempt at detailed description, and therefore he touched thus lightly upon it in these single-verse queries and replies. Nor have we any answers whatever to the many questions suggested by this strange, weird plot. The poet has thrown all his most earnest effort into the pathetic scenes of the central part of the drama. Apollo is now long since forgotten, and even Death is disposed of as curtly as possible.

Was he leading away toward Hades the soul of Alkestis, as he prophesied and she foresaw ? Was the fight at the grave for the possession of her soul or her body ? How was the soul restored to the body ? Most anxiously of all we should expect a Greek to ask, How are the Fates, the dread Moirai, reconciled to the loss of both the appointed victim and the accepted substitute ? But even of this the poet seems to know nothing more than we, and to care infinitely less.

Let us say frankly what every reader must feel. Despite all the grace and ingenuity of the final scene of recognition, the close of this play is strangely unsatisfactory and incomplete. We are dismissed through the ivory gate, after all. If the poet had no decisive word to speak on such questions as we have asked here, he should not have opened them up in his drama at all. The opportunity to work powerfully on the sympathies of his hearers, to bid them weep over Alkestis’ bier and rejoice at her miraculous resurrection, has beguiled him into using a legend which he should not have ventured to touch. He lacked two requisites for the poet who would make absolutely real to us the tale of Alkestis: first, that reverent and unquestioning belief in the gods of his race which was a living faith in Aischylos, and to which, as a dramatic artist at least, Sophocles also held firm; and secondly, the power to make his plot develop so naturally out of itself that there should be no bounding line crossed between reality and parable, but even the tale of rescue from the clutch of Thanatos should be believed for the moment because inseparably interwoven in the drama.

And yet! Before their ink is dry, these words seem the expression of blackest ingratitude. There can be no lasting truce in the strife which has always divided the readers of Euripides, ancient and modern ; for even the soul of the voiceless and solitary student is divided against itself, — at one moment swayed and entranced by resistless power, and in the next instant roused to the fiercest criticism by the poet’s contradictions, by his baffling silences, by the base alloy in his noblest conceptions.

Yet even herein lies, perchance, the highest proof of the magician’s wondrous power. The wand of poetic imagination bids spirits reveal themselves, too mighty to obey even their creator’s will. They vanish again into a world where human thought cannot follow and tarry. Is his appeal to us the less strong for that ? When the poet’s fancy rises highest to divine imaginings, only to feel more bitterly the fall into doubt and despair, is there no answering voice of sympathy in the eager heart of man ?

The loveliest of all his creations, the ideal of fair young wifehood and motherhood, loving and clinging to life, yet facing death without shrinking or repining, Alkestis takes human shape before our eyes against a background of mystery, to which the poet’s hand could give no firm and satisfying outlines. Traced in dim, wavering forms, we see afar the words Atonement and Resurrection. Have later voices, whether inspired from within or without, interpreted the meaning of these words so plainly to men that we may unhesitatingly condemn him whose valor shuddered at that high emprise ?

As for the human side of his creations at least, the poet may utter proudly to us the words of his own Heracles : —

“ No necromancer hast thou made thy guest.”

The haughty young athlete and huntsman, Hippolytos ; Medea, of the gloomy brows and murderous heart; the dying Iphigenia, sweet as drooping violets, — these are not faintly-seen and fleeting shades from pallid Erebos. The warm life-blood glows in their lips and cheeks. These, and many others only less vivid than they, once known, abide with us as real and near as those who have walked and talked with us : perhaps, as Schiller insists, more real than they.

“ Ever young is Phantasy alone.
That which never, nowhere, came to pass,
That alone shall nevermore grow old! ”

Even from this mere sketch of a drama, less in extent than a single act of Don Carlos, intended only for the melodramatic afterpiece of the sterner tragic trilogy, there steps forth to tarry with us, forever young and fair, the starryeyed Alkestis. Before we turn in cold criticism from her poet, let us bethink us how much poorer the lovely world of the ideal would seem if she had never been.

The drama closes a few lines later in rather commonplace fashion. The last verses are of interest chiefly as confirming the impression that no curtain fell between audience and actors. Heracles hastens away on his expedition to Thrace. Admetos, commanding his subjects

With choric songs to hail this happy event,
And make the altars smoke with thankful gifts,

leads the silent queen into the palace. The chorus evidently march out as they recite the anapæsts which close the play.

The ways of the gods are manifold,
Much unforeseen they bring to pass;
What men have expected is unfulfilled,
For what we expect not a god finds way,
— And so has it fared in this matter.

These very ordinary lines are found also in our manuscripts at the close of four other Euripidean dramas. Hermann thinks they were used when more elaborate verses would have been lost in the confusion among the audience at the close of the performance. This is a rather startling transfer of modern conditions to the sacred festival of Dionysos. It is not easy to believe that the great audience arose hastily and trooped noisily out, at the close of each of the twelve dramas offered by the three contending poets.

William Cranston Lawton.

  1. Perhaps the opening scene of Plato’s Republic will occur to the reader’s mind as an exception to this remark. But Kephalos is avowedly opposing the general feeling of his ecjually aged friends, and even his argument only goes as far as the conclusion, " If men possess well-regulated minds and easy tempers, old age itself is no intolerable burden ; " and a moment later he agrees that “a good man cannot be altogether cheerful under old age and poverty combined.”
  2. One imagines the last years of the poet Sophocles as not less beautiful and happy than those of Longfellow and Emerson; and Phryniehos wrote upon the great tragedian’s death, “Happy his end ; no ill had he endured.” And yet, in the Oidipus at Colonos we feel that the venerable poet is in full sympathy with the time-worn, discrowned king, who realizes with joy that his pilgrimage has found its goal: —“ O Goddesses, Grant me even now an end and resting-place, Unless I seem unworthy, evermore Enthralled by heaviest burdens known to men. Come, ye sweet daughters of primeval gloom ; Pity this wretched shade of Oidipus, — For surely this is not my former self.”
  3. Even if it he objected that these are the words of Oidipus, and not of his poet, such exception can hardly he taken to the choric chant in the same drama, beginning : —
  4. “ Whoso craves a longer span When a moderate life is past, Plainly is he seen of me Cleaving unto foolishness : Since the lengthening days shall bring Much that unto grief is nearer; Joys shall he behold no more : — He whose life perchance has glided Further than its fitting close.”
  5. But indeed it is hardly needful to accumulate citation or argument regarding this feeling of the utter forlornness of age. It follows almost as a necessary corollary to that enthusiastic delight in youthful beauty and manly vigor which is the most familiar and striking of all Greek traits.