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His fallows and fields the Molossians bound
Toward the stalls of the Steeds of Day,
And to airy sweep
Of Ægean steep
All Pelion owns his
He will welcome his guest with a moistened lid,
Though the halls be opened wide :
And affection's tear will start unbid
For her that hath lately died.
For the noble heart to its sorrows yields;
But wise is the good man's breast,
And my faith I plight
He will act aright
By the dead and the stranger guest.
Admetus invites the sympathizing chorus to salute his dead wife as she is borne to the tomb. But Euripides provides for us a fresh surprise. It is a scene between Admetus and his father Pheres. A most unseemly altercation takes place between father and son over the very bier of the dead. Mere selfishness has seldom appeared more unrelievedly repulsive than in this scene it appears as exemplified in Admetus. The whole representation seems to us to waver on a razoredge between the serious and comic. We condense a specimen. Pheres enters with a train of servants bringing funeral gifts for the deceased Alcestis. He speaks :
Pheres. Take this tribute of adornment, deep
In the earth let it descend along with her!
Behooves we treat the body with respect
Of one who died, at least, to save thy life,
Kept me from being childless, nor allowed
That I, bereft of thee, should peak and pine
In melancholy age.
I maintain, if mortals must
Marry, this sort of marriage is the sole
Permitted those among them who are wise !
Admetos. Neither to this interment called by me
Comest thou, nor thy presence I account
Among the covetable proofs of love.
As for thy tribute of adornment, -no !
Ne'er shall she don it, ne'er in debt to thee
Be buried ! What is thine, that keep thou still :
Then it behooved thee to commiserate
When I was perishing: but thou, who stood'st
Foot-free o' the snare, wast acquiescent then
That I, the young, should die, not thou, the old,
Wilt thou lament this corpse thyself hast slain?
Thou wast not, then, true father to this flesh,
Nor she, who makes profession of my birth,
And styles herself my
And yet a fair strife had been thine to strive,
Dying for thine own child ; and brief for thee
In any case, the rest of time to live ;
While I had lived, and she, our rest of time,
Nor I been left to groan in solitude.
How vainly do these aged pray for death,
Abuse the slow drag of senility!
But should death step up, nobody inclines
To die, nor age is now the weight it was !
Enough the present sorrow! Nor, O son,
Whet thus against thyself thy father's soul !
Pheres. Never did I receive it as a law
Hereditary, no, nor Greek at all,
That sires in place of sons were bound to die.
Long I account the time to pass below,
And brief my span of days; yet sweet the same.
Shrewdly hast thou contrived how not to die
For evermore now; 'tis but still persuade
The wife for the time being
take thy place !
What, and thy friends who would not do the like
These dost thou carp at, craven thus thyself?
Crouch and be silent, craven! Comprehend
That, if thou lovest so that life of thine,
Why every body loves his own life, too;
So, good words henceforth! If thou speak us ill,
Many and true an ill thing shalt thou hear!
Too much evil spoke On both sides ! But the unspeakable wrangle runs on page after page, for all the sound admonition of the chorus. Admetus at last bids the funeral train proceed.
The scene returns to Heracles in the house. The free manner of the guest displeased the servant detailed to wait upon him. This testy old fellow soliloquizes to the guest's disadvantage as follows (we abridge) :
Here am I helping make at home
A guest, some fellow ripe for wickedness,
Robber or pirate, while she goes her way
Out of her house : and neither was it mine
To follow in procession, nor stretch forth
Hand, wave my lady dear a last farewell,
Lamenting who to me and all of us
Domestics was a mother: myriad harms
She used to ward away from every one,
And mollify her husband's ireful mood.
I ask, then, do I justly hate or no
This guest, this interloper on our grief? There follows, in Mr. Browning's poem, a long passage of the English poet's own, very nobly idealizing and transfiguring Heracles. All this changed Heracles is found, by a creative poetic eye, between the lines of Euripides—who himself simply makes Heracles speak out with rough good-humor to the vinegar-visaged attendant, thus: Her.
Why look’st so solemn and so thought-absorbed ?
To guests, a servant should not sour-faced be,
But do the honors with a mind urbane.
Give ear to me, then! For all flesh to die
Is nature's due ; nor is there any one
Of mortals with assurance he shall last
The coming morrow: for, what's born of chance
Invisibly proceeds the way it will,
Not to be learned, no fortune-teller's prize.
This, therefore, having heard and known through me,
Gladden thyself! Drink! Count the day-by-day
Existence thine, and all the other-chance !
Wilt not thou, then, -discarding overmuch
Mournfulness, do away with this shut door,
Come drink along with me, be-garlanded
This fashion? Do somand—I well know what-
From this stern mood, this shrunk-up state of mind,
The pit-pat fall o' the flagon-juice down throat
Soon will dislodge thee from bad harborage !
It soon comes out, for the enlightenment of Heracles, that it was Alcestis herself who had died. Heracles suffers a violent revulsion from gay to sad. He exclaims:
Her. But I divined it ! seeing, as I did,
His eye that ran with tears, his close-clipt hair,
His countenance !
And do I revel yet
With wreath on head? But-thou to hold thy peace,
Nor tell me what a woe oppressed my friend !
Where is he gone to bury her? Where am I
'To go and find her? Heracles takes his resolution. He will go to the tomb and rescue Alcestis yet. Here are his words:
Her. O much-enduring heart and hand of mine !
I will go lie in wait for Death, black-stoled
King of the corpses ! I shall find him, sure,
Drinking beside the tomb, o' the sacrifice :
And if I lie in ambuscade, and leap
Out of my lair, and seize-encircle him
Till one hand join the other round about
There lives not who shall pull him out from me,
Rib-mauled, before he let the woman go!
But even say I miss the booty-say,
Death comes not to the boltered blood—why then
Down go I, to the unsunned dwelling-place
O' Koré and the king there—make demand,
Confident I shall bring Alkestis back,
So as to put her in the hands of him
My host, that housed me, never drove me off:
Though stricken with sore sorrow, hid the stroke,
Being a noble heart and honoring me!
Meantime the procession returns from the grave. With admirable amplification of pathetic speech and circumstance Euripides displays the grief suffered by Admetus revisiting his “chambers emptied of delight.” The chorus intervene with their exasperating commonplace of consolation. They end by chanting a high strain in celebration of the inexorableness of Necessity. This we give in the rhymed version of Potter:
My venturous foot delights
To tread the Muses' arduous heights:
Their hallow'd haunts I love to explore,
And listen to their lore:
Yet never could my searching mind
Aught, like Necessity, resistless find:
No herb, of sovereign power to save,
Whose virtues Orpheus joy'd to trace,
And wrote them in the rolls of Thrace ;
Nor all that Phoebus gave,
Instructing the Asclepian train,
When various ills the human frame assail,
To heal the wound, to soothe the pain,
'Gainst her stern force avail.
Of all the powers divine
Alone none dares approach her shrine :
To her no hallow'd image stands,
No altar she commands;