Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/108

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phanic Aeschylus subscribes to the boast as a reproach ; 'That is just what I say'. Whether we approve with the one or condemn with the other, or more wisely decline to be partizans in a needless quarrel, it is in the spirit, which Aristophanes by both voices declares to be Euripidean, that we must approach the works of Euripides, if even in such limited measure as is now possible we expect to interpret them truly.

And it is worth the trouble. To any one with a taste for esprit the Alcestis alone offers reward enough for the effort of realizing and fixing in his mind the presupposed relations between author and audience. It is not merely in single passages or expressions, in particular hits, that we are delighted, although the play bristles with them, and the student at each successive reading may go on finding them as long as he has the inclination. More admirable than any such stroke, more astonishing as an exhibition of intellectual skill, is the adaptation of the whole structure to its purpose, its exquisite poise and delicate preponderation. Without the use of a single plain blasphemy, without giving one single proof of 'impiety' at which an indulgent conformist could not comfortably wink or which a confessed unbeliever could not speciously disallow, the author contrives in scene after scene, each in itself a brilliant piece of portraiture, to impress with accumulating emphasis his own conception of the story, until we arrive at a catastrophe 'too deep' for any emotion except the pure intellectual thrill of thought uniting with thought, just only the joy of understanding. As to the touches of detail, it would require a complete commentary to bring out even those which with our manifestly inadequate means can now be detected; nor am I sure that it would be a service to the reader, who ought not to lose the pleasure of observation. One or two only of the most obvious shall here be noticed. None is perhaps more simply neat than the doubly double-edged reply of Admetus to Heracles, when questioned as to the identity of the woman for whom he is in mourning[1]. The parodies of Aristophanes apprise us that it became famous, as well it might. 'It cannot sure' says Heracles 'be your wife who is gone'. 'Of her' replies the husband, who placed as he is dares not confess his belief, and like a well-bred

  1. v. 521.