Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/117

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Which proves a ruined eagle, who, too blind
Swooping in quest o' the quarry, fawn or kid,
Descried deep down the chasm 'twixt rock and rock,
Has wedged and mortised, into either wall
O' the mountain, the pent earthquake of his power.

Thus to the eye of Browning appeared the god of death confronted by the superior god of life; so, or in some such figure, Aeschylus would have seen him; and if Euripides suggested any such picture, then indeed we should have known that we were bidden to be grave and humble, as men should be in the presence of that which is greater than they. As it is we are commanded and compelled by Euripides to smile as he smiles himself. But no man could smile, or encourage his audience to smile, over a debate on such a theme and between such interlocutors, if he proposed in real earnest or in earnest imagination to relate how a human being was raised from the dead.

Doubtless there were many in the theatre, yokels, boys, visitors from Acarnania, and the like, who listened to the quips of Apollo without a suspicion that the faith of the poet was not as naïve as their own; doubtless there were many, as there are in all theatres, who did not hear, with the true literary sense, at all, and could have given no closer account of the scene than that it was 'the usual sort of thing'. But the class to whom Euripides wanted to speak, the growing class whom study made quick of thought, must have been assured by the prologue, if they were not already assured by the title, that the poet proposed to treat the legend of Alcestis in the only way which could be expected of him, as a groundless fiction; that he thought of Apollo and Apolline miracles as he always had, and would express himself to the attentive in the fashion permitted and approved. Nor were they kept long waiting for a sufficient signal. The god has not spoken a score of verses before he is provided with words, which never could have been put in his mouth by an intelligent writer, unless with the purpose of provoking an infidel sneer. The touch is so characteristic that though not important it deserves particular notice. Having related how leave was obtained for Admetus to redeem himself from fate, if he could find a substitute within the limits prescribed, Apollo continues thus: