Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/25

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the mind of the spectator or reader. Admetus is there to figure as a man who for his virtue receives from heaven a miraculous boon, perhaps the most astonishing and affecting which human imagination can conceive. Heracles is to figure as the chosen agent, himself something more than man, by whom the divine purpose is carried into effect. As the examination of the finale itself will fall more fitly in another place, we will for the moment assume, what the reader who may have the scene in mind will not be inclined to dispute, that the interlocutors in it do little to clear themselves of any untoward association which they may have previously contracted. What then, we have to ask, is contributed to the final effect by the reflected light of the episodes which we are now considering? That Admetus is not more but less likely to obtain sympathy after his encounter with Pheres, Heracles not more but less likely to appear a worthy deputy of divine power after his interview with the manservant, are propositions which may be defended when they have been denied: and I do not think that the apologists for either, to whom we will come in due course, have gone so far. In the case of Heracles the point is particularly important, because it is only in the fifth scene that we are permitted to make acquaintance with him, before he appears finally as the conqueror of Death. In the third scene, which exhibits his first arrival, his part is secondary and reveals little of him. The benefit of the fifth scene is entirely his own.

How strong and inevitable is the persuasion that to compromise the moral dignity of Admetus and Heracles is to strike at the heart of the story, and that by these powerful scenes, as well as by much else in the play, their dignity is compromised to a degree which, as the author should have seen, is incompatible with the purpose that he professes, appears in nothing more plainly than in the efforts which have been frequently made to defend the character of one or the other, laudable efforts, as proceeding on the assumption that what is patent to us is not likely to have been invisible to Euripides, but, as appears to me with the standing majority, desperate nevertheless. In saying that these defences are unsupported by the majority, I must make an exception of one plea put forward for Admetus, which among modern critics has had nearly if not quite universal