Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/28

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sionate egoism, not to apprehend without the humiliation of experiment that to argue in this sense with his father is to make himself ridiculous, and to attack his father upon this ground is logical suicide. Moreover we think that, apart from such particular breaches of taste and sense, the act of Admetus, in accepting, much more in soliciting, the sacrifice of his wife, could be dignified and justified only if it were his duty to live, if his life were important to others, and much more important than hers, which nevertheless Euripides does not show us, or indeed give us reason to suppose. To all this, as representing the modern view, the reader will probably assent or, if he should doubt, may fix his sentiments by the perusal of Balaustion's Adventure. But it may still be maintained that such were not the sentiments with which Euripides had to count; and such is the contention recently developed, much more fully and positively than by previous critics, by Mr Way[1], who is on every ground entitled to respectful consideration.

According to Mr Way "it is certain that the modern view is diametrically opposed to that of the Athenian audience. In their eyes (1) Admetus was a noble character: (2) he was in the right in respect to the motif and incidents of the play: (3) he reaped the just reward of the good man". Now if it is certain that such would be the view of the Athenian audience, the opinion of Athens, that is to say, in the time of Euripides, upon what society, we must ask, did the poet model the public opinion of his imaginary Pherae and his imaginary Iolcus? For, strangely enough, it is certain that in these places the prevalent view was again diametrically opposite, differing not perceptibly from the modern. As to what would be thought in Iolcus, the original home of Alcestis, we have the undisputed assertion of Pheres[2]:

I go: her murderer will bury her.
Thou shalt yet answer for it to her kin.
Surely Akastos is no more a man,
If he of thee claim not his sister's blood.

Pheres is not an admirable old man; he has, as Browning puts it, a truly paternal resemblance to Admetus, he is Admetus

  1. Translation of Euripides, Vol. 1. App. A.
  2. v. 730. The translations here are Mr Way's.