Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/43

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redeeming the king at less expense. The old men of Pherae, says she, are ashamed to tell Heracles on his arrival that the queen is dead, for fear of his scornful 'Why did you let her die?' Now as between Heracles and the others this distinction (saving her respect) is plainly untenable, acceptable only to the blindness of her partiality. If the Pheraean friends of Admetus were really admissible as substitutes, then so was Heracles. He knew the stipulation of the Fates, and knew that Alcestis had undertaken to fulfil it; he did not know before his visit that a date had been fixed for the fulfilment; but why did he wait for this? Here was just the occasion, if ever, for 'holding his life out in his hand', and bestowing on his friend Admetus both life and wife at once. So far Balaustion's error is personal and easily disposed of. But her charge against the friends of Admetus generally is a separable point, and deserves attention. If, for instance, any one of the Chorus could have redeemed Admetus, there is, as Browning felt, something tasteless in their laudation of Alcestis for consenting, and downright fatuity in their denunciation of his parents for refusing. And the case of the household is worse; for if Admetus had a claim upon anyone, it was surely on the serfs whom, as Apollo experienced, he treated with such remarkable kindness. But in truth the whole charge rests on a misconception. According to Euripides, who presumably follows tradition, the bargain of the Fates was not, as is often stated or assumed, to take instead of Admetus anyone who consented to die. Upon such terms a Greek gentleman of wealth and rank would have got off easily. It would have been strange if not one could have been found, among the many families of human beings absolutely dependent on him, to purchase his good-will for those they left behind them by giving the life which he could take. But Euripides expressly says that Admetus, "having tried all his loved ones, that is to say his father and aged mother, found none willing to die, except his wife".[1] The Greek will not bear the sense, which we should expect if every substitute was admissible, "having tried all his

  1. vv. 15–17πάντας δ᾽ ἐλέγξας καὶ διεξελθὼν φίλοις,
    πατέρα γεραιάν θ᾽ ἥ σφ᾽ ἔτικτε μητέρα,
    οὐχ ηὗρε πλὴν γυραικὸς κ.τ.λ.
    Nauck proposed καὶ πατέρα γραῖάν θ᾽ in v. 16. Others omit the verse.