Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/78

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competition which he found going on in the neighbourhood. As to this imaginary incident, which to our notions comes in rather oddly, it was to the Greeks an obvious sequence, particularly in a story supposed to imitate, however vaguely and inexactly, poetic antiquity. As the news spread that the queen was gone, the first thing that the Pheraeans would be expected to do was to 'keep holiday' and to improvise 'games', by way of showing honour to the occasion. We moderns, regarding the play as an antiquarian document, would have been glad to hear how the interval has been spent by Admetus and his party; but for the original audience, who knew the customs presumed, this was unnecessary. It is manifest that the mourners, on this occasion at least, do not come straight back from the tomb to the house; this is excluded not only by the lapse of time, but also by other facts implied, such as that they and Heracles have not met, that the Chorus have now changed their dress for black[1], and that the approach of the company to the palace painfully reminds Admetus of that escorting 'home to bed', which ended the antique wedding-day[2], a picture not likely to be associated with the fore-noon. It should be noticed however, if we were now concerned with the antiquarian view of the matter, that the husband is in a condition of mind which, even for a widower on the day of his loss, and even among the demonstrative Greeks, can scarcely be figured as normal. The sight of his house inspires him with such horror that he cannot advance, and his companions struggle in vain against his reluctance to enter[3]. It is possible therefore that the delay of his return is to be explained not by customary occupation elsewhere, but as part of the natural extravagance which belongs to his singular and singularly distressing situation.

Be that as it may, in this way Heracles, returning with the wife disguised, is brought again face to face with Admetus before the door, and we enter upon the finale, commonly regarded as one of the most unsatisfactory parts of the play. Speaking broadly, its most noticeable quality is negative. It is the absence of solemnity; the absence, not only of those particular phrases adapted to the creed of the age, which from the piety attributed to some of the personages we should have expected

  1. v. 923; see above, p. 52.
  2. vv. 911–925.
  3. vv. 861–872.