Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/86

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have been possible, if necessary, to 'double' the parts of the son and the mother. But really it is not conceivable that there should be any difficulty about the matter. Besides, if difficulty there were, why exhibit it? Alcestis, after the disclosure, has scarcely time to speak before the play is over. Twenty ways, better theatrically than that selected, could have been taken to explain her silence, the best and obvious way being to let those who might notice it explain it for themselves. But Euripides chose here to do what he has done elsewhere, notably, as will be remembered, in his Electra; he satirises, in a manner all the more telling from its decorous gravity, the practice of his elders. In the religious tragedy of Aeschylus, silent personages played a great part. We know that their silence, though sometimes effective, was not always voluntary, but imposed by the narrow limitations of the cast[1]; and we also know, through Aristophanes, that the topic was, as it naturally would be, a favourite butt for the witticisms of the 'modern' and opposite school[2]. Such a sly shaft Euripides here discharges; and that he thinks the occasion suitable is proof by itself that he neither feels nor invites respect for the momentous doctrine which nevertheless this finale pretends to set forth. It is even something more than likely that he aims at a particular scene or passage, which we should recognize, if, as in the case of the Choephori and Euripidean Electra, it had been spared to us by time. But however this be, the spirit and tone of his reference are (to my mind) manifest; and they are incompatible with the belief that he 'means seriously with' the supposed resurrection.

And for further confirmation be it observed that the sarcasm has yet another edge. Alcestis, says Heracles, must not yet speak because 'she will not have discharged her ceremonial obligations to the nether gods until the day after to-morrow.' Now obligations of this sort, contracted by the passage from death to life, are so seldom incurred within the limits of our human experience, that they are not much known or thought of. But the contrary passage from life to death is the commonest thing in the world, and no rules more familiar than those which relate to it. It is interesting therefore to learn, on the respectable authority of a demi-god, that there is between

  1. e.g. in the Prometheus.
  2. Frogs, 911.