Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/90

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



If a modern poet, a Browning let us say, should take the Alcestis in hand to remodel it freely and bring it more into accord with the author's assumed intentions, one thing which he would certainly do, besides such transformations of the dramatis personae as Balaustion makes in the case of Heracles, would be to re-write the finale completely, making Heracles say not 'little' but truly 'enough', as Balaustion would fain have done had she dared, and generally elevating and expanding the treatment to the measure of the ostensible occasion. Why did not Euripides? This—if we shrink from the answer 'because he was a botcher, and did not know what he was about'—is the question, which we are left to consider. Let us assume that Euripides was a man of sense, and that his purpose was as serious, as he would seem to imply by the choice of his subject and by the sober, persuasive realism of his portraiture; and let us gravely ask ourselves what that purpose can have been.

It is sometimes a helpful and, with proper caution, a legitimate way of judging the transactions of other times, to put a parallel case, real or fictitious, arising in our own times and among those circumstances to which we are accustomed. Remembering carefully that Euripides addressed an audience, of whom a considerable portion regarded the resurrection of Alcestis as sacred truth, and all of whom, except open rebels against the religion of the state, were in the habit of assisting at rites implying this belief or other beliefs warranted by the same authority—carefully remembering this, let us ask what we ourselves should think, if we read a newly-published historical fiction, in which a general outline, resembling mutatis mutandis that which Euripides gives to the death, burial, and resurrection of Alcestis, were given to the death, burial, and resurrection of Lazarus. Read first—I am anxious to convince the reader that in my opinion this is no matter for levity—read first the second chapter of the Gospel of St John; and then suppose a story, in which it should be represented that, for reasons special to the case and traceable, according to the novelist, in the Bible itself,

    proposition; and it would not be fair to put it upon him. In 'ending happily' the two plays mentioned do not differ from many 'tragedies' both of Euripides and his brother dramatists. Reasonable grounds might be given for associating the two, but what they are, this writer did not know.