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in 438 B.C., before the terrible war with Sparta began to
sadden all hearts. It is, furthermore, the afterpiece: —
the fourth in the group of dramas written by the poet to
be performed together. Hence, though by no means
comic as a whole, it contains many lighter touches, and
a happy finale.

The scene is before the palace of King Admetus,
whose wife has consented to die this day in his stead.


140 Ideals in Greek Literature

On this same morning divine Apollo's year of exile and
servitude, as Admetus' herdsman, ends. An attentive
reading of the play will clear up nearly all obscurities.


{Enter Apollo, from the palace.)

Halls of Admetus, where I stooped my pride
To brook the fare of serfs, yea I, a God; —
The fault was fault of Zeus: he slew my son
Asklepius — hurled the levin through his heart.
Wroth for the dead, his smiths of heavenly fire
I slew, the Cyclopes; and, for blood-atonement.
Serf to a mortal man my father made me.
To this land came I, tended mine host's kine.
And warded still his house unto this day.
Righteous myself, I lighted on the righteous.
The son of Pheres: him I snatched from death.
Cozening the Fates : to me the Sisters ^ pledged them
That imminent death Admetus should escape
If he for ransom gave another life.
To all he went — all near and dear, — and asked
Grey sire, the mother that had given him life;
But, save his wife, found none that would consent
For him to die and never more see light.
Now in his arms upborne within yon home
She gaspeth forth her life : for on this day
Her weird^ it is to die and part from life.
I, lest pollution taint me in their house.
Go forth to yonder hall's beloved roof.

1 The three tates.

2 Fortune, fate.

Euripides and the Alcestis 141

{Enter Death.)

Lo, yonder Death! — I see him nigh at hand,
Priest of the dead, who comes to hale her down
To Hades' halls — well hath he kept his time,
Watching this day, whereon she needs must die.


Ha, thou at the palace ! — Wilt not make room,
Phoebus? — thou wrestest the right yet again.
Thou removest the landmarks of Gods of Gloom.
And thou makest their honours vain.
Did this not suffice thee, to thwart that doom
Of Admetus, when all by thy cunning beguiled
Were the Fates, that thou now must be warding the wife
With thine hand made ready the bowstring to strain.
Though she pledged her from death to redeem with her life
Her lord — she, Pehas* child?

Fear not : fair words and justice are with me.

Justice with thee! — what needeth then the bow?


This? — 'tis my wont to bear it evermore.

Yea, and to aid yon house in lawless wise.

Mine heart is heavy for my friend's mischance.

What, wilt thou wrest from me this second corpse?

Nay, not that other did I take by force.

142 Ideals in Greek Literature

Not? — why on earth then? — why not underground?

She was his ransom, she for whom thou earnest.

Yea, and will hale her deep beneath the earth.

So then thou wilt not grant this grace to me?

Nay surely — dost not know my wonted way?

Surely thou shalt forbear, though ruthless thou,
So mighty a man ^ to Pheres' hall shall come.
By force yon woman shall he wrest from thee.
Yea, thou of me shalt have no thank for this.
And yet shalt do it, and shalt have mine hate.

(ExU Apollo.)

Talk on, talk on; no profit shalt thou win.
This woman down to Hades* halls shall pass.
For her I go: my sword shall seal her ours*
For sacred to the Nether Gods is he.
He from whose head this sword hath shorn the hair.

(Exit Death.)

(Enter Chorus, dividing to right and left, so that the sections
answer one another till they unite.)

Half-Chorus i
What meaneth this hush afront of the hall?
The home of Admetus, why voiceless all?

1 Heracles.

Euripides and the Alcestis 143

Half-Chorus 2
No friend of the house who should speak of its phght
Is nigh, who should bid that we raise the keen ^
For the dead, or should tell us that yet on the light
Alcestis looketh, and liveth the Queen,
The daughter of Pelias, the noblest, I ween,

Yea, in all men's sight
The noblest of women on earth that have been.

Half-Chorus i
Or hearest thou mourning or sighing

Or beating of hands,
Or the wail of bereaved ones outcrying?
No handmaid stands
At the palace-gate.
O Healer, appear for the dying, appear as a bright bird

Twixt the surges of fate!

Half-Chorus 2
Ah, they would not be hushed, had the life of her flown !

Half-Chorus i
Not forth of the doors is the death-train gone

{Enter Handmaid.)

But hither cometh of the handmaids one,
Weeping the while. What tidings shall I hear?
— To grieve at all mischance unto thy lords
May be forgiven; but if thy lady lives
Or even now hath passed, fain would we know.

She liveth, and is dead: both may'st thou say

Ay so? — how should the same be dead and live?

1 Dirge, lamentation.

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Even now she droopeth, gasping out her life.

Are all things meet, the.i, being done for her?

Yea, ready is her burial-attire.

Let her be sure that glorious she dies
And noblest woman 'neath the sun's wide way.

Noblest? — how not? — what tongue will dare gainsay?
What must the woman be who passeth her?
How could a wife give honour to her lord
More than by yielding her to die for him?
And this — yea, all the city knoweth this.
But what within she did, hear thou, and marvel.
For when she knew that the appointed day
Was come, in river-water her white skin
She bathed, and from the cedar-chest took forth
Vesture and jewels, and decked her gloriously.
And stood before the hearth, and prayed, and said : *
** Queen, for I pass beneath the earth, I fall
Before thee now, and nevermore, and pray: —
Be mother to my orphans: mate with him
A loving wife, with her a noble husband.
Nor, as their mother dieth, so may they,
My children, die untimely, but with weal
In the home-land fill up a life of bliss.'*
To all the altars through Admetus' halls
She went; with wreaths she hung them, and she prayed,
Plucking the while the tresses of the myrtle,
Tearless, unsighing, and the imminent fate
Changed not the lovely rose-tint of her cheek.
Then to her bower she rushed, fell on the bed;

1 The prayer is to Hestia or Vesta, the goddess of the heartbside.

Euripides and the Alcestis 145

And there, O there she wept, and thus she speaks:
'*0 couch, whereon I loosed the maiden zone
For this man, for whose sake I die to-day.
Farewell: I hate thee not. Me hast thou lost,
Me only: loth to fail thee and my lord
I die : but thee another bride shall own,
Not more true-hearted; happier perchance."
Then falls thereon, and kisses: all the bed
Is watered with the flood of melting eyes.
But having wept her fill of many tears,
Drooping she goeth, reehng from the couch;
Yet oft, as forth the bower she passed, returned.
And flung herself again upon the couch.
And the babes, clinging to their mother's robes.
Were weeping; and she clasped them in her arms.
Fondling now this, now that, as one death-doomed.
And all the servants 'neath the roof were weeping.
Pitying their lady. But to each she stretched
Her right hand forth; and none there was so mean
To whom she spake not and received reply.
Such are the ills Admetus' home within.

Doth not Admetus groan for this affliction
Of such a noble wife to be bereft.?

Ay, weeps, and clasps his dear one in his arms.
And prays, '* Forsake me not!" — asking the while
The impossible, for still she wanes and wastes,
Drooping her hand, a misery-burdened weight.
But yet, albeit hardly breathing now.
To the sun's rays fain would she lift her eyes.
But I will go and make thy presence known:
For 'tis not all that love so well their kings
As to stand by them, in afflictions loyal.

(Several smaller sections of the chorus probably
chanted the next passages in succession.)

146 Ideals in Greek Literature

Chorus i
O Zeus, for our lords is there nought but despair?
No path through the tangle of evils, no loosing of chains
that have bound them?

Chorus 2
No tidings? — remaineth but rending of hair,
And the stricken ones turned to the tomb with the gar-
ments of sorrow around them?

Chorus 3
Even so — even so! yet uplift we in prayer
Our hands to the Gods, for that power from the days
everlasting hath crowned them.

Chorus 4
O Healer-king,

Find thou for Admetus the balm of relief, for the captive
deliverance !

(Enter female Attendants bearing Alcestis, accompanied by
Admetus and Children.)

Alcestis (Sings.)
O Sun, and the day's dear light,

And ye clouds through the wheeling heaven in the race
everlasting flying!

He seeth thee and me, two stricken ones.
Which wrought the Gods no wrong, that thou shouldst die.

Alcestis (Sings.)
O Land, O stately height

Of mine halls, and my bridal couch in lolkos my father-
land lying!

Uplift thee, hapless love, forsake me not.
And pray the mighty Gods in ruth to turn.

Euripides and the Alcestis 147

Alcestis (Sings.)
I see the Boat with the oars twin-sweeping,
And, his hand on the pole as in haste aye keeping,
Charon the Ferryman calleth, **What ho, wilt thou linger

and linger?
Hasten, — 'tis thou dost delay me!" he crieth with beck-
oning finger

Ah me ! a bitter ferrying this thou namest I

evil-starred, what woes endure we now!

Alcestis (Sings.)
One haleth me — haleth me hence to the mansion
Of the dead! — dost thou mark not the darkling expansion
Of the pinions of Hades, the blaze of his eyes 'neath their

caverns out-glaring?
What wouldst thou? — Unhand me! — In anguish and pain

by what path am I faring!

Woeful to them that love thee: most to me
And to thy babes, sad sharers in this grief.

Admetus, — for thou seest all my plight, —
Fain would I speak mine heart's wish ere I die.
I, honouring thee, and setting thee in place
Before mine own soul still to see this light.
Am dying, unconstrained to die for thee.

1 might have wed what man Thessalian

I would, have dwelt wealth-crowned in princely halls;
Yet would not live on, torn away from thee.
With orphaned children: wherefore spared I not
The gifts of youth still mine, wherein I joyed.
Yet she that bare, he that begat, forsook thee.
Though fair for death their time of life was come,
Yea, fair, to save their son and die renowned.
Let be: — remember thou what thank is due

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For this: I never can ask full requital; —

For nought there is more precious than the life ; —

Yet justly due : for these thy babes thou lovest

No less than I, if that thine heart be right.

Suffer that they have lordship in mine home:

Wed not a stepdame to supplant our babes,

Whose jealous hand shall smite them, thine and mine.

Do not, ah, do not this — I pray thee, I.

The boy — his father is his tower of strength

But, O my child, what girlhood will be thine?

To thee what would she be, thy father's yoke-mate?

What if with ill report she smirched thy name.

And in thy youth's flower marred thy marriage-hopes?

For thee thy mother ne'er shall deck for bridal.

Nor hearten thee in travail, O my child,

There, where nought gentler than the mother is.

For I must die, nor shall it be to morn.

Nor on the third day comes on me this bane:

Straightway of them that are not shall I be.

Farewell, be happy. Now for thee, my lord.

Abides the boast to have won the noblest wife.

For you, my babes, to have sprung from noblest mother.


Fear not; for I am bold to speak for him
This will he do, an if he be not mad.


It shall, it shall be, dread not thou : for thee
Living I had; and dead, mine only wife
Shalt thou be called: nor ever in thy stead
Shall bride Thessalian hail me as her lord.
Children enough have I : I pray the Gods
For joy in these — our joy in thee is nought.
Not for a year's space will I mourn for thee.
But long as this my life shall last, dear wife,
Revels shall cease, and gatherings at the wine.
Garlands, and song, which wont to fill mine house.

Euripides and the Alcestis 149

And, wrought by craftsmen's cunning hands, thy form

Imaged, upon a couch outstretched shall he.

Falling whereon, and clasping with mine hands,

CaUing thy name, in fancy shall mine arms

Hold my beloved, though I hold her not: —

A chill delight, I wot: yet shall I lift

The burden from my soul. In dreams shalt thou

Haunt me and gladden: sweet to see the loved,

Though but a fleeting presence night-revealed.

But, were the tongue and strain of Orpheus mine,

To witch Demeter's Daughter and her lord,^

And out of Hades by my song to win thee,

I had fared down: nor Pluto's Hound had stayed me,

Nor Spirit-wafter Charon at the oar.

Or ever I restored thy life to light.

Yet there look thou for me, whenso I die;

Prepare a home, as who shall dwell with me.

For in the selfsame cedar chest, wherein

Thou liest, will I bid them lay my bones

Outstretched beside thee: ne'er may I be severed.

No, not in death, from thee, my one true friend.

On these terms take the children from mine hand.

I take them — precious gift from precious hand.

Be to these babes a mother in my stead.

Sore is their need, who are bereft of thee.

Dark — dark — mine eyes are drooping, heavy-laden.

1 Persephone, daughter of Demeter, is wedded to Pluto, king of Hades,
the world of the dead. Orpheus by his music softened Pluto's heart so that
the singer was allowed to lead back to the light his dead wife.

150 Ideals in Greek Literature

Uplift thy face : forsake not thine own children !

Sore loth do I — ^yet O farewell, my babes!

Look unto them — O look!


I am no more.

Ah, leav*st thou us?

Farewell. (Dies,)


O wretch undone !
Gone, — gone! — No more is this Admetus' wife!

Eumelus (Sings.)
Woe for my lot I — to the tomb hath my mother descended,

descended !
Never again, O my father, she seeth the light of the sun !
In anguish she leaves us forsaken: the story is ended, is

Of her sheltering love, and the tale of the motherless life

is begun.
Look — look on her eyelids, her hands drooping nerve-
less! O hear me, O hear me!
It is I — I beseech thee, my mother! — thine own little,

own little bird I
It is I — O, I cast me upon thee — thy lips are so near me,

so near me.
Unto mine am I pressing them, mother! — I plead for a

word — but a word!

Euripides and the Alcestis 151


With her who heareth not, nor seeth : ye
And I are stricken with a heavy doom.

EuMELUS (Sings.)

And I am but a little one, father — so young, and forsaken,

Forlorn of my mother — O hapless ! a weariful lot shall be

And thou, little maiden, my sister, the burden hast taken,

hast taken.
Which thy brother may bear not alone, and a weariful lot

shall be thine.


Admetus, this mischance thou needs must bear.
Not first of mortals thou, nor shalt be last
To lose a noble wife; and, be thou sure,
From us, from all, this debt is due — to die.


I know it : nowise unforeseen this ill

Hath swooped upon me : long I grieved to know it.

But — for to burial must I bear my dead —

Stay ye, and, tarrying, echo back my wail

To that dark God whom no drink-offerings move.

And all Thessalians over whom I rule

I bid take part in mourning for this woman,

With shaven head and sable-shrouding robe.

And ye which yoke the cars four-horsed, or steeds

Of single frontlet, shear with steel their manes.

Music of flutes the city through, or lyres.

Be none, while twelve moons round their circles out:

For dearer dead, nor kinder unto me

I shall not bury: worthy of mine honour

Is she, for she alone hath died for me. {Exit.)

152 Ideals in Greek Literature


Pelias' daughter, I hail thee:

1 waft thee eternal farewell

To thine home where the darkness must veil thee,
Where in Hades unsunned thou shalt dwell.
Know, Dark-haired, thy grey Spirit-wafter
Hath sped not with twy ^-plashing oar
Woman nobler, nor shall speed hereafter
To Acheron's shore.

Heracles (Entering.)
Strangers, who dwell in this Pheraian land.
Say, do I find Admetus in his home?

Heracles, in his home is Pheres* son.
Yet say, what brings thee to Thessalian land.
That thou shouldst come to this Pheraian town?

For Thracian Diomedes' four-horsed chariot.

Not save by battle may those steeds be won.

Not this the first time I have run such course.

What profit is it if thou slay their lord?

Those steeds shall I drive back to Tiryns' king.'

Yea, but with ravening jaws do they rend men.


2£urystheus, whom Heracles is bound to serve.

Euripides and the Alcestis 153

Go to — thus banquet mountain-beasts, not horses.

Nay, thou shalt see their cribs with gore bespattered.

Whom boasteth he for father, he that reared them?

Ares,* the king of Thracia*s golden shield.

Thou say*st: such toil my fate imposeth still.
Harsh evermore, uphillward straining aye.
But never man shall see Alkmene's child
Quailing before the hand of any foe.

Lo, there himself, the ruler of the land,
Admetus, cometh forth his palace-hall.

{Enter Admetus.)

Hail, O thou sprung from Zeus' and Perseus' blood I

Admetus, hail thou too, Thessalia's king.

Hale? — Would I were! Yet thy good heart I know.

Wherefore for mourning shaven show'st thou thus?

This day must I commit to earth a corpse.
1 Ares, the wargod, is the especial patron of savage Thrace.

154 Ideals in Greek Literature

Now heaven forefend thou mourn 'st for children dead!

In mine home live the babes whom I begat.

Sooth, death-ripe were thy sire, if he be gone.

He liveth, and my mother, Heracles.

Surely, O surely, not thy wife, Admetus?

Twofold must be mine answer touching her,

Or hath she died, say'st thou, or liveth yet?

She is, and she is not: here lies my sorrow.

Nothing the more I know: dark sayings thine.

Know'st not the doom whereon she needs must light?

I know she pledged herself to die for thee.

How lives she then, if she to this consented?

Mourn not thy wife ere dead; abide the hour.

Euripides and the Alcestis 155

Dead is the doomed, and no more is the dead.

— But now, why weep'st thou? What dear friend is dead?

A woman — hers the memory we mourn.

Some stranger born, or nigh of kin to thee?

A stranger bom; yet near and dear to us.

Would we had found thee mourning not, Admetus.

Ay so? — what purpose lurketh 'neath thy word?

On will I to another host's hearth- welcome.

It cannot be : may no such evil come !

A burden unto mourners comes the guest.

Aloof the guest-bowers are where we will lodge thee.

Let me pass on, and have my thanks unmeasured.

Unto another's hearth thou canst not go.

156 Ideals in Greek Literature

{To an attendant.)

Ho thou, lead on : open the guest-bowers looking
Away from these our chambers. Tell my stewards
To set on meat in plenty. Shut withal
The mid-court doors: it fits not that the guests,
The while they feast, hear wailings, and be vexed.

{Exit Heracles.)


What dost thou? — such affliction at the door,
And guests for thee, Admetus? Art thou mad?


But had I driven him from my home and city
Who came my guest, then hadst thou praised me more?
Yea, and myself have proved him kindliest host
Whene'er to Argos' thirsty plain I fared.


Why hide then the dread Presence in the house.
When came a friend? — Thyself hast named him friend.


Never had he been won to pass my doors,
Had he one whit of mine afflictions known.

Chorus {Sings.)

Halls thronged of the guests ever welcome, O dwelling
Of a hero, for ever the home of the free,
The Lord of the lyre-strings sweet beyond telling,
Apollo, hath deigned to sojourn in thee.
Amid thine habitations, a shepherd of sheep.
The flocks of Admetus he scorned not to keep.
While the shepherd's bridal-strains, soft-swelling
From his pipe, pealed over the slant-sloped lea.

Euripides and the Alcestis 157


kindly presence of Pheraian men,

This corpse even now, with all things meet, my servants
Bear on their shoulders to the tomb and pyre.
Wherefore, as custom is, hail ye the dead.
On the last journey as she goeth forth.


Lo, I behold thy sire with aged foot
Advancing, and attendants in their hands
Bear ornaments to deck the dead withal.

{Enter Pheres with Attendants hearing gifts.)


1 come in thine afflictions sorrowing, son:
A noble wife and virtuous hast thou lost,
None will gainsay: yet these calamities

We needs must bear, how hard to bear soever.

Receive these ornaments, and let her pass

Beneath the earth: well may the corpse be honoured

Of her who for thy life's sake died, my son;

O saviour of my son, who us upraisedst

In act to fall, all hail! May Miss be thine

Even in Hades. Thus to wed, I say,

Profiteth men — or nothing worth is marriage


Bidden of me thou com'st not to this burial.
Nor count I thine the presence of a friend.
Thine ornaments she never shall put on;
True father of my body thou wast not;
Nor she that said she bare me, and was called
My mother, gave me birth: of bondman blood
To thy wife's breast was I brought privily.
So old, and standing on the verge of life.
Yet hadst no will, yet hadst no heart to die
For thine own son! — Ye suffered her, a woman

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Not of our house, whom I with righteous cause

Might count alone my mother and my father.

Yet here was honour, hadst thou dared the strife,

In dying for thy son. A paltry space

To cling to life in any wise was left.

Then had I lived, and she, through days to come.

Nor I, left lorn, should thus mine ills bemoan.

Yet all that may the fortunate betide

Fell to thy lot; in manhood's prime a king:

Me hadst thou son and heir unto thine house

So that thou wast not, dying, like to leave

A childless home for stranger folk to spoil.

Not I with this mine hand will bury thee.

For thee dead am I. If I see the light, —

Another saviour found, — I call me son

To her, and loving fosterer of her age.

For nought the aged pray for death's release,

Plaining of age and weary-wearing time.

Let death draw near — who then would die? Not one;

No more is eld a burden unto them.

O hush! Suffice the affliction at the doors.
O son, infuriate not thy father's soul.

This insolence passethi — hurling malapert words
On me, not lightly thus shalt thou come off!
Thee I begat and nurtured, of mine house
The heir: no debt is mine to die for thee.
Not from our sires such custom we received
That sires for sons should die: no Greek law this.
What is my wrong, my robbery of thee?
For me die thou not, I die not for thee.
Thou joy'st to see light — shall thy father joy not?
Sooth, I account our time beneath the earth
Long, and our Hfe-space short, yet is it sweet.
Shamelessly hast thou fought against thy death:

Euripides and the Alcestis 159

Thy life is but transgression of thy doom
And murder of thy wife: — my cowardice!
Cunning device hast thou devised to die
Never, cajoHng still wife after wife
To die for thee! — and dost revile thy friends
Who will not so — and thou the coward, thou?
Peace! e'en bethink thee, if thou lov'st thy Hfe,
So all love theirs. Thou, if thou speakest evil
Of us, shalt hear much evil, and that true.

Ye have said too much, thou now, and he before.
Refrain, old sire, from railing on thy son.

Say on, say on; I have said: if hearing truth
Gall thee, thou shouldest not have done me wrong.

One life to live, not twain — this is our due.

Have thy desire — one life outlasting Zeus.

Dost curse thy parents, who hast had no wrong?

Ay, whom I marked love-sick for dateless life.

What? — art not burying her in thine own stead?

This taunt strikes thee — 'tis thou wast loth to die.

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