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flowing versification. My attempt at giving to the English reader a fair idea of the Alcestis, must not be construed into an effort to rival the metrical translations of portions of Greek tragedians by Sewell, Donaldson, and Conington. Yet I have a humble hope that these pages may be more generally attainable in consequence of their unincumbered form, and I shall be amply rewarded if they give a faint idea of the beauties of the Greek stage, as seen in the works of the last of the three tragedians. I pretend to no higher aim ; and must pray the reader to consider me as guided throughout by a desire to give a clear, uninterrupted English version, of what I cannot but deem one of the most delightful of the plays of Euripides.
And here I would observe that I use the word "play" designedly, as it is a question whether the Alcestis can claim a place strictly speaking, among the tragedies of this poet. It has been contended that there is abundant evidence, of its being
its being“ broad farce, rather than what we should call “ tragedy proper. This, I, for one, should be loth to think: and the question seems to be set at rest by the information (supplied in a Didascalia of the Alcestis, E Codice Vaticano, Dindorf, Oxon. 1834) that this drama was the last of four pieces; and consequently that it was added, instead of a satyric drama, to a Trilogy, that is, a group of three tragedies. For the benefit of the uninitiated I may state that, when the rude Bacchic sport, in which satyrs formed a chorus, yielded in time to the more serious and dignified tragedy, it was still thought fitting to retain somewhat of the older characteristics, with the new varieties of poetry. Accordingly a separate satyric drama was added to tragedy: and, for the most part, three tragedies and a satyric drama to conclude, were represented as a connected whole, and the satyric drama was not a comedy, so much as a playful tragedy. Still this was not always the case; sometimes, as in the case of the Alcestis, there was a tetralogy, or group of four tragedies. It stands, no doubt, in the place of a satyric drama, yet is not, properly speaking, either a satyric drama or a tragedy, but rather fulfils, as ( Müller tells us,) “its destination of furnishing a cheerful conclusion to a series of real tragedies, and thereby relieving the mind from the stress of tragic feeling, which they had occasioned.” (K. G. Müller History of Literature of Greece-Libr. U. K. vol. 1. C. 25. $ 8).
I shall now endeavour to point out the arguments used to prove the Alcestis a satyric drama, and consider them in order. Of these the chief is, the strangeness of the character of the hero, Admetus, who allows his wife to die for him ; and reproaches his sire for not having made this sacrifice. Now Admetus is hardly the hero of the play. Indeed no character in it, save
that of Alcestis, can lay, it would seem, any claim to heroism. Besides, it must be remembered that Euripides was confessedly the poet of common life. He took life as he found it; and in this case, maintaining that human nature is ever the same, pourtrayed Admetus clinging to life, and in a most uninteresting manner, selfishly sacrificing the wife of his bosom, in order to secure to himself what he predicts will be a sad and widowed life. The poet, I think, is here, as ever, true to nature: for even now one may see in daily life how women make a thousand sacrifices for those they love, whilst the latter seem all but unconscious of their devotedness, in the selfish pursuit of ease or pleasure or ambition. Admetus was in honour bound to die for himself: and the device of the German, Wieland, in his Alcestis, exalts the hero, though it does not savour more of nature, when he makes the king unconscious that his wife has devoted herself to death for him, until it is too late to save her. Another and a stronger argument is the jocularity of Hercules, who makes the sorrowing halls of Admetus re-echo with uproarious revelry. But even here it must be borne in mind, that this is the mythic character of Hercules; a personification of mere bodily strength and prowess, unaccompanied by any particularly striking mental qualities. It was certainly an evidence of dullness, that he could not guess the cause of mourning, as he knew before that Alcestis was to die: but then this all accords with his unreflecting, careless nature, which is fitted only for action, and abhors consideration. The last scene of the play has been objected to by Müller in the passage already quoted, because in it the sorrowing widower strives long not to be obliged to receive the veiled Alcestis; who, having been won back from death by Hercules, is introduced to him as a stranger. Admetus says he is afraid of her charms. And this, as well as the rest of this scene, Müller deems “extremely fanciful.” The reason for this criticism is undiscoverable, I am happy to see, by the writer of the critique upon Bishop Monk's edition of this play in the Quarterly Review (April 1816); as well by the author of the article “Euripides” in the dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, now being published in monthly parts. Here is weight against Müller's criticism on this point-and besides, I cannot but hope that the English reader will be jealous of the character of this scene, which can hardly fail to strike him, as exceedingly similar to the concluding scene in the “Winter's Tale" of our immortal Shakspeare. Admetus, whatever his conduct may have been in the earlier scenes, is certainly, in this last, influenced only by a noble determination to be faithful to his buried wife, not only in reality, but even in appearance ; and to fulfil to the letter his promise not to take to his home a
February, 1849.—VOL. LIV.—No. ccxiv.
stepdame to his children. Such are the chief grounds on which is based the theory that the Alcestis is not a tragedy, but a mere satyric drama, whereas none of them seem to prove more than this, that, as being the fourth or concluding tragedy of the list, it was endowed by its author with a sufficient infusion of liveliness, and comic character and incident, to make it occupy the place of a satyric representation. At the most it must be pronounced a tragi-comedy, of which class of plays Euripides is said to have been the inventor.
And here, perhaps, a few brief remarks with reference to this play, as it bears upon the character of its author, as a poet, may not be altogether out of place. In the first place it can scarcely be denied, that the Alcestis, if it answer no other end, may serve to exculpate Euripides most satisfactorily from the charge of being a professed woman-hater. It has been most truly answered to this accusation, that he, who was, above all his fellows, the poet of domestic life, could scarcely have borne such inveterate hatred to that sex, which has ever, in all civilized countries, invested home with its chiefest charm and grace. Sophocles, compared with Euripides in his treatment of the characters of his heroines, excels him indeed in the portrayal of their magnanimity, and noble daring; whilst he falls far short in the truthful expression of womanly affection, in its every form and phase; for which Euripides is justly celebrated. It will repay those, who have the means, to contrast the Antigone of Sophocles with the same character as exhibited in the Phænissæ of Euripides: and the contrast will fully bear out the truth of thiscriticism, which I owe to the twentyninth lecture of Mr. Keble's Prælections. But, setting this aside, may we not try the poet by his Alcestis, alone; and record a verdict unhesitatingly in his favour. Let us follow Alcestis through her palace, as she visits it for the last time ; (it is described in the speech of the attendant: line 182—239). Let us remark her piety towards the gods, and her motherly love for her children: subjects linked together in her thoughts, as it were, by an inseparable bond : (for what is more pure, after religion, than maternal affection? what so compatible with its faithful exercise ?) Let us review her tender and pathetic appeal to the scene of her wedded happiness, and the burst of conscious truthfulness to her lord which follows in the lines,
Some other mate
Add to these her kindness and consideration for her attendants, one of whom declares of her,
Oh ! she was more than mother to us all !
And it can scarcely be denied that we have in the space of some thirty lines a most beautiful conception; the personification of every feminine and domestic virtue in the queen of Admetus. And this is but one of the many passages throughout the play, which speak the same language. Alcestis passes away with the names of her children on her lips: and after death, is lauded by every character in the drama, as having shewn herself the noblest of wives to her bereaved lord. And the charm of the whole is, that so natural is the picture which Euripides has given us, so true a representation of the womanly character in its best form, that it might, in every age and clime, find its counterpart, with scarcely any variation, in the highest, and the lowliest walks of life. No doubt the charge against the poet would receive some colour, if we could persuade ourselves of the truth of the story that his wives proved faithless to him. But this rests on a most shallow foundation : and he who could depict Iphigenia, Alcestis, Macaria, and Antigone, as Euripides has depicted them, may well stand superior to the calumny respecting hatred of women. The tragedies, in which these heroines appear, afford a very strong presumption, that he was far from insensible to the proper excellencies of women, in the beautiful pictures, which he draws of feminine self-sacrifice, affection and devotion. His austere life and manners may have given rise to the scandal: but only those who are most superficial in their observation, will attribute to such as live in a great measure in study and retirement, a bitterness of feeling against those who mingle in the world, especially against the gentler sex. Although it may not have opportunity of developement, a due appreciation of the noblest characteristics of woman's nature may exist in the recluse, as fully, if not more so, than in him, who through contact with the world, learns to doubt, and to distrust, and to judge of all human nature, by his own low standard. If womankind has never had a more malignant enemy than Euripides, they may indeed desire traducers, who will so exalt and illustrate their characters. “In a word, that our poet ever drew women in far different colours” (vid. Art. Euripides, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biography;) “may be ascribed to what has indeed almost passed into a proverb, That women are both betterand worse than men: and“that oné especial characteristic of Euripides was to represent human nature as it is." I hope I have not marred the character of Alcestis in translation : for, if I have not, the reader will, I feel sure, agree, that in no play of Euripides, nay perhaps of any dramatist in any age, is there a greater charm of touching
pathos, in none a more life-like picture of a model wife and mother.
And as upon the charge of hatred to woman, so on the graver accusation of levity and profaneness towards the gods, our poet, judged by this play, will
, I think, be acquitted. I do not mean to say that, as in the Ion, the Bacchants, and the Hippolytus, so here religion is brought prominently forward. As regards the poet's beautiful delineation of the pure and holy Ion, the youthful servant of the temple, the truthful conception, developed in the Bacchants, of that sacred mystery which, say what men will, is intimately connected with every system of religious worship: and the chaste and heroic endurance of Hippolytus, as pourtrayed by Euripides, I cannot do better than commend the reader to the admirable lectures of Mr. Keble, as Professor of Poetry in the university of Oxford (vol. 2. lect. 29), before mentioned. Those who can read them will find them rich throughout in criticisms marked not less by originality of thought, than by truthfulness of judgment. A poet can best appreciate a brother poet's drift and meaning: and the author of the “CHRISTIAN YEAR” has nobly vindicated the much maligned Euripides from that utter lack of religious feeling, and sound morality, which it has been the fashion to lay to his charge. But let us content ourselves, in the present instance, with a passing glance at the incidental testimony to the religious character of Euripides, which we may glean from the Alcestis. The aim of the play is to enforce the duty of hospitality. Admetus had given to a god shelter and kindly welcome during his exile from Olympus. In the hour of distress he freely offers a kindly reception to Hercules, a demigod, on his route to Thrace : and a general respect for all guests and strangers pervades his whole character. Here then Hospitality is the key to
But closely connected with it is a sense that this very hospitality is pleasing to the gods, and looked upon by them as a proof of the love of their worshippers to themselves. It is placed in the light of a religious duty, in a spirit not altogether unworthy of one who had learned from a far higher source, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers." But glancing generally through the play, we find its heroine, as I have said before, represented as making religion her first thought, in the midst of all her solicitude for her husband and children.
And the chorus, in more than one place, inculcates recourse to the gods in deep distress, with a confidence in the potency of their ability and will to aid (248–53). Again it expresses a firm conviction that, by hospitably entreating strangers, Ad