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THE ALCESTIS OF EURIPIDES.

TRANSLATED BY

REV. JAMES BANKS, M.A.

Late Scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford.

ARGUMENT.

APOLLO desired that the Fates would allow Admetus, who was about to die, to find a substitute to die for him, so that he might live for a term equal to his former life: and Alcestis, his wife, gave herself up, while neither of the parents were willing to die for their son. Not long after this calamity, Hercules, having arrived, and learned from a servant the fate of Alcestis, goes to her tomb, and having made Death retire, covers the lady with a robe. He then requests Admetus to receive her, and keep her for him; saying, that he has carried her off as a prize, in wrestling. Upon his refusal to do so, Hercules unveils her, and discovers to her husband the wife whom he is lamenting.

Dramatis Persona.

APOLLO.

DEATH.

CHORUS OF PHERÆANS.

ATTENDANTS.

ALCESTIS.

ADMETUS.

EUMELUS.

HERCULES.

PHERES.

ALCESTIS.

10

APOLLO. Hail! Halls that saw in me the God abased
By menial service at a mortal board.
Jove will'd it so! for thee, my noble son,
When thou wast breast-struck by his lightning flash,
I slew in wrath the bolt's artificers,
The Cyclops fell for Æsculapius.
Hence came my service: hence my sire's constraint
Bound me to toil, in penance for my sin,
For earthly wages, and for sons of men.
This land receiv'd.me ; here I first found rest,
And for mine host a herdman's part fulfillid:
And I have watch'd his household till this day.-
In truth, being Holy, I had chanc'd it seems,
On one of holy life, good Pheres' son.
Whom, cheating thus the Fates, I saved from death.
Stern Goddesses, forsooth they gave consent,
Admetus might escape his present doom,
Should one replace him in the shades below.
He tried his friends : not one was left unasked :
His sire, and she that bare him ! none was found
Save his dear spouse : she only proved her love,
And gladly gave up life and light for him.
Hark! even now they bear her in their hands
Within the palace : fastly ebbs her breath :
To day 'tis fated, she must quit this earth,
To day from life she passes to the tomb.
I must away ! e'en in this blest abode
I may not see corruption face to face.
But soft ! I mark the near approach of Death;
He

comes, the priest of shades, to bear her hence
To her last home, in Pluto's gloomy realm.
Well hath he kept his time! the hour is nigh;
The destin'd hour. Death waits her latest sigh.

January, 1849.-VOL.LIV.-NO, CCXIII.

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30

G

(Enter Death.)

Death. Why at the palace, say? what is thy mission here?

Phæbus, again thou dost injure me grievously : Seeking mine attributes, to the Infernals dear,

Bringing to nought my prerogative recklessly. Stay'd was the death of Admetus ! to cheat the Fates

Was it a little thing ? master of subtleness ! Now, with thy bow in hand, here at the palace gates, 40

Stand'st thou to rescue his spouse from the bonds of Dis? Freely she promised her breath to redeem his life, She whom Admetus of Pelias took to wife ! APOLLO. Fear not ! just dealing and fair speech are mine. DEATH. Thy bow, methinks, belies such equal terms. Ap. Nay: 'tis my wont to carry this of oldDeath. Ay: and though right forbid, befriend these Halls. AP. True ! suffering friends demand our sympathy. Death. Then wilt thou rob me of this second prize? Ap. Not so ! thou didst not lose the first perforce.

50 Death. Why lives he then ? no grave his steps confines. Ap. The wife thou seekest, dies in place of himDEATH. And to the nether world returns with me. AP. Take her! I fear thine heart will not be moved Death. To slay my destin'd prey ? mine office this. Ap. Nay : tis to scatter deaths, where death is due. DEATH. So! I perceive thy drift, and guess thine aim. Ap. Alcestis ? may she nowise come to age

? DEATH. It may not be! I too my rights enjoy. Ap. Yet 'tis but one life thou canst claim and take. 60 Death. True! But then youth adds glory to my spoil. Ap. If she die old, a nobler pomp

attends. DEATH. The rich stand debtors, Phæbus, to thy rule. AP. What! dost thou deal out wisdom unawares ? Death. Those, that have wealth, would purchase to die old. AP. Thou wilt not then accord the boon I ask ? DEATH. I tell thee, no ! methinks thou know'st my ways. AP. Yes ! harsh to men, and by the gods abhorred. DEATH. Thou canst not have such things as right denies.

Ap. Brag on! Perchance thy fire may yet be quench'd : 70 A hero wendeth unto Pheres' halls, On errand of Eurystheus sent to bring The steeds and chariot from tempestuous Thrace. Soon shall he find a welcome with the king, And in return shall yield him back his spouse,

Taken perforce from thee. I owe thee nought
In gratitude: but thou shalt be constrained
To waive thy rights, yet still endure my hate.

DEATH. Much hast thou said, yet is thy purpose vain.
To her last home this lady must descend,

80 In quest of whom I march; my sword is drawn, That I therewith may now the rites begin. For sacred to the Gods beneath are they, Whose foremost lock this brand doth consecrate. 1 Chorus. Why is there ever this silence within the halls ?

Why art thou voiceless, O house of Admetus? 2 Chorus. Doth there no ready sound answer our eager calls ? Is there no friend who might mournfully greet us?

None to bid our work of sorrow
For the queen in death begin:

90 Or to say if yonder morrow

Lets the light of Heaven in ?
Question there is none that she
Stands a model all should see,
Who, like her, would strive to prove

Matchless duty, faith, and love. 1 Caor. Hear ye aught of lamentation ?

Or the dint of frequent blows?
Doth no dirge give intimation
That the deed hath met its close ?

100 Surely there is no retainer

Posted at the palace gate ;
Oh that, Healer, thou couldst gain her

Rest between the waves of fate. 2 Cuor. Death would raise a host of voices.

No, the queen is yet within ! 1 Chor. How? thine heart in hope rejoices,

Mine in vain aspires to win! 2 CHOR. Thinkest thou no crowd wouid follow

(If the mournful train were seen :) Her whom earth would gladly swallow,

110 Worthy wife, and noble queen. 1 AND 2 CHOR. Neither see I lustral water,

Which from dewy founts they pour,
Oft as each Pheraan daughter

Yields her life, before the door.
In the vestibule no token,

As of shorn locks, have we found; Nor have female hands bespoken That the marks of grief abound,

120 For the bride so soon divided

130

From her lord. 1 CHOR. Yet 'tis to day

Which2 CHOR. Speak on! 1 Chor. The fates decided

For her passage to decay.
2 CHOR. Thou dost wound my heart with sorrow!

Men of proven worth must grieve;
Grief a deeper tint may borrow,

When the worthy cease to live.
Chor. Bid all thy crews the Ocean rove:

Equip thy fleet: yet where ye steer,
In vain ye seek the thirsting grove

Of Ammon: and to Lycian shrine
Betake you with a wild design,

To gain Apollo aid to bear:
For destiny no powers can move:

The precipice of fate is near
For her, whom price can ne'er redeem

From death's embrace. Methinks I seem
Debarred from hope; yet idly dream

Of fond recourse to priest or seer.

140

Yet one there was; oh could but he,

Apollo's gifted son, return
To realms of day : this light but see;

Perchance Alcestis yet might find
Recovery from a leech so kind :

And cheat the shades and darksome bourne,
Which else her endless lot must be :

And we might cease again to mourn.
For he was wise to raise the dead,

150
Till riven was his noble head;
And Jove-directed lightnings sped

His soul, resistless agency.

But now what hope of life is left ?

Soon shall be dwell alone on earth.
All efforts vain-our king bereft—

While every sacrificial hearth
Is reeking with the victim blood :

And through the temples all around,
To stay the tide of misery's flood,

In vain the slaughter'd beasts abound.
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