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THE ALCESTIS OF EURIPIDES.
REV. JAMES BANKS, M.A.
Late Scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford.
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.
CHORUS OF PHERÆANS.
APOLLO. Hail! Halls that saw in me the God abased
comes, the priest of shades, to bear her hence
January, 1849.-VOL.LIV.-NO, CCXIII.
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
DEATH. Much hast thou said, yet is thy purpose vain.
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
90 Or to say if yonder morrow
Lets the light of Heaven in ?
Matchless duty, faith, and love. 1 Caor. Hear ye aught of lamentation ?
Or the dint of frequent blows?
100 Surely there is no retainer
Posted at the palace gate ;
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,
Yields her life, before the door.
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
From her lord. 1 CHOR. Yet 'tis to day
Which2 CHOR. Speak on! 1 Chor. The fates decided
For her passage to decay.
Men of proven worth must grieve;
When the worthy cease to live.
Equip thy fleet: yet where ye steer,
Of Ammon: and to Lycian shrine
To gain Apollo aid to bear:
The precipice of fate is near
From death's embrace. Methinks I seem
Of fond recourse to priest or seer.
Yet one there was; oh could but he,
Apollo's gifted son, return
Perchance Alcestis yet might find
And cheat the shades and darksome bourne,
And we might cease again to mourn.
His soul, resistless agency.
But now what hope of life is left ?
Soon shall be dwell alone on earth.
While every sacrificial hearth
And through the temples all around,
In vain the slaughter'd beasts abound.