Alcestis eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 73 pages of information about Alcestis.
would be as unnatural as to refuse to die for her husband.  Indeed, Professor J.L.  Myres has suggested that care for the children’s future is the guiding motive of her whole conduct.  There was first the danger of their being left fatherless, a dire calamity in the heroic age.  She could meet that danger by dying herself.  Then followed the danger of a stepmother.  She meets that by making Admetus swear never to marry.  In the long run, I fancy, the effect of gracious loveliness which Alcestis certainly makes is not so much due to any words of her own as to what the Handmaid and the Serving Man say about her.  In the final scene she is silent; necessarily and rightly silent, for all tradition knows that those new-risen from the dead must not speak.  It will need a long rite de passage before she can freely commune with this world again.  It is a strange and daring scene between the three of them; the humbled and broken-hearted husband; the triumphant Heracles, kindly and wise, yet still touched by the mocking and blustrous atmosphere from which he sprang; and the silent woman who has seen the other side of the grave.  It was always her way to know things but not to speak of them.

The other characters fall easily into their niches.  We have only to remember the old Satyric tradition and to look at them in the light of their historical development.  Heracles indeed, half-way on his road from the roaring reveller of the Satyr-play to the suffering and erring deliverer of tragedy, is a little foreign to our notions, but quite intelligible and strangely attractive.  The same historical method seems to me to solve most of the difficulties which have been felt about Admetus’s hospitality.  Heracles arrives at the castle just at the moment when Alcestis is lying dead in her room; Admetus conceals the death from him and insists on his coming in and enjoying himself.  What are we to think of this behaviour?  Is it magnificent hospitality, or is it gross want of tact?  The answer, I think, is indicated above.

In the uncritical and boisterous atmosphere of the Satyr-play it was natural hospitality, not especially laudable or surprising.  From the analogy of similar stories I suspect that Admetus originally did not know his guest, and received not so much the reward of exceptional virtue as the blessing naturally due to those who entertain angels unawares.  If we insist on asking whether Euripides himself, in real life or in a play of his own free invention, would have considered Admetus’s conduct to Heracles entirely praiseworthy, the answer will certainly be No, but it will have little bearing on the play.  In the Alcestis, as it stands, the famous act of hospitality is a datum of the story.  Its claims are admitted on the strength of the tradition.  It was the act for which Admetus was specially and marvellously rewarded; therefore, obviously, it was an act of exceptional merit and piety.  Yet the admission is made with a smile, and more than one suggestion is allowed to float across the scene that in real life such conduct would be hardly wise.

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Alcestis from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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