ALCESTIS by Euripides, Part 01
translated by Richard Aldington
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY
CHORUS OF OLD MEN
A WOMAN SERVANT
ALCESTIS, the Queen, wife of ADMETUS
ADMETUS, King of Thessaly
EUMELUS, their child
PHERES, father of ADMETUS
A MAN SERVANT
(SCENE:-At Pherae, outside the Palace of ADMETUS, King of
Thessaly. The centre of the scene represents a portico with columns
and a large double-door. To the left are the women's quarters, to
the right the guest rooms. The centre doors of the Palace slowly
open inwards, and Apollo comes out. In his left hand he carries a
large unstrung golden bow. He moves slowly and majestically, turns,
and raises his right hand in salutation to the Palace.)
DWELLING of Admetus, wherein I, a God, deigned to accept the
food of serfs!
The cause was Zeus. He struck Asclepius, my son, full in the
breast with a bolt of thunder, and laid him dead. Then in wild rage
I slew the Cyclopes who forge the fire of Zeus. To atone for this my
Father forced me to labour as a hireling for a mortal man; and I
came to this country, and tended oxen for my host. To this hour I have
protected him and his. I, who am just, chanced on the son of Pheres, a
just man, whom I have saved from Death by tricking the Fates. The
Goddesses pledged me their faith Admetus should escape immediate death
if, in exchange, another corpse were given to the Under-Gods.
One by one he tested all his friends, and even his father and
the old mother who bad brought him forth-and found none that would die
for him and never more behold the light of day, save only his wife.
Now, her spirit waiting to break loose, she droops upon his arm within
the house; this is the day when she must die and render up her life.
But I must leave this Palace's dear roof, for fear pollution
soil me in the house.
See! Death, Lord of All the Dead, now comes to lead her to the
house of Hades! Most punctually he comes! How well he marked the day
she had to die!
(From the right comes DEATH, with a drawn sword in his hand. He
moves stealthily towards the Palace; then sees Apollo and halts
abruptly. The two Deities confront each other.)
Ha! Phoebus! You! Before this Palace! Lawlessly would you grasp,
abolish the rights of the Lower Gods! Did you not beguile the Fates
and snatch Admetus from the grave? Does not that suffice? Now, once
again, you have armed your hand with the bow, to guard the daughter of
Pelias who must die in her husband's stead!
Fear not! I hold for right, and proffer you just words.
If you hold for right, why then your bow?
My custom is ever to carry it.
Yes! And you use it unjustly to aid this house!
I grieve for a friend's woe.
So you would rob me of a second body?
Not by force I won the other.
Why, then, is he in the world and not below the ground?
In his stead he gives his wife-whom you have come to take.
And shall take-to the Underworld below the earth!
Take her, and go! I know not if I can persuade you...
Not to kill her I must kill? I am appointed to that task.
No, no! But to delay death for those about to die.
I hear your words and guess your wish!
May not Alcestis live to old age?
No! I also prize my rights!
Yet at most you win one life.
They who die young yield me a greater prize.
If she dies old, the burial will be richer.
Phoebus, that argument favours the rich.