Stories from the Greek Tragedians
Stories from the Greek Tragedians
By the Rev. Alfred J. Church, M.A.
"Stories from Homer" and "Stories from Virgil"
With Twenty Illustrations from Designs
by FLAXMAN and Others
Dodd, Mead and Company
The Chariot Of Zeus
I have added to the "Story of the SevenChiefs against Thebes" the description of thesingle combat between Eteocles and Polynices,which occurs in the Phœnissś of Euripides.Some changes have been made in the "Storyof Ion" to make it more suitable for the purposeof this book. Throughout the Storiescompression and omission have been freelyused. I can only ask the indulgence of suchof my readers as may be familiar with thegreat originals of which I have given thesepale and ineffectual copies.
October 11, 1879.
To my Sons,
Alfred, Maurice, Herbert,
Richard, Edward, Harald.
- The Story Of The Love Of Alcestis.
- The Story Of The Vengeance Of Medea.
- The Story Of The Death Of Hercules.
- The Story Of The Seven Chiefs Against Thebes.
- The Story Of Antigone.
- The Story Of Iphigenia In Aulis.
- The Story Of Philoctetes, Or The Bow Of Hercules.
- The Story Of The Death Of Agamemnon.
- The Story Of Electra, Or The Return Of Orestes.
- The Story Of The Furies, Or The Loosing Of Orestes.
- The Story Of Iphigenia Among The Taurians.
- The Story Of The Persians, Or The Battle Of Salamis.
- The Story Of Ion.
- The Ajax Series
The Story Of The Love Of Alcestis.
Asclepius, the son of Apollo, being a mightyphysician, raised men from the dead. ButZeus was wroth that a man should have suchpower, and so make of no effect the ordinance ofthe Gods. Wherefore he smote Asclepius witha thunderbolt and slew him. And when Apolloknew this, he slew the Cyclopťs that hadmade the thunderbolts for his father Zeus, formen say that they make them on their forgesthat are in the mountain of Etna. But Zeussuffered not this deed to go unpunished, butpassed this sentence on his son Apollo, that heshould serve a mortal man for the space of awhole year. Wherefore, for all that he was agod, he kept the sheep of Admetus, who was thePrince of Pherś in Thessaly. And Admetusknew not that he was a god; but, nevertheless,being a just man, dealt truly with him. And itcame to pass after this that Admetus was sickunto death. But Apollo gained this grace forhim of the Fates (which order of life and death formen), that he should live, if only he could findsome one who should be willing to die in hisstead. And he went to all his kinsmen andfriends and asked this thing of them, but foundno one that was willing so to die; only Alcestishis wife was willing.
And when the day was come on the whichit was appointed for her to die, Death came thathe might fetch her. And when he was come,he found Apollo walking to and fro before thepalace of King Admetus, having his bow in hishand. And when Death saw him, he said—
"What doest thou here, Apollo? Is it notenough for thee to have kept Admetus from hisdoom? Dost thou keep watch and ward overthis woman with thine arrows and thy bow?"
"Fear not," the god made answer, "I havejustice on my side."
"If thou hast justice, what need of thy bow?"
"'Tis my wont to carry it."
"Ay, and it is thy wont to help this housebeyond all right and law."
"Nay, but I was troubled at the sorrows ofone that I loved, and helped him."
"I know thy cunning speech and fair ways;but this woman thou shalt not take from me."
"But consider; thou canst but have one life.Wilt thou not take another in her stead?"
"Her and no other will I have, for myhonour is the greater when I take the young."
"I know thy temper, hated both of Gods andof men. But there cometh a guest to this house,whom Eurystheus sendeth to the snowy plainsof Thrace, to fetch the horses of Lycurgus.Haply he shall persuade thee against thy will."
"Say what thou wilt; it shall avail nothing.And now I go to cut off a lock of her hair,for I take these firstfruits of them that die."
In the meantime, within the palace, Alcestisprepared herself for death. And first shewashed her body with pure water from theriver, and then she took from her coffer ofcedar her fairest apparel, and adorned herselftherewith. Then, being so arranged, she stoodbefore the hearth and prayed, saying, "OQueen Herť, behold! I depart this day. Dothou therefore keep my children, giving to thisone a noble husband and to that a loving wife."And all the altars that were in the house shevisited in like manner, crowning them withmyrtle leaves and praying at them. Nor didshe weep at all, or groan, or grow pale. Butat the last, when she came to her chamber, shecast herself upon the bed and kissed it, crying,"I hate thee not, though I die for thee, givingmyself for my husband. And thee another wifeshall possess, not more true than I am, but,maybe, more fortunate!" And after she hadleft the chamber, she turned to it again andagain with many tears. And all the while herchildren clung to her garments, and she tookthem up in her arms, the one first and then theother, and kissed them. And all the servantsthat were in the house bewailed their mistress,nor did she fail to reach her hand to each ofthem, greeting him. There was not one ofthem so vile but she spake to him and wasspoken to again.
After this, when the hour was now come whenshe must die, she cried to her husband (for heheld her in his arms, as if he would have stayedher that she should not depart), "I see the boatof the dead, and Charon standing with his handupon the pole, who calleth me, saying, 'Hasten;thou delayest us;' and then again, 'A wingedmessenger of the dead looketh at me fromunder his dark eyebrows, and would lead meaway. Dost thou not see him?'" Then afterthis she seemed now ready to die, yet againshe gathered strength, and said to the King,"Listen, and I will tell thee before I diewhat I would have thee do. Thou knowesthow I have given my life for thy life. Forwhen I might have lived, and had for myhusband any prince of Thessaly that I would—anddwelt here in wealth and royal state, yetcould I not endure to be widowed of thee andthat thy children should be fatherless. There,fore I spared not myself, though thy father andshe that bare thee betrayed thee. But theGods have ordered all this after their ownpleasure. So be it. Do thou therefore makethis recompense, which indeed thou owest tome, for what will not a man give for his life?Thou lovest these children even as I lovethem. Suffer them then to be rulers in thishouse, and bring not a step-mother over themwho shall hate them and deal with them unkindly.A son, indeed, hath a tower of strengthin his father. But, O my daughter, how shallit fare with thee, for thy mother will not givethee in marriage, nor be with thee, comfortingthee in thy travail of children, when a mothermost showeth kindness and love. And nowfarewell, for I die this day. And thou, too,farewell, my husband. Thou losest a true wife,and ye, too, my children, a true mother."
Then Admetus made answer, "Fear not, itshall be as thou wilt. I could not find otherwife fair and well born and true as thou.Never more shall I gather revellers in mypalace, or crown my head with garlands, orhearken to the voice of music. Never shall Itouch the harp or sing to the Libyan flute. Andsome cunning craftsman shall make an imagefashioned like unto thee, and this I will hold inmy arms and think of thee. Cold comfort indeed,yet that shall ease somewhat of the burden ofmy soul. But oh! that I had the voice andmelody of Orpheus, for then had I gone downto Hell and persuaded the Queen thereof orher husband with my song to let thee go; norwould the watch-dog of Pluto, nor Charon thatferrieth the dead, have hindered me but that Ihad brought thee to the light. But do thouwait for me there, for there will I dwell withthee; and when I die they shall lay me by thyside, for never was wife so true as thou."
Then said Alcestis, "Take these children asa gift from me, and be as a mother to them."
"O me!" he cried, "what shall I do, beingbereaved of thee?"
And she said, "Time will comfort thee; thedead are as nothing."
But he said, "Nay, but let me depart withthee."
But the Queen made answer, "'Tis enoughthat I die in thy stead."
And when she had thus spoken she gave upthe ghost.
Then the King said to the old men that weregathered together to comfort him, "I will seeto this burial. And do ye sing a hymn as ismeet to the god of the dead. And to all mypeople I make this decree: that they mourn forthis woman, and clothe themselves in black, andshave their heads, and that such as have horsescut off their manes, and that there be not heardin the city the voice of the flute or the soundof the harp for the space of twelve months."
Then the old men sang the hymn as they hadbeen bidden. And when they had finished, itbefell that Hercules, who was on a journey,came to the palace and asked whether KingAdmetus was sojourning there.
And the old men answered, "'Tis even so,Hercules. But what, I pray thee, bringeth theeto this land?"
"I am bound on an errand for King Eurystheus;even to bring back to him horses ofKing Diomed."
"How wilt thou do this? Dost thou notknow this Diomed?"
"I know nought of him, nor of his land."
"Thou wilt not master him or his horseswithout blows."
"Even so, yet I may not refuse the tasksthat are set to me."
"Thou art resolved then to do this thing orto die?"
"Ay; and this is not the first race that Ihave run."
"Thou wilt not easily bridle these horses."
"Why not? They breathe not fire fromtheir nostrils."
"No, but they devour the flesh of men."
"What sayest thou? This is the food ofwild beasts, not of horses."
"Yet 'tis true. Thou wilt see their mangersfoul with blood."
"And the master of these steeds, whose sonis he?"
"He is son of Ares, lord of the land ofThrace."
"Now this is a strange fate and a hard thatmaketh me fight ever with the sons of Ares,with Lycaon first, and with Cycnus next, andnow with this King Diomed. But none shallever see the son of Alcmena trembling beforean enemy."
And now King Admetus came forth from thepalace. And when the two had greeted oneanother, Hercules would fain know why theKing had shaven his hair as one that mournedfor the dead. And the King answered that hewas about to bury that day one that was dearto him.
And when Hercules inquired yet further whothis might be, the King said that his childrenwere well, and his father also, and his mother.But of his wife he answered so that Herculesunderstood not that he spake of her. Forhe said that she was a stranger by blood, yetnear in friendship, and that she had dwelt inhis house, having been left an orphan of herfather. Nevertheless Hercules would have departedand found entertainment elsewhere, forhe would not be troublesome to his host. Butthe King suffered him not. And to the servantthat stood by he said, "Take thou this guest tothe guest-chamber; and see that they that havecharge of these matters set abundance of foodbefore him. And take care that ye shut thedoors between the chambers and the palace;for it is not meet that the guest at his mealshould hear the cry of them that mourn."
And when the old men would know whythe King, having so great