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Four Old Greeks by  Jennie Hall
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HOW ALKESTIS WAS SAVED

A GREEK PLAY

[171]

I
T was a dark March night in Athens. The streets were filled with people. Every housetop was covered with men and women and children. They were all laughing and talking. Many of them carried torches. The light shone on fauns and satyrs and men's bodies with the heads of lions or of donkeys. All these wild creatures were dancing and shouting.

Somebody called from a housetop:

"Ho, ho! There is Silenos!"

The man threw a bunch of grapes at the old satyr. Then everybody in the street turned and laughed and threw fruit and flowers at Silenos. He ran away and hid in the dark.

"Make way! Here we come!" and two young satyrs came jumping among the crowd.

"And here you stay!" laughed some [172] fauns, as they bound the satyrs with grapevines.

"Hello, friend Cleon!" somebody on a housetop called down to a satyr in the street.

But everybody was too busy making a noise to hear anything. The man laughed to himself. He dropped a string over the edge of the roof. There was a hook at the end of it. He caught the hook in the frowsy hair of the satyr. Then he pulled. Up came the ugly mask. There was a handsome young man under it. He cried:

"Oh, help! I am losing my head."

He jumped for the mask and shook his fist at his friend and laughed.

"Come down and have some fun," he said.

Then somebody came running down the street, calling:

"Here they come! Stand back!"

But instead of standing back the people crowded into the middle of the street to see. They raised their torches high above their heads and peered into the dark. In a minute a procession [173] came around a turn in the crooked street. Young men were dancing along, waving their torches and singing. There were a hundred or more of them. In the middle of the procession a wooden statue stood high. It was made from the trunk of a grapevine. The light of the torches flashed on it. Four young men were carrying it. Its head was crowned with ivy. As it came on, the people shouted:

"Dionysos! Dionysos! Evoe, evoe!"

A little boy on a housetop jumped up and down and cried:

"Dionysos! Oh, I love you, Dionysos! Here, Dionysos, here!" and he threw kisses at the statue.

As the procession passed on, all the people fell in behind. They marched through the dark streets and up to the great theater on the side of the Akropolis. The doors were opened and the procession danced in. The people could see only a little way about them, because it was dark. But they could see the sky above with only a few stars in it. The torches flared on the empty [174] stone seats. They were in a half-circle, going back and up. In front was a high wall with a narrow stage. Before the stage was an empty circle on the floor. There the young men set the statue of Dionysos. Then they danced around it and sang:

"Dionysos has come to see the play. All honor to Dionysos! There shall be [175] songs for Dionysos, and dances for Dionysos, and plays for Dionysos. All the people shall have a holiday. We will all be gay because Dionysos gives us grapes, because Dionysos loves us."


[Illustration]

THE THEATER AS IT IS NOW

Then they danced out into the streets and the fun went on.

Early the next morning great crowds were standing at the doors of the theater. The sun was not yet up. It was a noisy crowd. Men and women and boys and girls were in their gayest clothes. Rich men brought their servants to carry wine-skins and soft cushions. Men from the country had come with big baskets of fruit and were selling to people.

"We shall see something fine to-day," said one man.

'"Yes," answered another. "They say that Cleomenes has spent much money on the actors' robes."

"They are opening the doors! They are opening the doors!" cried the crowd. "Here we go!"

There were four great doors to the theater. At all four of these places the people were packed together. Now, just [176] as the sun was coming up, the great doors opened, and the people poured in, pushing and laughing.

There was no roof to the theater. The seats were stone benches, close together. They were like steps leading up, and the rows were half - circles. The aisles were so narrow that only one man could go up at a time, but people ran helter-skelter over the seats. They did not wait to walk in the aisles. They sat wherever they pleased, except where some seats had a rope stretched around them. A guard stood here.

"Keep off!" he shouted. "These seats are for the officers of the city."

At another place were more seats [177] with ropes stretched around them. The guard there kept shouting:

"These seats are for the judges!

All the front row was for the priests.

The seats here were marble chairs, beautifully carved.


[Illustration]

CHAIR OF THE PRIEST OF DIONYSOS

At another place the guard was shouting:

"The orphans sit here!"

Because if a man died in battle fighting for Athens, Athens said:

"We will take care of his little son. We will buy his clothes and we will send him to school. We will give him a seat at the theater."

The women did not sit with the men. They went away up in the back of the theater. Many people had come from other cities to see the plays. They, too, went to the back seats.

It must have been fine to be down in front. You could see and hear well. But it was fine to be in the back seats, too. If you looked ahead you saw over the front wall and far away. There were rocks and trees and country roads and farm carts. And there sparkled the [178] blue ocean. If you looked down into the theater, it was more wonderful yet. Thousands and thousands of people—thirty thousand! There were circling rows and rows and rows of them. Yellow hair; ivy crowns on everybody's head; floating robes of purple, white, red; waving arms. It was like a big, dancing rainbow. And the noise!—laughs, songs, shouts. For a Greek was always talking and he could not sit still long at a time.

In the midst of all the noise music sounded. The noise stopped. Everybody looked toward the door. In came the procession of the great men of the city. They were walking two by two. There were priests, officers of Athens, messengers from other cities, and the orphans. The guards took them to the seats that had been saved for them.

The priest of Dionysos walked into the center of the circle. An altar was there. The statue of Dionysos stood by it. The priest put fruit upon the altar. He poured wine upon it and he set fire to it all. He raised his hands and said:

[179] "O, Dionysos! we thank thee for grapes. We thank thee for dew. We thank thee because the grapevines are beginning to grow again. We thank thee for song and dance. We are glad to-day."

Then all that great audience sang to Dionysos

When the song was over, men came carrying heavy loads of gold. They put the gold down in the circle. The people cheered when they saw it. Other cities had sent it, saying:

"O, Athens! you are greatest, you are strongest. Be our friend; protect us."

And the Athenians were proud. Men turned to people next them to talk of it.

"Ah! we are the greatest city in the world," they were saying. "Our army! Our ships!"

Many things kept happening. Soldiers were given crowns because they had been brave. The judges were chosen. They took their seats down near the front. Some orphans came upon the stage. They were the ones who were old enough to be soldiers. [180] They were in full armor. The chief of the city said:

"You are no longer boys. You are citizens of Athens—men. You may speak in the public assembly. You may vote. You may fight for Athens as your fathers did."

But all this time people did not listen. They made a great deal of noise.

"This is not what we came for," they said.

Besides, the people in the back seats could not see or hear well, for they were almost a block away.

But at last the herald walked up the steps of the stage. All the noise ceased. The herald shouted his loudest:

"Euripides, lead on your chorus!"

Euripides was the poet who wrote the plays for that day.

When the herald said that, the people cheered and jumped to their feet to see.

"The chorus is coming!" they cried.

So they all sat down and the play began. There were three long plays. Sometimes the people cheered, some- [181] times they wept, sometimes they shouted to the actors. There was no time to wait and rest. But, of course, the people could not sit still all that time. They would take their luncheons out and eat. Every little while a wine-cup would flash in the sun. People would get up and walk about to rest themselves.

Three long plays had been acted. The curtain at the back of the stage rolled down. Another curtain rolled up in its place. On it was the picture of the front of a great palace. There were high double doors in the middle. There was a small door at each side. When the curtain went up all the people stopped their talking. They settled down in their seats to listen.

Out of one of the side doors walked an actor.


[Illustration]

A GREEK ACTOR

"Apollo!" the people whispered.

They knew him by the bow at his back and by his long golden hair. He was bigger than a man. He wore shoes with wooden soles a foot thick. He wore a great mask, twice as long as his [183] head. His body was padded. All this was to help the people at the back to see. And there was a trumpet inside the mask. That was to help the people to hear, for the theater was very large.

Apollo walked slowly. He spoke very slowly and very loud, so that everybody could hear. He looked at the palace and chanted:

"House of Admetos, happy days have I spent here. Much I love your lord Admetos. I leave you in sorrow, for Alkestis must die to-day. Long ago I heard Death, who lives under the earth, say, 'It is time for Admetos to die.' But I begged him to wait, because I loved Admetos. 'If some one will die instead of him, will you let Admetos live?' I asked. At last he said, 'Yes.' I told Admetos what Death had promised, and he told all his friends. He went to his servants and said, 'Have I ever done any good thing for you?' They answered, 'Indeed, Admetos, you have given us life, for where else could we get food or home but from you?' Then he asked, 'Will you do me a [184] kindness in return?' 'Most gladly/ they cried; 'what can we do, our lord Admetos?' 'Die for me, that I may live/ he answered. 'Ah, no—not that; we cannot do that. No, no!' Then he asked his father and his mother and all his friends. They would not do it. None of those who ought to love him really loved him well enough to die for him. None except his young wife, beautiful Alkestis. He would not ask her, but she came to me and said: 'Apollo, tell Death to take me. I am of little account; my lord is a great man and a king. And I would rather die than stay in this great house alone without my dear lord/ I told Death, and he accepted her. Now is the day when she must die. I cannot stay to see it. It is too sad a thing."

Then he turned and walked slowly along the stage toward the left side. A great painting of trees stood there at the edge of the stage. He walked away behind it.

When he was gone the people said to one another:

"Now for the chorus!"

[185] They looked at the big circle in front where the altar and statue of Dionysos were. They looked at the great doors on each side of it.

"Here they come!" shouted the people.

The chorus was walking in at the western side. First came a flute player. Old men were marching behind him to his slow music. They were in a solid line of threes. There were fifteen of them. They wore long gray robes, and carried long staffs. They walked very slowly into the circle and stood in front of the stage. It was high above their heads. Part of them turned to the other part and spoke.


[Illustration]

A FLUTE PLAYER

First Semi-chorus: What is happening in Admetos' house?

Second Semi-chorus: Do you hear weeping?

First Semi-chorus: O, unhappy day!

They leaned on their staffs. They swayed their bodies to and fro. Their talking was like a very slow song, a chant. Thus they talked back and forth.

Second Semi-chorus: If some one could only save her!

[187] First Semi-chorus: Our beautiful mistress!

Second Semi-chorus: Our good Alkestis!

They all walked back and forth in front of the stage. They kept half turning in a sad dance.

Chorus:

We have no priest, no altar more,

Whose aid we may implore.

To every god at every shrine

The king hath paid the rites divine.

But vain his vows, his loving care,

And ours is dark despair.

A door opened on the stage, and the chorus looked up.

Leader [pointing]: See, here comes a servant out of the door.

Out came a woman. It was really a man dressed like a woman. He, too, was made to look larger than life; for he wore thick soles and a mask, as all actors did. And all actors spoke very loud and slowly, to make themselves understood. Everything was slow —the walking, the talking, and the gestures.


[Illustration]

A MASK

[188] Leader [to woman]: Tell us, is Alkestis yet alive?

The woman waved her arms and shook her head sadly.

Servant: Only half alive.

Leader: How does she bear it?

Servant: To-day she went about the house and looked at all the things she loved. She said some kind word to all of us servants, even the poorest one. She took her children in her arms and kissed them.

Leader: But, now, what is she doing?

Servant: Now she is very weak.

Leader: How does Admetos feel?

Servant: He sits by Alkestis and weeps. He can do nothing, he is so unhappy.

Leader: Unhappy, indeed, to lose so good a friend as Alkestis!

Servant: She wishes to come out of doors to see the sun for the last time.

The servant turned and walked very slowly through the door. The chorus broke out into a sad chant. They swayed their bodies and waved their arms as they sang.

[189] Chorus: Alas, alas! Unhappy Admetos! Unhappy country! If some one could only save this dear woman!

Apollo and the servant had come through the small side door. Now the great double doors in the middle of the palace moved. The leader of the chorus pointed.

Leader: Look, she comes!

The great doors swung wide open. Out came a sad procession. A hum arose from the people in the seats. They were turning to say to one another:

"Alkestis!"

And there she was, leaning on Admetos, for she was very sick. She was tall like a woman from Olympos, and Admetos was tall, too, for they, also, wore thick soles and masks.

Alkestis' robe was purple; her himation was white and gold. [190] She had a crown on her head because she was a queen. All the other people on the stage wore black or gray or brown for mourning.

The little son Eumelos and his sister were with them. The little girl had her hand on her mother's robe. Servants followed them, carrying a couch. All were walking very slowly. Of course they could not weep, because they had masks on, but it seemed as though they were all weeping, because they moved so sadly.

Inside the doors of the palace it was dark; outside it was bright. The warm sun was on Alkestis' face. The breeze stirred her long hair. She looked up at the sky.

Alkestis: O sun, and breeze, and flying cloud!

Admetos: Stay with me, Alkestis!

Alkestis did not hear. She looked around; she saw the rough side of the Akropolis. But you thought that she saw the country in front of her palace—the woods, the roads, and the houses.

[191] Alkestis: O earth, where I have been so happy!

Admetos: We never can be happy without you, Alkestis.

Slowly Alkestis turned her face from looking at the country and the sky. She looked at Admetos.

Alkestis: I must go, Admetos; I have promised. I could not live and let you die. I could not stay without you. I could not let you leave my children without a father. The people need you. It is better for me to go.

She did not say it sadly. A woman on one of the back seats said to her friend:

"She is not afraid to die."

Then Alkestis saw her children. She put her hand on the little girl's head.

Alkestis: But my children! You must love them well, Admetos.

Admetos: I cannot be their mother, but I will be kind to them, Alkestis.

She turned the little girl's face up to look at it.

Alkestis: I hope that you will be happy, my little daughter.

[192] Admetos: Stay and make us happy, Alkestis.

She did not hear. She was still looking at her children.

Alkestis: Good-by, my children!

Admetos: Alkestis! Do not leave us!

Alkestis [turning to Admetos]: Good-by, Admetos!

She sank upon the couch. The chorus waved their arms.

Leader: She is gone.

Little Eumelos put his hand on her shoulder. He looked into her face.

"Mother!" he called.

Then he looked up at his father and said:

"She is dead!"

"Sister," he said, very sadly, turning to his little sister, "we have no mother any more."

Admetos [holding out his hands to chorus]: She is gone.

He threw his hands over his head.

Admetos: O, let my country mourn! There never was another woman half so good as my Alkestis. Let my people dress in black and cut their hair in [193] sign of sorrow. Let the manes of the horses be sheared. Let no joyful music be heard. We never can be happy again without this dear woman.

Then he turned to the servants.

Admetos: Let us take her into the house.

The servants lifted the couch and carried Alkestis into the house. Admetos and his children followed slowly, with bowed heads. The great doors closed behind them. The people in the seats heaved a great sigh. Many were weeping.

Then the chorus lifted their heads and sang to the playing of the flute as they walked back and forth before the stage.

Chorus [singing]:

Our lady, Alkestis, good and brave,

Men will pray for wives like you;

Bards will strike their lyres and sing,

"Alkestis, queen of women!"

They stood still with bowed heads. The people in the seats were perfectly quiet. Then they heard a loud voice singing:

"Ho, ho-ho, ho!"

[194] The sounds came from behind the trees at the east end of the stage. In a minute a great man walked on from behind them. He wore a lion's skin and carried a club.

"Herakles!" the people shouted.

They jumped to their feet. Women snatched off their himations and waved them. Boys waved their cloaks. Men clattered their wooden sandal-heels against the stone seats. They threw flowers.

"Herakles! Herakles!" they shouted. They would not be quiet. One man said to another:

"Now we are all right. Herakles is here. Oh, how big he is !"

When at last the place was quiet, Herakles called to the chorus.

Herakles: Hello! Who is here? Tell me, my friends, is Admetos in his house?

Chorus [to one another]: It is Herakles!

Then the leader answered him.

Leader: Admetos is in his house. But why are you here, Herakles? What is the brave thing you are going to do?

[195] Herakles: Oh, it's nothing very great. I am on my way to get some wild horses for Eurystheus.

He tossed his club from one hand to the other.

The chorus turned to one another. They threw up their hands in wonder and fear.

Leader [to Herakles]: The horses of Diomedes in Thrace ?

Herakles: Yes.

The chorus stepped back and dropped their hands.

Leader: But they eat men as lions do. Herakles struck his hands on the lion's paws under his chin.

Herakles: I have fought with lions and am yet alive.

Leader: They breathe out fire from their nostrils.

Herakles: I will get them for all that.

He swung his club gayly. He turned toward the palace.

Herakles: But where is Admetos? The leader pointed to the great doors. They were opening.

[196] Leader: Look! he comes out of his house.

Admetos came slowly; a servant followed him. Admetos' head was bowed. He wore a long black robe. He stopped and sadly lifted his head and saw Herakles. Then he stepped forward and raised his hand.

Admetos: Welcome to my house, Herakles.

Herakles: Hail! friend Admetos. It was a big, brave, gay voice.

Herakles: But you are dressed in mourning.

Admetos: Some one lies dead in the house.

Herakles: I hope it is none of your children.

Admetos: No, they are well; it is a woman.

Herakles: Some near relative? Admetos: She came from another house.

Herakles: It is not your wife, then, the beautiful Alkestis.

His voice told how glad he was. Herakles: But, my friend, I am sorry [197] to find you sad. I had hoped to stay with you.

Admetos: And so you shall. Herakles: Not when you have this sorrow.

Admetos: We will forget our sorrow. Never will I turn a guest away from my house.

Herakles: I will come sometime when you are not so unhappy.

Admetos: You must stay now, Herakles. We have a room away from the rest of the house. The mourning will not disturb you there. I cannot let you go.

Herakles: Well, since you wish it, I will stay.

Admetos turned to the servant.

Admetos: Take Herakles to the guest-chamber. Tell the servants to spread a banquet for him. Stay and wait upon him and make him comfortable.

Herakles: I thank you for your kindness, Admetos.

He clapped his great hand lovingly on Admetos' shoulder.

[198] Admetos: I will come to see you soon.

Then Herakles walked in through the side door. Admetos turned and watched him. People in the seats were saying to themselves:

"Stay, Herakles! You are so good to look at!"

When Herakles was gone, the leader of the chorus spoke to Admetos.

Leader: How could you be thoughtful for a guest, when you are so unhappy, Admetos?

Admetos turned slowly around to answer.

Admetos: Could I send him away to find rest and banquet in some stranger's house? A guest is always welcome here.

Leader: Why did you not tell him that it is Alkestis who is dead?

Admetos: If he had known that my sorrow is so great he would not have come in. Now I will go back to Alkestis. We will take her to the grave soon.

He turned and walked through the great doors. It was a brave thing to keep back his tears and welcome a visitor. Thus the chorus thought and sang.

[199] Chorus:

Oh, generous house! Oh, generous king!

To many a stranger, many a guest

The gate has opened, the feast been spread.

Travelers and beggars have eaten and slept.

And now Admetos is weary and sad,

Yet he spreads the feast and welcomes the guest.

The flute played. The music was not so sad as it had been before. The chorus moved their staffs in time with it. They danced about the altar of Dionysos. At the end of the song the great doors opened again. The leader of the chorus pointed.

Leader: But look ! Here comes the funeral train. They are taking Alkestis to the grave.

Out came the procession. All the people wore long robes of black or gray. First came four servants carrying a litter with Alkestis lying on it. Admetos and his children and his servants followed. They walked along the stage and off past the trees at the west. As they passed, the chorus sang again, stretching their hands toward Alkestis.

[200] Chorus:

Dear lady, farewell! Alkestis, farewell!

Your kindness, your courage, your wonderful love

For the king, for us, we shall never forget.

We shall miss you, Alkestis; shall miss you,

Alkestis.

There were steps leading from the circle to the stage. The chorus walked up these steps and followed the procession slowly. At last the stage was empty. The people in the seats were still and sad, waiting for what should happen.

All at once a servant came out of the side door of the palace. He was old and cross. He swung his hand back toward the doors.

Servant: Who can this boisterous fellow be? It makes no difference to him that we are all unhappy. He eats enough for ten men; he pounds the table with his fists and shouts, "Ho, ho! but this meat tastes good to a hungry man. Why, this is the first meal I've had today." Then he drinks down a cup of wine at one swallow. He tells the maidservant, "Make me a garland for my [201] head." She makes one, and he sets it crooked on his head and sings a merry song. And all the while our hearth are breaking because Alkestis is dead.

The servant looked off down the road where they had taken Alkestis.

Servant: She was a mother to us all. When we were sick she nursed us; when we were unhappy she cheered us. She was always gentle with us. Oh, my dear mistress!

He stretched his hands after her.

The side door of the palace opened again. Out walked Herakles. Again the people shouted:

"Herakles! Herakles! Oh, you are back! Good, good!"

There was a garland of flowers on his head. It sat crooked and looked as though he had been having a romp. He carried a wine-cup in his hand. He shouted loudly at the servant and rolled his jolly head.

Herakles: Hello, fellow! what makes you look so gloomy? Ho, ho! This is not the way to treat a guest. I am a friend of your lord; he wants you to [202] make me happy. Are you gloomy because somebody is dead?

He beckoned to the servant.

Herakles: Come here and let me tell you something

The servant came. Herakles dropped his big hand on the man's shoulder.

Herakles: It does no good to be sad. Cheer up!

He shook him by the shoulder and laughed.

Herakles: Put a garland on your head; take a drink of wine and you will feel better, I am sure. Be happy, my friend; it does no good to mourn, I tell you.

But the old servant did not like it. He stepped back and turned away.

Servant: Perhaps that is true, but I cannot help being sad when so great a sorrow comes.

Herakles: So great a sorrow? It was only some stranger. It might have been worse. You ought to be thankful that your master and mistress are still alive.

The servant turned and looked at Herakles for a minute.

[203] Servant: My mistress? What do you mean?

Herakles: Did Admetos deceive me? Is not Alkestis well?

Servant: It is Alkestis that is dead.

The cup that Herakles was holding fell from his hand with a crash.

Herakles: What do you say? Alkestis is dead? And could he be thoughtful and kind to me when he was so unhappy? I ought to have known it. His eyes were red with tears.

Herakles stamped his foot. He struck his fist on his breast.

Herakles: And I have been shouting and singing and feasting in the house, and he has been weeping all this time.

When Herakles said that he tore the garland from his head and threw it to the floor. He trampled on it with his foot. Then he turned to the servant and held out his hand.

Herakles: Forgive me, my friend! I do not wonder that you were unhappy. It was a shame for me to be laughing in this sad house. But tell me where she is.

[204] Servant: They have taken her to the grave. It is down that road.

Then the servant walked sadly into the house.

Herakles looked off down the road. He tightened the lion's legs around his neck. He stretched his great arms and rubbed his muscles. He threw the club over his shoulder.

Herakles [talking to himself]: Now, Herakles, do something worthy of yourself. You find your friend in sorrow; can you not do something for him? You have strangled lions. Why not catch Death and wrestle with him?

He walked about and thought.

Herakles: I will stand by the grave and wait for him. When he comes I will rush upon him; I will seize him around his waist and throw him to the ground. I will hold him there until he promises to give Alkestis to me. Then I will bring her back and give her to my dear friend, Admetos.

He went off down the road. The old servant looked after him for a minute, and then went back into the palace. [205] The stage was empty. The people in the seats were waiting. It was very quiet. Then the children and the servants who had taken away Alkestis came back and went into the palace through the side doors. The chorus came walking sadly on with their himations over their heads. The long line went down the steps into the circle. Again the stage was empty. Again the people sat still and waited. At last Admetos came. He walked very slowly. His chin was on his breast. He stopped in front of the doors. He threw his hands over his head and let them drop again. He sang a high, shrill chant.

Admetos: Oh, how I hate this house! There is no one here now that I love. No one meets me at the door. I shall see her chair empty.

He put his hands over his face.

Leader: Go in, Admetos, and rest.

He answered without uncovering his face.

Admetos: I cannot go in.

Leader: Other people have been unhappy, Admetos.

[206] Admetos: Alkestis!

He reached out his arms. It was as though he thought that Alkestis was standing in the door.

Leader: Go in and see your children.

Admetos: They will clasp my hands and cry for their mother.

Admetos stood silent for a long time. Then he turned and looked down the road.

Admetos: I remember when I walked with her along this road for the first time. I was bringing her from her father's house to our own new home. She wore a purple robe trimmed in silver. My robe was white and gold. The people were singing joyful songs and scattering flowers in our path. Now I am dressed in black, and I enter the house alone. Oh, Alkestis!

Leader: This is not an unexpected sorrow; you have known for a long time that it was to happen. Be thankful that you are still alive.

Admetos turned quickly and spoke to the leader. His voice was like thunder.

Admetos: What do you say? I hate [207] myself; I was a coward! I let her die for me; I was afraid to die. I did not dare to say, "Apollo, Death shall take me; I cannot let Alkestis do it." I was not brave enough to say that. Oh, it is better to die than to be without Alkestis. But I did not know this before. Now it is too late.

When he said that he covered his face with his hands.

Then Herakles came from behind the trees.

"He has got her!" the people in the seats shouted. "Bravo, Herakles!"

And surely, he led a woman by the hand. Her himation was thrown over her head and face, but the people knew her by her robe of purple and her himation of white and gold.

Admetos still stood with his hands over his face. Herakles looked at him for a minute. Then he spoke. His voice was very kind.

Herakles: Admetos, I am sorry that you did not tell me that it was Alkestis who was dead. I was eating and singing and laughing in your house. I [208] did not know that you had so great a sorrow. But I must tell you why I have come back. As I walked along the road I met a certain person and had a wrestling match with him. I won and got this woman for a prize. Keep her for me. When I come back from Thrace I will stop and take her again.

Admetos uncovered his face to look. He did not know Alkestis. He was too sad to notice well.

Admetos: Do not ask me to do that. I will do anything else for you, Herakles. Ask some other friend to keep her. I should be weeping always if I saw her about the house where Alkestis used to be.

Then quickly he flung out his hands toward Herakles. When he spoke his voice was shrill.

Admetos: What if she should sit in Alkestis' chair! I could not bear to see her.

Then he looked at the woman. The people in the seats caught their breath.

"Now he will know her," they thought.

[209] But he did not.

Admetos: Indeed, she looks like my Alkestis. She is just as tall, and she walks like her. Think, Herakles, how unhappy it would make me to have her always reminding me that I shall never see Alkestis again.

Herakles: It will spoil your life if you always mourn for Alkestis.

Admetos: My life is already spoiled, because she is dead.

Herakles: After a while you will be happier.

Admetos: I never can be happy without Alkestis.

Herakles: You will find new friends and forget her.

Admetos: I never can forget her ; I shall love her always.

Herakles: Keep this woman for me, Admetos.

Admetos: I cannot.

Herakles: You will be doing me an unkindness if you refuse.

Admetos: I wish you never had received the prize !

All this time Admetos stood turned [210] away from Herakles. His head was bowed. Herakles still held the woman's hand. He watched Admetos. It seemed almost as though he were smiling.

Herakles: If you love me, Admetos, take her. You will not be sorry. It is a little thing to do; come!

He held out his hand to Admetos. Admetos turned slowly and stepped away from the door.

Admetos: Well, then, lead her in. It breaks my heart to see her, but I cannot refuse to do you a kindness.

Herakles: No, you yourself must lead her in.

Herakles stepped toward the king. The woman followed. Herakles held out his hand again. Admetos stepped back quickly and put his hands behind him.

Admetos: I would' not touch her. Let my servants take her.

Herakles: Let servants take care of her? She is too precious for that. I will trust her to nobody but you, my friend.

Admetos: Herakles, I once led my [211] Alkestis into this house. I will never lead any other woman in.

Herakles: Come, put out your hand. I ask it as a kindness. Give me your hand.

Herakles was close to Admetos now. He was looking down on the king and still holding out his great hand. There was a little laugh in his voice.

Admetos stood looking up into Herakles' kind face. Then he heaved a sigh and put out his hand.

Admetos: For your sake, then, I will do it, Herakles, though it breaks my heart. Here is my hand.

"Ah!" said the people in the seats.

"Who could refuse Herakles?" men whispered.

Herakles: And here I put this woman's hand in yours. Have you hold of her?

Admetos: Yes.

Herakles: Then hold her fast, Admetos, and never let her go. Look at her and see whether you will thank Herakles for bringing her?

He lifted the veil from the woman's [212] face. There, beautiful and still, was Alkestis.

The people in the seats almost shouted, but they waited to see what Admetos would say.

He looked at her long. He still held her hand.

Admetos: Alkestis!

It was almost a whisper.

Admetos: It cannot be so; it is a ghost.

Then Herakles laughed his loud laugh.

Herakles: I have brought you no ghost, my friend. Put your hand on her face. Is she not real flesh and blood?

Admetos did put his hand on her face.

Admetos [crying out]: Alkestis, I have you again! I will never let you go.

He held both her hands tightly in his. He looked and looked at her.

Herakles: Guard her well, Admetos.

Admetos: Oh, Alkestis! I am cured of being a coward. I will never lose you again.

[213] But she only stood still and looked at him.

"Why doesn't she speak?" said a woman on one of the back seats.

"She is too tired and too happy," replied another.

"She is just come back from the grave," said another.

"What must she be thinking?" one whispered.

Then Admetos turned to Herakles.

Admetos: But how did you do this wonderful thing, Herakles?

Herakles: Oh, I waited at the grave. When Death came, I rushed at him. I seized him around the waist and threw him to the ground. I held him until he cried, "Mercy! Take Alkestis and let me go." So I took her and brought her to you. Now I'm off to Thrace.

He swung his club and laughed.

Admetos: Stay with us for a while, Herakles. Feast and rest in our house. Let us try to thank you.

Herakles: Some other time. Now there is no rest for me. I have a work to do.

[214] Admetos: Some other time, then. But come to us soon, Herakles.

Herakles: Good-by, friends! When shall I come and take back my prize, Admetos? Oh, ho! that was a jolly wrestling match. Oh, ho! That's the kind of thing I like to do.

Off he went behind the trees to the east, singing. Everybody looked after him. The people in the seats shouted his name and waved their garlands.

At last Admetos turned to the chorus.

Admetos: And now let all my country rejoice. Let all the people come to my palace and feast and dance. Let the poets sing how Herakles fought for us and gave us back our Alkestis. Come, my dear wife; let me lead you into the house. I will seat you in your chair; I will bring our children to you. We shall be happier than we ever were before.

Then he led Alkestis through the great doors. The stage was empty.

The chorus danced about the altar and waved their arms and sang a song of joy.

[215] Chorus:

Herakles! Herakles!

Glory to him, the mighty, the worker!

Herakles! Herakles!

Lover of men, friend of Admetos!

Herakles! Herakles!

Whenever they said "Herakles," they waved their arms high and turned in the dance. At the end they formed in lines of threes and marched off out of the circle.

The leader stayed. As the others went away, he turned to the people in the seats and spoke to them. There was laughter in his voice.

Leader: It is always like this. What we think will happen does not happen. What we dare not hope for comes true. So has it been on this happy day.

Thus the play ended.

The people went wild with joy. They talked about the play. They talked about the poet. They shouted

"Euripides! Alkestis!"

They sang songs about Herakles. They looked at the judges sitting down in front.

[216] "Remember, you judges," some people cried, "Euripides is to have the prize."

Then they went home, shouting and singing all the way.

On other days there were plays of other poets. At the end of it all the judges decided who was the best poet. Then that poet went upon the stage, and the chief of the city put an ivy crown upon his head. How the people shouted!


[Illustration]

A POET TRAINING A CHORUS

[217] One day there was another great procession. Everybody wore a mask and played that he was Dionysos or a faun or a satyr. There were flute-players, and women clashing cymbals, and men waving pine-cone staffs, and girls throwing flowers. Everybody in Athens walked in the procession and danced and sang and wore his finest clothes.

Then on another day there was a great dance in the market-place. Fifty handsome young men danced and sang a hymn of thanksgiving to Dionysos.

So for five days Athens was gay—songs, dances, plays, processions, laughing crowds, beautiful clothes all the time. And all this happened because long, long ago Dionysos had taught people how to grow grapes, how to make raisins and wine and to have banquets.


[Illustration]


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