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tra and her brother may put themselves to death, and so avoid the indignity, prince and princess as they are, of dying by the hands of a public executioner or an infuriated mob. The condemned pair take a final farewell, when Pylades suggests a mode of revenge on Menelaus. "Helen," he says, " is now within the palace: slay her, and revenge yourselves on your cold-hearted and selfish kinsman. Fear not her guards; they are only a few cowardly and feeble eunuchs." To this proposal Electra adds a most practical amendment. "Killing Helen will avail little : seize Hermione—she is now returning from Clytemnestra's tomb—and hold her as a hostage. Sooner than have his daughter and only child perish, Menelaus will befriend you." They combine both plans: Helen shall be slain; Hermione shall be seized upon. The former escapes their hands: just as the sword is at her throat she vanishes into thin air, and, being of divine origin, henceforth will share the immortality of her brothers, Castor and Pollux. The palace doors are barred against Menelaus, now returned from the assembly; but he beholds Orestes and Pylades, with Hermione between them, on the roof. Her they will slay, and make the palace itself her and their funeral pyre. This is indeed a dead lock. But Apollo appears with Helen floating in the air. By his mandate the crime of blood is cancelled: all shall live; and the remaining years of Orestes, Electra, and Pylades, pass unclouded by woe.
In the "Andromache" Orestes appears once more, but not as a leading character. He might, indeed, were it not for his relatives Menelaus and Hermione, have been another person so named, since of the hero of so many Greek dramas there is scarcely a trace left, except a disposition to do murder. Most people, after shedding so much human blood as he has done, would be contented with living thenceforward at peace with all men—even his rivals in love. But, on the contrary, this Argive prince contrives in the "Andromache " to put out of his way Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, for no better reason than that of coveting Hermione, the Phthian king's wife, and his own first cousin. We know not whether Apollo grew weary of cleansing of crime; yet to plot and execute a capital offence in the god's own temple at Delphi can hardly have been other than a severe trial of even divine patience.
As this play appears to have obtained the second prize at the time of its representation, besides furnishing the modern stage with more than one tragedy on the subject, it must be credited with a fair amount of interest for spectators. Yet it may be doubted whether it be equally attractive to readers. All that is material to be known of the plot may be gathered from its representatives— the " Andromaque" of Eacine, and the "Distrest Mother" of Ambrose Philips. The following scene, the most effective as well as touching in this somewhat complicated drama, may afford a sample—and it is a favourable one—of the original.
The heroine from whom the play takes its title is in the power of her enemies, Hermione, wife of Neoptolemus, and her father Menelaus. Bound with cords, she is being led off to execution, when the aged Peleus, the father of Achilles, and great-grandsire of Andromache's son, the little Molossus, enters and releases her. In the part of Molossus, as in that of the infant Orestes in the " Iphigenia at Aulis," we have a specimen of the manner in which Euripides availed himself of children in his scenes. Peleus says to the guards who are in charge of their prisoner:—
"Stand from her, slaves, that I may know who dares
Come hither, child;
Go forward, child, beneath my sheltering arms,
The "Helen" can scarcely be said to form part of the dramatic Tale of Troy, even although Menelaus and his wife are among its dramatis personce. It is a kind of offshoot from that world-wide legend. Perhaps Euripides, like the lyric poet Stesichorus, thought that some apology was due from him to "the fairest and most loving wife in Greece." In his "Hecuba" and " Trojan Women" Helen comes in for her full share of hard words. In the " Orestes" she is represented as greedy of gain, and making an inventory of the goods and chattels of Electra and her brother even before they were condemned to death. In the play last surveyed, Menelaus is rated for taking her again to his bosom, instead of cutting her throat. The lovely and liberal matron of the Odyssey, the mistress of all hearts of the Iliad, had hitherto been scurvily treated by our poet. His apology to her memory in the play bearing her name is curious. The purport of it is to show that there had been a fearful mistake made all along by the Greeks. The good-for-nothing Helen, for whom they shed so much blood, was a phantasm, a double, a prank of mischievous deities. The real Helen never went near Hion,—never injured any one, not even her husband,—but passed the score of years between the visit of Paris to Sparta and the fall of that city in a respectable grass-widowhood under the roof of a pious king and a holy prophetess in Egypt. Here was a delightful discovery! A great capital had been sacked and burnt to the ground; a whole nation removed from its place; Greece nearly ruined; thousands of valiant knights hurried to Hades; hundreds of dainty and delicate women told off, like so many sheep, to new owners; the very gods themselves set together by the ears;—and all for nothing—for a shadow that dislimned into thin air the instant it was no longer wanted for troubling and bewildering mankind!
It has been doubted whether there be a comic element in the "Alcestis;" it is far easier to detect one in the "Helen." Menelaus has lost his ship, and gets to land by clinging to its keel. He knows not on what coast he has been wrecked; but wherever it may be, he is uot fit to present himself to any respectable person. He says,—
"I have nor food nor raiment, proof of this
He is scolded by an old woman, the portress of King Theoclymenus's palace, who, seeing his tattered garments, takes him for a rogue and vagabond, and when told by him that he is a Greek, says, "The worse welcome; I am charged by my master to let none of that race approach his door." The trick by which Helen and himself try to make their escape from the island of Pharos nearly resembles the one we have already met with in the "Iphigenia at Tauri," —better executed, indeed, and more favoured by wind and wave, for in this play the flight is effected. The Chorus, however, who have been aiding the fugitives in the plot by secrecy, like the Chorus in the "Iphigenia," incur the wrath of the king; and as for his sister, the pious and prophetic Theonoe, she has been the chief abettor, and shall pay for her deceit with her life. Theoclymenus, indeed, is even more wroth than the Iphigenian Thoas on a similar occasion, and perhaps justly; for whereas the Tauric king was only incensed because the image of his goddess was stolen, Theoclymenus is a lover of Helen, whom for years he had been eager to make his wife. This makes a material difference between the two cases. It might have been possible to obtain a new image of Diana, and induce the goddess to consecrate it properly; but in all the world there was only one Helen.
The character of the priestess Theonoe bears some