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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Account of Alcestis’s Farewell to her Home

By Euripides (c. 480–406 B.C.)

From Robert Browning’s ‘Balaustion’

WHAT kind of creature should the woman prove

That has surpassed Alcestis?—surelier shown

Preference for her husband to herself

Than by determining to die for him?

But so much all our city knows indeed:

Hear what she did indoors, and wonder then!

For when she felt the crowning day was come,

She washed with river waters her white skin,

And taking from the cedar closets forth

Vesture and ornament, bedecked herself

Nobly, and stood before the hearth, and prayed:—

“Mistress, because I now depart the world,

Falling before thee the last time, I ask—

Be mother to my orphans! wed the one

To a kind wife, and make the other’s mate

Some princely person: nor, as I who bore

My children perish, suffer that they too

Die all untimely, but live, happy pair,

Their full glad life out in the fatherland!”

And every altar through Admetos’s house

She visited, and crowned, and prayed before,

Stripping the myrtle foliage from the boughs,

Without a tear, without a groan,—no change

At all to that skin’s nature, fair to see,

Caused by the imminent evil. But this done,—

Reaching her chamber, falling on her bed,

There, truly, burst she into tears and spoke:—

“O bride-bed! where I loosened from my life

Virginity for that same husband’s sake

Because of whom I die now—fare thee well!

Since nowise do I hate thee: me alone

Hast thou destroyed; for, shrinking to betray

Thee and my spouse, I die: but thee, O bed!

Some other woman shall possess as wife—

Truer, no! but of better fortune, say!”—

So falls on, kisses it, till all the couch

Is moistened with the eye’s sad overflow.

But when of many tears she had her fill,

She flings from off the couch, goes headlong forth,

Yet—forth the chamber—still keeps turning back

And casts her on the couch again once more.

Her children, clinging to their mother’s robe,

Wept meanwhile: but she took them in her arms,

And as a dying woman might, embraced

Now one and now the other: ’neath the roof,

All of the household servants wept as well,

Moved to compassion for their mistress; she

Extended her right hand to all and each,

And there was no one of such low degree

She spoke not to nor had no answer from.

Such are the evils in Admetos’s house.