aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Euripides, Alcestis 38-42

with 2 comments

I’m currently reading Euripides’ Alcestis in the excellent edition of LPE Parker. The play opens with Apollo and Death outside the house of Admetus, who has managed to get his wife Alcestis to agree to die in his place. Death has come to keep an eye on these goings-on, and has just expressed his displeasure at finding Apollo hanging around – particularly as the archer-god is carrying his bow and arrows, and also because he had been instrumental in getting this special dispensation for Admetus.

ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝ θάρσει· δίκην τοι καὶ λόγους κέδνοὺς ἔχω.
ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ τί δῆτα τόξων ἔργον, εἰ δίκην ἔχεις;
Απ. σύνηθες αἰεὶ ταῦτα βαστάζειν ἐμοί.
Θα. καὶ τοῖσδέ γ’ οἴκοις ἐκδίκως προσωφελεῖν.
Απ. φίλου γὰρ ἀνδρὸς συμφοραῖς βαρύνομαι.

Apollo: Don’t worry! I have a just reason and honest words.
Death: Why do you need your bow then, if you have a just reason?
Apollo: I always carry it around with me, habitually.
Death: Yes – and you habitually give help unjustly to this house.
Apollo: Yes, because I’m weighed down by the misfortunes of a man dear to me.

Written by aleatorclassicus

November 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Euripides

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for posting this…I remember the exchange well from when we read the play in my undergraduate Greek class.

    What do you think is the significance of the bow? The main place I remember it from is the very beginning of the Iliad where Apollo uses it to bring the plague to the Achaeans.

    Of course, on one level, it helps instantly identify Apollo to the audience.

    Death is suspicious that Apollo with try to cheat him again, this time by force. But that doesn’t really seem to be much in Apollo’s nature, does it? After all, IIRC, when Apollo uses his bow, it’s generally for a just reason (like in the Iliad).

    It’s also curious then how he dismisses Apollo’s prophecy (which of course comes true) out of hand at line 72.

    Geoff Guth

    November 10, 2010 at 7:15 PM

  2. Parker cites Monk’s reference to Horace, Odes 3.4.60 (numquam umeris positurus arcum… Apollo ‘Apollo, who will never put down his bow from his shoulders’) and points out that Death is therefore ‘not on strong ground’ in objecting to the bow. I imagine most Athenians would indeed have had the opening scenes of the Iliad at the back of their minds here, and there is perhaps some irony intended here: in the Iliad the bow is used to bring death, but here it’s (allegedly) working against Death!

    Later on Heracles will be instantly recognisable because of his club and lion-skin (these are not explicitly mentioned, but evidently the chorus have no trouble working out who he is at 478).


    November 14, 2010 at 11:04 PM

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