Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
Jean Racine (1639–1699)
Mithridate, by Racine. This powerful and affecting tragedy was produced on the 13th of January 1673, the day after the author’s reception into the Academy. It seems to have been written in reply to those critics who asserted that the only character he was successful in painting was that of a woman. The scene is laid in Pontus, and the hero is the cruel and heroic king who was the irreconcilable enemy of Rome. Mithridates has disappeared, and is believed to be dead. His two sons, the treacherous Pharnaces and the chivalrous Xiphares, prepare to seize his crown and dispute the possession of his betrothed, Monima. The old king returns, discovers by a stratagem that Xiphares has won the love of Monima, and swears to be avenged. Meanwhile he plans a formidable attack on Rome: he will ascend the Danube and burst upon the Romans from the north. Xiphares favors the project, but Pharnaces opposes it, and the soldiers refuse to follow their king. The Romans unite with the rebels; and in the battle that follows, Mithridates falls mortally wounded. Before dying, he joins the two lovers Xiphares and Monima. In his portraiture of Mithridates, Racine sometimes rises to the sublimity of Corneille. He has scarcely ever written anything grander than the speech in which the hero explains his policy to his two sons. The manner in which the complexity of Mithridates’s character, his greatness and weakness, his heroism and duplicity, are laid bare, shows wonderful psychological delicacy and skill: and all this is finely contrasted with the simplicity and unity of the nature of Monima in its high moral beauty and unvarying dignity.  1

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