translated by Theodoridis, G., (contributor-contact-email),
Euripides’ Athenian tragedy Alcestis, first staged in 438 BC, is one of his oldest surviving works. It was performed as the final piece in a tetralogy of unrelated plays at the City Dionysia, earning Euripides second prize. Notable for its tragicomic elements, the play is considered a ‘problem play’ due to its tonal ambiguity.
The narrative revolves around King Admetus, who, through Apollo’s intervention, is granted extended life by the Fates - but with the condition that he find someone to die in his place at his natural time of death. Following his failure to find a volunteer, Admetus’ wife, Alcestis, selflessly offers herself to spare her children and husband. As she nears death, the play begins with Apollo leaving Admetus’ palace to avoid the taint of death and encountering Thanatos (Death), who arrives to escort Alcestis to the underworld. A confrontation ensues, with Apollo predicting Heracles’ intervention to save Alcestis.
Before dying, Alcestis extracts promises from Admetus of lifelong mourning and celibacy. Subsequently, Heracles, ignorant of the household’s grief, is hosted by Admetus, inadvertently breaching the mourning period. Learning of Alcestis’ fate, Heracles battles Death and returns with a veiled woman, revealed to be Alcestis, whom he has rescued.
Your contribution keeps our classical translations available to all. Every dollar helps support classics education and funds the expansion of our catalogue. Value what we do? Donate now.