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Alcestis 438

play, admetus and husband

ALCESTIS (438 s.c.), the earliest extant play of Euripides, is one of the most touching dramas that have come down to us from an tiquity; some of the scenes, in the opinion of Racine, are incomparable. Alcestis, the daughter of King Pelias of Iolcus, married the Thessalian, Admetus, King of Pherm, for whom she offered herself as a willing substitute when Thanatos (death) came to claim her husband. Admetus tried all his friends in turn, but • • • "found no one, who loved as much, No father, nor the aged mother's self That bore him; no, not any, save his wife, Willing to die instead of him." — Browning, Balaustions' Adventure ' When Alcestis dies, Admetus gives himself up wholly to his sorrow and remains inconsolable, until Heracles brings her back from the tomb and restores her to her husband. The theme has also been treated in modern literatures. (Wie land, (Gliick's Opera,' Handel's (Admeto'). [Consult Ellinger, (Alceste in der modernen Litteratur' Halle 1885]. The supernatural side of the story is barely touched upon by Eurip ides. The beauty of the play consists in the portrayal of the emotions; the tenderness and piety of Alcestis, her firmness of soul, the sor row of her husband, a sincere and affectionate though mediocre man, the naive egoism of his father, Pheres, the touching farewells of the servants— all are portrayed with truth and skill. Alcestis has hardly a peer for virtue and

true beauty of soul; in the poet's galaxy of noble women — Nacaria, Evadne, Iphigenia, Praxithea — she stands pre-eminent. The chorus possesses greater unity and strength than in any other Euripidean drama, with the possible exception of the (Bacchae) ; it forms an integral part of the play. The comic ele ment in the 'Alcestis' is more pronounced than in any other Greek tragedy, primarily, perhaps, because the play was intended as an after-piece to a trilogy. In the saddest part of the drama the spectators behold the garrulous Heracles, sage as a philosopher, giving advice of doubtful morality to a servant in such a comical manner that even those who have been most affected by the touching scenes which they have just wit nessed cannot refrain from smiling. This feature is an innovation of Euripides, who fre quently makes use of comic elements in the most tragic situations.