(ca. 480–406 B.C.), son of Mnesarchos, of the Deme of Phlya in Athens; and of Klito (a shopkeeper and greengroceraccording to a hostile and doubtful tradition). Euripides had an estate on the island of Salamis. He held a local priesthood of Zeus at Phlya, and once served as ambassador to Syracuse in Sicily. He had three sons.

Euripides first produced a play in 455 B. C. (winning Third Prize), and first won First Prize in 441. He won a total of only five victories, one victory being posthumous (Bacchai). His total output is said to have been 92 plays. He was the most popular of the Athenian tragedians. In 408 or 407 he left Athens and went to Macedonia at the invitation of King Archelaus, where he died in 406. He was buried at Arethusa in Macedonia.

Produced in Athens in 438 B.C., Alcestis Euripides' earliest surviving play.


Apollo Standing in front of the facade of the Royal Palace at PHERAE in Thessaly, the god tells that he is temporarily the slave of the King Admetus, at the command of Zeus (because Apollo had killed the Cyclopes , because Zeus had killed Asklepios ).

As Herdsman to Admetus, Apollo had made the herds increase, and had helped Admetus win his wife Alcestis, daughter of Pelias (son of Poseidon and Tyro), by yoking a lion and a wild boar to a chariot.

Since Admetus honored Apollo , Apollo agreed to prolong his life beyond the fated day of death. But somebody must die on that day, and Admetus must get a substitute. No one (not even Admetus' very aged father and mother) would volunteer, until his loyal wife Alcestis offered. She is now dying, for the day of the play is the day appointed for Admetus to die.

Death {Thanatos) appears to claim Alcestis, but Apollo predicts that he will not keep his victim.


Chorus of Old Men of Pherae bewail the approaching death of Alcestis, and comment on her virtues.


Servant Woman and Chorus: narration of Alcestis' devotion to her husband and children, and her preparations for death. Admetus and Alcestis: Alcestis is raving. Admetus comforts her. she asks him never to marry again, so that the children do not end up with a stepmother (as Hippolytus and Phaedra). Admetus agrees to her request. Alcestis bids farewell to the children and dies. Mourning.


[First Choral Ode] The undying fame and glory of the heroic Alcestis.


Heracles appears. He is on his way to Thrace at the command of his cousin Eurystheus to acquire the flesh-eating horses of Diomedes. Heracles calls at the Palace, and the King (out of a sense of consideration for a guest) conceals the tragedy of Alcestis and the mourning in progress. Heracles, aware of a death but not whose, seeks to withdraw, but Admetus makes him stay and be entertained.


[Second Choral Ode] The Hospitality of Admetus.


— Admetus leads in the funeral procession. Pheres (his dad) comes to join the funeral and praises Alcestis. Admetus, however, refuses Pheres' participation, accusing him of not having volunteered out of selfishness and cowardice. He disowns his father and mother. In reply, Pheres recalls everything he did for Admetus, and points out how sweet a thing life is for everyone; nobody should be asked to die for another. He then accuses Admetus of being selfish and cowardly for not dying at his proper time. The funeral procession then moves on.

—Servant) Heracles becomes drunk during the entertainment and revelry inside. The hero enters on stage and is told who has actually died. Shocked into soberness, Heracles vows to do everything to restore Alcestis to life. He leaves to do battle at the grave with Thanatos.


[Lyrical Lamentations] Admetus is grief-stricken, and exchanges thoughts with the chorus about death. He is apparently suicidal.


[Parting Song] Heracles brings in a veiled woman, and offers her to Admetus. The `prize' reminds Admetus of Alcestis and he asks Heracles to take her away. But Heracles encourages Admetus to remarry and take the girl. Admetus accepts the gift out of politeness, whereupon she is revealed to be Alcestis. As Heracles departs, Admetus proclaims a celebration.


"Accept these gifts to deck her body, bury them
with her. Oh yes, she well deserves honor in death.
She died to save your life, my son. She would not let
Me be a childless old man, would not let me waste
away in sorrowful age deprived of you."



"I do not count myself as any child of yours.
Oh you outpass the cowardice of all the world,
you at your age, come to the very last step of life
and would not, dared not, die for your own child. Oh no,
you let his woman, married into our family,
do it instead, and therefore it is right for me
to call her all the father and mother that I have.



"I gave you life, and made you master of my house,
and raised you. I am not obligated to die for you.
I do not acknowledge any tradition among us
that fathers should die for their sons. That is not Greek.
Your natural right is to find your own happiness
or unhappiness. All you deserve from me you have.
You are lord of many. I have wide estates of land
to leave you, just as my father left them to me.
What harm have I done you then? What am I taking away
from you? Do not die for me, I will not die for you.
You like the sunlight. Don't you think your father does?
I count the time I have to spend down there as long,
and the time to live is little, but that little is sweet.



I must go there and watch for Death of the black robes,
master of dead men, and I think I shall find him
drinking the blood of slaughtered beasts beside the grave.
...but if I miss my quarry, if he does not come
to the clotted offering, I must go down, I must ask
the Maiden and the Master in the sunless homes
of those below..."



"Friends, I believe my wife is happier than I
although I know she does not seem to be. For her,
there will be no more pain to touch her ever again.
She has her glory and is free from much distress.
But I, who should not be alive, who have passed by
my moment, shall lead a sorry life. I see it now.
How can I bear to go inside this house again?"


© 07/22/2003
June 14, 2009 6:59 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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