Heracles Protecting Alcestis from Death

“Alcestis” by Euripides

Alcestis and Admetus

Admetus was spared by Death on condition that he could find a substitute. No one, not even his own parents were willing to die in his stead, but only his wife, Alcestis, offered to die for him. It may be worth noting that the life of a woman was valued far less than that of a man in ancient Greek culture. I cannot fully sympathize with Admetus when he grieves for his wife’s death and the desolation of his house, though it is a beautiful and moving speech, since his own cowardice has caused her death and he engages in mutual insults with his father as to who is more cowardly. Fortunately for him, Heracles comes to the rescue and delivers Alcestis from Death.

Euripides raises a social or ethical issue here: When necessity dictates a choice between two lives, who deserves to live, the old or the young? The same issue is raised in the context of war in The Suppliants.


“There was no tear in her eye or groan in her voice, nor was the lovely color of her skin changed by her looming misfortune. Then she entered the bedchamber. Here at last she wept and said, ‘O marriage-bed, where I yielded up my virginity to my husband, the man for whose sake I am now dying, farewell! I do not hate you, although it is you alone that cause my death: it is because I shrank from abandoning you and my husband that I now die. Some other woman will possess you, luckier, perhaps, than I but not more virtuous.’ She fell on the bed and kissed it and moistened all the bedclothes with a flood of tears.”



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