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"The Death of Alcestis" by Angelica Kauffman.

Alcestis (/ælˈsɛstɪs/; Greek: Ἄλκηστις, Alkēstis) is a princess in Greek mythology, known for her love of her husband. Her story was popularised in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis. She was the daughter of Pelias, king of Iolcus, and either Anaxibia or Phylomache.

In the story, many suitors appeared before King Pelias, her father, when she became of age to marry. It was declared she would marry the first man to yoke a lion and a boar (or a bear in some cases) to a chariot. The man who would do this, King Admetus, was helped by Apollo, who had been banished from Olympus for nine years to serve as a shepherd to Admetus. With Apollo's help, Admetus completed the king's task, and was allowed to marry Alcestis. After the wedding, Admetus forgot to make the required sacrifice to Artemis, and found his bed full of snakes.

Apollo again helped the newlywed king, this time by making the Fates drunk, extracting from them a promise that if anyone would want to die instead of Admetus, they would allow it. Since no one volunteered, not even his elderly parents, Alcestis stepped forth. Shortly after, Heracles rescued Alcestis from Hades, as a token of appreciation for the hospitality of Admetus. Admetus and Alcestis had a son, Eumelus, a participant in the siege of Troy, and a daughter, Perimele.

Appearance in other works

Milton's famous sonnet, "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint", alludes to the myth, with the speaker of the poem dreaming of his dead wife being brought to him "like Alcestis". In his poem "Past Ruin'd Ilion", English writer and poet Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) wrote the line "Alcestis rises from the shades" as having a double meaning, evoking her rise from Hades while demonstrating the ability of enduring poetry to give her vitality, drawing her into the light from the shadows of historical oblivion.

The Viennese composer Gluck wrote an opera based on the story of Alceste, as did Handel, in his opera. H. P. Lovecraft and Sonia Greene collaborated on a play called Alcestis (however, Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi thinks it is entirely Greene's work).[1] Thornton Wilder wrote A Life in the Sun (1955) based on Euripides' play, later producing an operatic version called The Alcestiad (1962). The American choreographer Martha Graham created a ballet entitled Alcestis in 1960.

In the animated Disney film Hercules, the background story of the Megara character also alludes to Alcestis. As Hades tells it, Megara sells her soul for her lover, who does not honor the sacrifice and very soon gives his heart to some other girl.



  • Cotterell, Arthur, and Rachel Storm. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. Hermes House. ISBN 978-0-681-03218-7.

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