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Book Overview: 

Alcestis is the earliest surviving play by Euripides. Alcestis, the devoted wife of King Admetus, has agreed to die in his place, and at the beginning of the play she is close to death. In the first scene, Apollo argues with Thanatos (Death), asking to prolong Alcestis' life, but Thanatos refuses. Apollo leaves, but suggests that a man will come to Pherae who will save Alcestis. Euripides' play is perhaps the most unusual Greek drama ever written: a tragedy that is not a tragedy.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .To slay the doomed?—Nay; I will do my part.

No. To keep death for them that linger late.

THANATOS (still mocking).
'Twould please thee, so?… I owe thee homage great.

Ah, then she may yet … she may yet grow old?

THANATOS (with a laugh).
No!… I too have my rights, and them I hold.

'Tis but one life thou gainest either-wise.

When young souls die, the richer is my prize.

Old, with great riches they will bury her.

Fie on thee, fie! Thou rich-man's lawgiver!

How? Is there wit in Death, who seemed so blind?

The rich would buy long life for all their kind.

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Community Reviews

Admetos, king of Thessaly, is cursed to die young. Being a good king, the call goes out for someone to take on his early death. After everyone declines, including his aging parents, his wife, Alcestis, chooses to die.

First and foremost, this play is a meditation on the horror of profound loss. I...more

Death and Resurrection in Ancient Greece
9 April 2012

I can now understand why they call this a problem play: for most of the play it is a tragedy but suddenly, at the end, everything turns out all right. One commentary I have read on this raises the question of whether it is a masterpiece or a tr...more

Ted Hughes' translation and adaption breathed a freshness and modernity to Euipides' ancient Greek play. In 438 B.C., the Ancient Greeks would have been unfamiliar with Hughes' choices to use in his translation, electro-technocrats, hypodermic syringes, anesthesia, morphine, and asbestos. However...more

In Alcestis, the god Apollo rewards Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly, for his hospitality by arranging that on the day of the king's death someone else perishes instead of him. Admetus's old parents (selfishly?) refuse to take his place—his wife Alcestis, however, agrees to die for him. After...more

The play opens with the agon of Apollo and 'Death' (Atropos, maybe, or Thanatos?), regarding how Lachesis had allotted a specific amount of time to Admetus, monarch of Pherae, but Apollo, in recompense for kindness shown to him during his own punishment, persuaded Hades to permit Admetus "to esca...more

Last night, on our first evening of the Adelaide Fringe, we saw a fine production of Alcestis by the Scrambled Prince Theatre Company. It was most enjoyable, but I'm afraid that on returning home I immediately went and looked up an online translation. Could it really be the case that the dialogue...more

Por Esculápio (*) ter dado vida aos mortos, foi punido por Zeus que o eliminou com um raio. Apolo (**), irado, matou os Ciclopes (***). Como castigo, Zeus condenou o filho a pastar vacas na cidade grega de Feres, cujo rei era Admeto.
Quando Admeto adoeceu, Apolo, por bondade (****), negociou a vid...more


I think it’s hard to judge a version of a play when you haven’t read the original, so forgive me for dropping critics on the story line instead of on the adaptation.

I thought this play was very interesting. Admetos is going to die, but he is afraid to. Since no one wants to die in his place...more

I'm pretty sure this was either a masterpiece or a train wreck. I'm leaning towards masterpiece. Admetus knows he will die soon, but Death offers him the chance to live if he can find someone to take his place. Admetus' wife, Alcestis, accepts. As Lattimore writes in the introduction, the tale is...more

The translation read is that of Richmond Lattimore.

Alcestis has long been viewed as somewhat of a problem play. It was not produced as one of the traditional trilogy of tragic plays performed in Athens but rather was substituted for the satyr play that always followed them. Thus, it has long been...more

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