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A princess in Greek mythology, Alcestis (Άλκηστις ) ("might of the home") was known for her love for her husband. Their story was popularised in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis.

Apollo was, at one point, banned from Olympus for nine years. During this time he served as a shepherd for King Admetus of Pherae in Thessaly. Since Admetus treated Apollo well, the god promised him that when it came time for King Admetus to die, another would be allowed to take his place. Admetus then fell in love with Alcestis. Her father, though, King Pelias would only give permission if Admetus rode a chariot pulled by lions and boars and other wild animals. Apollo helped Admetus accomplish this and the pair wed.

Heracles fighting for the life of Alcestis.

When it did indeed come time for Admetus to die, Alcestis agreed to die for him. Heracles arrived in Pherae shortly after her death, and went to Hades to retrieve her. As a result, both of the pair were allowed to live.

Cobham Brewer, Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama:

Milton alludes to the incident in one of his sonnets:

Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestes from the grave.
John Milton, Sonnet On his deceased Wife.

William Morris has made Alcestes the subject of one of the tales in his Earthly Paradise.

A variation of the story is found in Longfellow's The Golden Legend, Henry of Hoheneck when dying was promised his life if a maiden could be found who would give up her life for his. Elsie, the daughter of Gottlieb, a tenant-farmer of the prince offered herself as a sacrifice, and followed her lord to Sorrento to give herself up to Lucifer; but Henry heard of it, and, moved by gratitude, saved Elsie and made her his wife.

Alceste, the hero of Molière's comedy Le Misanthrope. He has a pure and noble mind that has been soured and disgusted by intercourse with the world. Courtesy he holds to be the vice of fops, and the manners of society mere hypocrisy. He courts Célmène, a coquette and her treatment of his love confirms his bad opinion of mankind.

Scenes from the myth of Admetus and Alcestis. Marble, sarcophagus of C. Junius Euphodus and Metilla Acte, 161/–170 AD.

Angelika Kauffmann (1741-1807): "Death of Alcestis", 1790 (Vorarlberger Landesmuseum, Bregenz).

Music

Alceste , opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck based on the tragedy Alcestis of Euripides . The premiere of Alceste was a failure, "Alceste has fallen" said the composer, his friend replied : "yes - fallen from heaven"

References

  • David Eden, Encyclopedia of the Opera


Greek Mythology


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