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Alcestis sacrifices herself for Admetus by Heinrich Füger (1804-1805). Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna.

Alcestis (/ælˈsɛstɪs/; Greek: Ἄλκηστις, Álkēstis) or Alceste, was a princess in Greek mythology, known for her love of her husband. Her story was popularized in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis.


Alcestis was the fairest among the daughters of Pelias, king of Iolcus, and either Anaxibia or Phylomache. She was the wife of Admetus by whom she bore a son, Eumelus, a participant in the siege of Troy, and a daughter, Perimele.


In the story, many suitors appeared before King Pelias, her father, when she came 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 one year to serve as a shepherd to Admetus. With Apollo's help, Admetus completed the challenge set by King Pelias, 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 Admetus' hospitality.

Appearance in other works[edit]

  • 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 Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote an opera based on the story of Alceste.
  • Italian-born French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote an opera, first performed in 1674, based on the story of Alceste.
  • George Frideric Handel wrote a masque or semi-opera based on this myth.
  • Anton Schweitzer composed an opera Alceste, with a libretto by Wieland, premiered in 1773 in Weimar as a milestone of German opera.[1]
  • Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a poem "Alkestis".
  • 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).[2]
  • 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.



  1. ^ Lawrence, Richard (July 2008). "Schweitzer, A Alceste". Gramophone. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  2. ^ "The Contributions within Lovecraft's Collaborations"


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

External links[edit]