Alcestis Essay

This essay has a total of 1927 words and 6 pages.

Alcestis

Alcestis is a myth that is "the most touching of all the Greek dramas to a modern
audience" (Lind 213). It is a tragicomedy by the playwright Euripides and it centers on
the king and queen of Thessalia. Admetus, the king, has been fated to die yet, due to his
alliance with Apollo, is given the chance to find a replacement. His wife, Alcestis,
volunteers for the position claiming that she cannot imagine life without her husband.
After Alcestis submits her life, Admetus discovers the pain of loss and even determines
that Alcestis is the lucky one in dying. In a surprising turn of events, a friend of
Admetus, Heracles, goes down into the underworld, wrestles Death, and wins Admetus back
his bride.1 This tale, as mentioned above, tugs at a reader's heartstrings. We, as an
audience, want to believe that Alcestis is brought to life at the termination of this
drama, yet there are those interpreters who believe otherwise. A specific example of this
type of person is D.L. Drew, who proposes that the woman given to Admetus is the corpse of
his wife rather than the resurrected Alcestis. Drew goes further to comment that this is
Heracles's revenge against Admetus for tricking him into believing that she who died is a
stranger and not Alcestis.1 This is a terrible proposition that tends to disturb a reader
and, through the examination of the text, seems to be rather incorrect. The concept that
Alcestis has been resurrected can be supported, in fact, by several elements. Through the
influence of the god Apollo in the drama's entirety, through the temperament and
motivations of Heracles, and through the presence of many comic elements in correlation
with the definition of comedy, one can truly believe that Alcestis is brought back to
life. In the onset of Alcestis, the god Apollo utters to Death an oracle. "For a man comes
to the dwelling of Pheres…and he shall be a guest in the house of Admetus, and by force
shall he tear this woman [Alcestis] from you" (Euripides 66-69). These are the last words
of Apollo in this text, yet he does not completely disappear from the drama. He seems to
show his covert influence through the use of light and sound.One may first examine the use
of light in this drama. The characters use the concept of the sun many times throughout
their dialogue. "Sun, and you, light of day…" (Euripides 244). A similar line comes
quickly, "The sun looks upon you and me…" (Euripides 246). Furthermore, a play on the
word, "light" is used. Alcestis tells her children to "live happy in the light of day"
(Euripides 273) and Pheres accuses his son Admetus of loving "to look upon the light of
day" (Euripides 691). These are just four examples of a play filled with mentions of
light, and it seems to be a device used by Euripides. This playwright uses the mention of
sun and light constantly to hint at the silent presence of Apollo, who is the god of the
sun's rays. He is guiding the fate of the drama's characters. A second examination can be
focused on the use of the flute in the drama. Apollo is credited as being the creator of
music and of the flute. The flute plays throughout the play through stage directions
interpreted by editor L.R. Lind. Mostly, the flute is played as Admetus speaks and is
quite prominent throughout lines 863-902 where Admetus truly understands why Alcestis gave
her life and begins to envy Alcestis in her death. These places of flute are also mentions
of the presence of Apollo and perhaps show where he aids Admetus in understanding the
reason for Alcestis's sacrifice. The most important concept that can be derived from the
above material is that Apollo is a god known for oracles at Delphi. Apollo gives the above
oracle personally and is constantly brought up as being a character just under the surface
of the play. He can been seen as a character guiding the fates of the other characters and
can thus be held accountable for the sidetracking of the hero Heracles from his twelve
tasks.This is Apollo's intent, yet another aspect must be proven and that is whether or
not Heracles has the disposition to, as D.L. Drew believes, cruelly present Admetus with
the corpse of his wife. A look into Heracles's past is an interesting way to do so.
Heracles was driven by a fit of passion to kill his wife, Megara, and his children by her.
After the flame of anger created by Hera (who was angered by Heracles's existence as the
son of Zeus and of a mortal woman) was extinguished, Heracles was mortified by his
actions. He sought out the oracle at Delphi in order to discover what it was he must do in
order to make up for his actions, and this is how Heracles was assigned to the twelve
tasks as commanded by his half-brother, Eurystheus2. In this way, one can see that
Heracles is a character who feels responsible for his own mistakes and who tries to make
up for them.One may be wondering what this character trait has to do with Heracles's
motivations and whether or not he would actually bring to Admetus the corpse of Alcestis.
Admetus welcomes Heracles into the land of Thessalia and does not tell him of the death of
Alcestis. Heracles is lead to believe, through the cryptic words of Admetus ("She is and
is not- and for this I grieve" (Euripides 521).) that it is a stranger who has died.
Heracles therefore disgraces himself by acting very indulgently. "He…drank the unmixed
wine of the dark grape-mother, until he was encompassed and heated with the fame of wine.
He crowned his head with myrtle sprays, howling discordant songs. There was he caring
nothing for Admetus's misery…" (Euripides 755-760). Soon though, he is told the truth
that Alcestis has died. It is in Heracles's disposition, which is of a man who is somewhat
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