Adapted by Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott
[Scene is in front of the house of Admetos in Pherae]
House of Admetos, in which I suffered
to be content with a slaves meal even though I am a god.
Zeus was the cause [aitios], for he killed my son
Asklepios, striking his chest with a lightening bolt.
Enraged by this I killed the Cyclops, 5
the craftsmen of Zeus fire. And so my father compelled me
as recompense [apoina] for them to be a slave to a mortal man.
Coming to this land here I tended cattle for my host [xenos]
and I preserved [sôzô] this house [oikos] to this day.
For being pure, I met with a pure man, 10
the son of Pheres [Admetos]; him from death I saved
tricking the Fates [Moirai]; for those ancient powers assented
that Admetos should escape Death then approaching,
would some other go, exchanged for him, to the dark realms beneath.
He went to all his loved ones [philoi] and tried them, 15
including his aged father and the mother who bore him,
but he found no one except his wife willing
to die in his place, and no longer view the light.
She in the house, supported in their arms,
Now sighs out her last breath: for she must die, 20
and on this very day she will depart from life.
But I, lest the pollution in the house reach me
am leaving the most dear [most philos] halls of this home.
Already I see Death advancing near,
priest of the dead; who to the house of Hades 25
will conduct her; he has arrived in due time,
watching for this day on which she must die.
Why are you at this house? Why are you in this city [polis]
Phoibos? Will you wrong again the infernal realms, 30
defrauding of their honors [timai], torn from them, or delayed.
Sufficed it not to have snatched Admetos
from his doom, deluding the Fates [Moirai]
with fraudulent arts? Now again,
Armed with bow in hand, why are you guarding 35
his wife, the daughter of Pelias,
who undertook to free her husband by dying for him?
Fear not; I have justice [dikê] for you and trusty words.
What are you doing with a bow, if you have justice [dikê]?
It is my custom to bear these arms always. 40
Yes, and also to defend this house [oikos] unjustly [outside of dikê].
I mourn the afflictions of the man I love [philos].
Would you defraud me of this second corpse?
The first I did not take from you by violence [bia].
Then how is he now on the earth and not under it? 45
Ransomed by his wife, for whom you now have come.
And I will lead her to the realms below.
Take her: I do not know if I might persuade you.
Not to kill whom I must? This is what I am appointed to do.
No, just to put off the death of those who are about to die. 50
Full well I understand your speech and zeal.
Is it possible, then, that Alcestis live to old age?
No: it seems right even for me to enjoy my honors [timai].
You cannot take but a single life, no more.
Greater is my glory when the youthful die. 55
If she died as an old woman, her burial will be more lavish.
You, Phoibos, are proposing a law in favor of the rich.
What are you saying? I never noticed before how clever [sophos]
They with their wealth would purchase to die old.
Would you then grant me this as a favor [kharis]? 60
Not I, indeed. You know my ways.
Hostile [ekhthros] to mortals, hateful to the gods.
You cannot have all that you should not have.
Yet, savage as you are, soon you will be won over;
such a man will come to Pheres' house, 65
sent by Eurystheus for the horse and chariot
from the wintry places of Thrace.
He, in this house a welcome guest [xenos] to Admetos,
will by force [bia] take his wife from you.
and there will be no thanks [kharis] to you from me&endash; 70
you will do what I ask anyway, but you will be hated by me.
Say what you will, but you will get nothing more:
this woman goes, be sure of that, to the house of Hades.
I go to her, and consecrate her for sacrifice with this sword.
For sacred to the infernal gods is the head 75
Whose hair is hallowed by this charmed blade.
CHORUS of men from Pherae
Why is there this quiet [hêsukhia] before the house?
Why is the house of Admetos silent?
And not a friend [philos] is near,
from whom to learn whether we ought 80
to wail the queen now dead, or whether she is still living,
whether this child of Pelias still looks upon the light,
Alcestis, who is thought by me and by all
to be the best [aristê]
of all wives to her husband. 85
Do you hear a groaning, or
a beating of the hands against the walls
or lamentations [goos] for the dead?
Not even one of the servants
stands here before the gates. 90
Amid this awful gloom
Appear, bright Paean, and dispel the storm!
If she were dead, they would not be thus silent;
Nor could the body be gone already from the house [oikos].
How do you know that? I wouldnt say that for sure.
Why are you so confident? 95
How could Admetos make the tomb
of his cherished wife desolate?
Before the gates I do not see
the vessel of spring water, as is customary [nomos]
before the gates of those who have perished. 100
And no one has placed shorn hair
before the doors, which falls in grief [penthos]
for the dead; nor does the younger
women beat their breasts in sorrow.
Yet this is the fatal day&endash; 105
What are you saying?
When she must go below the earth.
You touch my psukhê, you touch my phrên.
When the good are destroyed,
to grieve [verb of penthos] is necessary for whoever 110
has long been considered loyal.
But there is no voyage strophe
to anywhere on earth
that someone may go, either Lycia
or to the waterless 115
seat of Ammon
to release the psukhê
of this unfortunate woman, for relentless fate
approaches, and I no longer have a sacrificial
altar of the gods which I may approach. 120
Only if he, the son of Phoibos, antistrophe
if his eyes still looked
upon this light then might she come,
leaving the seats below,
and the gates of Hades. 125
For he raised those who had been subdued
Till thundering Zeus's avenging power
Hurled his red thunders at his breast.
But now what hope of life
can I still expect? 130
For already all the rites have been
performed by the kings,
the altars of all the gods
are heaped up with blood sacrifices
but there is no remedy for these ills [kaka]. 135
CHORUS, FEMALE SERVANT
But this one coming from the house bathed in tears
is one of the servants: what tidings shall I hear?
To weep [verb of penthos], if anything has happened to your masters,
is forgivable: I wish to know whether she still lives,
Or whether she has already died. 140
As living I may speak of her, and dead.
Living and dead at once, how may that be?
Even now she sinks in death, and breathes her last.
The poor man, such a husband losing such a wife!
Nor did our master know this, before he suffered [paskhô] it. 145
Is there no hope then yet to save [sôzô] her life?
The allotted day of fate overpowers her by force [bia].
The appropriate things are being for her, arent they?
The attire [kosmos] in which her husband will bury her is ready.
Chorus: Know that she will die in glory [with good kleos] 150
as the best [aristê] woman of all those under the sun.
The best [aristê] of women indeed; who will deny it?
What must the woman who surpasses her be?
How could someone give greater proof that she
honors [timê] her husband than being willing to die for him? 155
And the whole city [polis] knows this.
But you will be amazed hearing what she did in the house.
When she knew the appointed day had come,
in fountain water she bathed her white skin,
then took clothing from her chests of cedar 160
and dressed herself in fitting attire [kosmos].
Then standing before Hestia she prayed:
"Mistress, since I am going below the earth,
falling before your for the very last time I will ask
that you take care of my orphaned children. For my son, 165
give him a dear [philê] wife, and for my daughter a noble husband.
And may my children not, like their mother,
die untimely [without hôra], but blessed [eudaimôn]
in their native land may they live out an enjoyable life."
Then to each altar in the house of Admetos 170
She went, and crowned it, and addressed her vows,
Plucking the young shoot of the myrtle bough:
neither tear, nor sigh came from her, nor did the approaching
ill [kakon] change the beautiful look of her cheek.
Her chamber then she visits, and her bed; 175
There she wept, and thus she spoke:
"O bed, to which my wedded husband,
for whom I die, led me a virgin bride, farewell!
I do not hate [verb from ekhthros] you, for you have destroyed me
alone. Disdaining to betray you and my husband, 180
I die. Some other woman will possess you,
not more chaste [sophrôn], but perhaps luckier."
And she kissed it, falling forward, and bathed
the whole bed with a flood of tears.
When she had her fill [koros] of many tears 185
She left it, rolling down from the bed,
and several times she returned and left again,
and threw herself on the bed each time she entered.
Her children, as they hung upon her robes
Wept. She took them in her arms and 190
embraced them one after the other since she is now about to die.
Each servant through the house burst into tears
In pity of their mistress; she to each
Stretched her right hand; nor was there one so mean [kakos]
To whom she did not speak and allowed to speak in return. 195
Such are our griefs [kaka] in the house of Admetos.
Dying he would have been destroyed, but escaping death he has
such pain that he will never forget it.
Surely Admetos is groaning at these pains [kaka],
if he is to be deprived of his noble [esthlê] wife. 200
He weeps indeed, and holding his dear [philê] wife in his arms
he entreats her not to forsake him, asking impossibilities.
She wastes and fades with her disease;
her languid limbs supporting on his hand,
but while some breath of life remains 205
she wishes to behold the radiance of the sun,
since never again but now for the last time
will she see the rays and sphere of the sun.
I go to tell them you are here:
for not everyone feels so kindly toward their rulers 210
as to stand by faithfully in times of trouble [kaka];
but you are an old friend [philos] to my masters.
Oh Zeus, is there no remedy to these afflictions [kaka], strophe
from the storms of fate no refuge to our rulers?
Or should I cut my hair, 215
and already change
into dark garments?
This is terrible, friends [philoi], terrible indeed
but nevertheless we will pray to the gods
For the power of the gods is the greatest. 220
O lord Paean, find some contrivance against Admetos' ills [kaka]
Provide for him! As you found
a way out for him before,
find a release from death now as well,
stop murderous Hades! 225
Alas, alas! Woe, woe is me! Oh son of Pheres, antistrophe
what you have suffered, being deprived of such a wife.
Ai ai, this is worth cutting your throat
and more, or putting it in a high-hanging noose.
For he sees not just a dear [philê] 230
but the dearest [most philê] woman dies
on this very day.
Look! She and her husband are coming out of the house.
Cry out, groan, Pheraean land
for the best [aristê] of women 235
wastes away with disease,
going below the earth to infernal Hades.
Never will I pronounce the nuptial state
more allied to pleasure than grief: even before
I had proof of this, but now seeing 240
the luck of my king, who, bereft
Of this best [aristê] wife, will live out
the rest of his life as no life at all.
ALCESTIS, ADMETOS, EUMELUS (their son), CHORUS, and
THEIR DAUGHTER (silent)
[singing] Sun, and light of day,
and heavenly whirling of swift clouds! 245
Sees you and me, two suffering horribly,
having done nothing to the gods for which you should die.
O earth, and roofs of my home, and bridal bed
of Iolcos my homeland!
O you poor sufferer, raise yourself up, do not abandon me; 250
but entreat the powerful gods to pity you.
I see the two-oared boat in
the lake, the ferry of the dead
Charon has his hand on the pole
and is already calling me: "Why do you delay? 255
Hurry! You hold us back." Hurrying me along he tells me to make
A bitter voyage this is to me
that you describe. O unblessed [with a bad daimôn] one,
what we suffer [paskhô]!
He drags me, some one drags me to the gates
That close upon the dead; do you not see him, 260
How stern he frowns beneath his gloomy brows,
To impetuous Hades? What are you doing? Let go!
What a dreary path, I, most wretched, must walk!
Pitiable to your friends [philoi], most of all to me, and
to your children, who share with me this sorrow [penthos]. 265
No longer hold me up, hold me no longer;
Here lay me down: I have not strength
to stand. Death is near,
dark night creeps over my eyes.
My children, O my children, now no more, 270
Your mother is no more.
May you be happy, children, may you look upon this light.
Ah, what a mournful word is this
and more painful to me than any death.
By the gods, do not forsake me, 275
do not make your children orphans,
but bear up, take heart.
Should you be taken from me, I would be no more;
in you we live and die, for we revere your love [philia].
You see, Admetos, how this is for me, 280
yet, before I die, I want to tell you what I wish.
I honored you, and in exchange for yours I forfeit
my life [psukhê]; now I die for you, so that you
may look upon the light, though it was possible for me not to die,
but to have any man from Thessaly whom I wished 285
and to live in a prosperous [olbios] home in royal power [turannis].
But I did not wish to live separated from you
with orphaned children, so I die without reluctance,
though the gifts of youth are mine to make life grateful to me.
Yet he who gave you life and she who bore you deserted you 290
though they had reached an age where they could have died nobly
and nobly saved [sôzô] you, their child, and died with glory [kleos].
They had no child but you, they had no hope
of other offspring if you should die.
And I might thus have lived, and you might have lived,
the remaining time, 295
nor would you have wept being deprived of your wife
or raising your children alone But some god
appointed it should be thus: thus be it.
You, now remember fully this favor [kharis] of mine.
Never shall I ask an equal retribution, 300
(for nothing bears a value high as life [psukhê])
yet my request is just [dikaia], as you will agree; for your love [philia]
of these our children equals mine, if you are in your right mind.
Up hold them as masters in their mother's house:
wed not again, to set some stepmother over my children, 305
some base woman who lacks my virtues; through jealousy
she will raise her hand to your and my children.
Do not this, I beg you, do not; for to the offspring of a former bed
For the newly come stepmother is hostile [ekhthra] to the children
of the earlier marriage&endash;she is no kinder than a viper. 310
My son, who holds endearing conversation with you,
Has in his father a secure protection.
But how, my daughter, shall you grow to womanhood gracefully?
What woman shall you find new-wedded to thy father,
whose vile arts will not with slanderous falsehoods taint your name, 315
And destroy your nuptials in youths freshest bloom.
For never shall your mother lead you as a bride,
nor to give you comfort in childbirth, my daughter
when nothing is better than a mothers presence.
For I must die; and this evil [kakon] will not be 320
tomorrow or the next day or next month,
but immediately I will be numbered among the dead.
Farewell, be happy. And you, my husband,
may boast that you chose the best [aristê] wife,
And you, my children, that you were born of such a mother. 325
Take heart: I do not shrink from saying this in front of him.
He will do as asked, if indeed he does not err in his thinking [phrên].
This shall be done, do not fear, it shall be done;
for living you were mine, and dead you alone
shall be called my wife. Never in your place 330
shall a Thessalian bride call me husband.
no, nor any other woman, though she be from a noble family
or most outstanding in beauty of all women.
I am blest with children, nor do I wish more; in these I pray the gods
I may have joy, since all my joy in you is lost. 335
I will bear my grief [penthos] for you not
for a year but to my life's last period, my wife.
How hateful [ekhthroi] are my mother and father!
For they loved me [were philoi] in name but not in deed.
But you, paying the dearest [most philos] forfeit for my life, 340
have saved [sôzô] me. Shall I ever cease
to mourn, deprived of such a wife?
I renounce the feast, the cheerful guest, the flowery wreath
And song that used to echo through my house.
For never will I touch the lyre again, 345
Nor to the Libyan flute's sweet measures raise
My voice: for you take with you all the joys of my life.
An image of your beauteous figure, made by
the artist's skillful [sophos] hand, shall in my bed be laid;
Reclining next to that, I will clasp it to me, 350
And call it by your name, and think I hold my dear [philê] wife
in my arms, and have her yet, though now no more I have her:
a cold delight, I think; yet thus the affliction of my soul [psukhê]
Shall I relieve, and visiting my dreams
You shall delight me; for to see loved ones [philoi] 355
is sweet, even at night, for however long they are there.
Had I the voice of Orpheus, and his power of song
to charm either the daughter of Demeter or her husband
with hymns so that from their realms I might receive you back,
I would go down; nor would the infernal dog, 360
or the stern Charon, the conductor of the dead, sitting at his oar,
restrain me, until your life I had restored to the light of day.
So wait for me there until I die;
prepare a home for me, to live with me again.
In this same cedar coffin I will bury myself 365
placing myself next to you, stretched out by your side.
For even in death I will not be apart
from you, who have alone been faithful to me.
And I will share your mournful grief [penthos] over her,
as a friend [philos] with friend [philos]; and she is worthy of it. 370
You hear, my children, what your father's words
have promised, never to wed another woman
for your sake, nor dishonor [give no timê to] me.
I now repeat it; I will fulfill these promises.
On this, receive your children from my hands. 375
A much-loved [philos] gift, and from a much-loved [philê] hand.
Be now, in my place, a mother to them.
Since they lose you, it must indeed be so.
O children, when I should live, I go down below.
Ah me, what shall I do bereft of you! 380
Time will abate your grief, the dead person is nothing.
Lead me, by the gods, lead me down with you.
It is enough that I die for you.
O god [daimôn], of what a wife do you deprive me!
A heavy weight hangs on my darkened eye. 385
If you leave me, I am destroyed.
As one that is no more I now am nothing.
Ah, lift up your face: do not forsake your children.
I do not do so willingly: farewell, my children!
Look on them, but a look!
I am no longer. 390
What are you doing? Are you forsaking me?
And what a wretch, what a lost wretch am I!
She's gone; your wife, Admetos, is no more.
O my unhappy fortune! strophe
My mother has gone below,
she is no longer, father, under the sun 395
She leaves me with the life
of a miserable orphan
Her eyes, my father, see, her eyes are closed,
And her hand falls lifeless by her side.
Yet hear me, O my mother, hear me as I entreat you. 400
It is I, your son, mother
who calls, your little one
falling at your feet.
You are calling on one that hears not, sees not.
I and you must bend beneath affliction's heaviest load. 405
O father, I am left alone antistrophe
as a young boy
by my dear [philê] mother,
I am suffering [paskhô] horrible torment,
which you, my sister, share with me. 410
In vain, O my father, in vain did you marry,
nor will you reach the fulfillment [telos]
of old age with her, for she died before that.
Since you are gone, mother,
the house [oikos] is ruined. 415
Admetos, you must bear these misfortunes:
You are not the first, nor shall you be the last of mortal men,
to lose a virtuous [esthlê] wife. For know,
death is a debt we all must pay.
I know it well; this ill [kakon] does not suddenly 420
fall on me; and knowing it I have mourned it for a long time.
But I will arrange the carrying out of body;
attend, and, while you wait, raise with alternate voice
the paean without libation to the god below.
To all the Thessalians whom I rule 425
I give command that all, sharing in the grief [penthos] for this woman,
shear their locks, and wear the dark attire of mourning;
from your steeds, whether in pairs they pull chariots, or bear
the single rider, their waving manes cut close;
nor through the city be the sound of flute or lyre 430
for twelve revolving moons.
Never shall I entomb one dearer [more philos] to me,
Or one more kind: these honors [timê] from my hands
She deserves, for she alone died for me.
O daughter of Pelias strophe
May you dwell happy 436
in the sunless house of Hades.
Let him know, the black-haired
god Hades, and the old man who sits
at the oar and rudder, 440
the conductor of the dead,
that he conveys across the Acheron
lake in his two-oared ship
the best [aristê] of wives by far.
Much the poets will sing antistrophe
of you while playing their seven-string 446
mountain lyres and in poems that have no music
when in Sparta the circle of the season [hôra]
and the Carneian month
comes round, and the moon 450
is in the sky all night,
and also in bright and blessed [olbios] Athens.
In your death you left such
a song for the bards to sing.
Would that I had the power, strophe
and the might to send you back to the light 456
from the house of Hades
where Cocytus deep and wide
Rolls along his sullen tide!
For you, O dearest [philê] of women, 460
you alone dared to exchange your life [psukhê]
for your husbands. May the earth
above you lie lightly, woman.
But should he choose to wed again,
he would be most hateful to me and to your children. 465
His mother was not willing
to bury her body in the earth
for the sake of her child, nor did his aged father
dare to rescue his own son,
cruel, even though they have gray hair. 470
But you, in youth's fresh bloom,
dying for a young man, are gone.
Would that I might be paired with
such a dear [philê] wife. For this lot in life is rare:
but then she would live with me without pain throughout life. 475
Strangers [xenoi], countrymen of Pherae,
Shall I find Admetos in his house?
The son of Pheres is in the house, Herakles.
But what occasion, tell us, has brought you her
To Thessaly; why this visit to Pherae? 480
A toil [ponos] imposed by the Tirynthian king.
And from where are you coming? On what journey bound?
I am after the four steeds of the Thracians chariot.
How can you? Or are you not experienced with your host [xenos]
I am, for Ive never been on Bistonian ground. 485
These horses are not won without a battle.
The toil [ponos], whatever it be, I could not refuse.
You will either leave having killed him, or stay there having died yourself.
This is not the first contest [agôn] I have essayed.
If you overpower their master, what is the prize? 490
His horses to Eurystheus I shall lead.
No slight task to place the bit in their mouths.
I shall, though from their nostrils they breathe fire.
With their fierce jaws they rend the flesh of men.
You speak of the food of the mountain beast, not the horse. 495
You will see their stables all stained with blood.
From what father does he that bred them boast to be?
From Ares, the lord of golden-shielded Thrace.
How is this toil [ponos] assigned me by my fate [daimôn],
Engaged in enterprise so hazardous and high 500
that always with the sons of Ares
I must join battle? With Lycaon first,
With Cygnus next, now with these furious steeds
And their master another contest [agôn] awaits me:
But no one shall see Alcmene's son 505
ever fleeing from an enemys hand.
But, see, here is the ruler of this lard,
Admetos, approaching from his house.
ADMETOS, HERAKLES, CHORUS
Good day, son of Zeus, of Perseus' noble blood.
Good day to you, Admetos, king of Thessaly. 510
I wish it were. But I know that you mean well.
Why is your hair cut in sign of mourning?
I am to bury someone who has died on this very day.
May the god avert suffering from your children!
My children, those I have, are alive in my house. 515
Your father was of that age [hôra], if he has passed.
That one lives, and my mother as well, Herakles.
It is not your wife Alcestis who has perished?
Of her I have a double story [muthos] to speak.
Do you speak of her as dead or still living? 520
She is, and is no more: this grief afflicts me.
This gives no information, dark are your words.
Do you not know of the destiny assigned her?
I know that she submits to die for you.
How dos she still live, if indeed she has promised this? 525
Lament her not too soon; await the time.
She's dead; one soon to die is now no more.
It is considered different: to be, or not to be.
You judge [krinô] it this way, Herakles, I in another.
But why are you crying? What friend [philos] is dead? 530
A woman; I just mentioned a woman.
An outsider, or someone related to you?
An outsider, but nevertheless necessary to my house.
How in your house then did she happen to die?
Her father dead, she came here an orphan. 535
Would I had found you not grieving.
With what intent do you say that statement?
I will go to the hearth of some other host [xenos].
Not so, O lord; may so great an evil [kakon] not come.
To those that mourn a guest[xenos] is troublesome. 540
The dead are dead: but come into my house.
It is shameful that with those who weep a guest [xenos] should feast.
We have separate guest rooms to receive you.
Permit me to depart, much will I thank [have kharis for] you.
It must not be that you go to the hearth of another man. 545
[to a servant] You, lead him and open those guest rooms
out of the sight of the servants; give command to those
Whose charge it is to spread the plenteous table,
And bar the doors between: it is not fitting for feasting guests [xenoi]
to hear groaning or be in any discomfort. 550
[Herakles goes into the house with the servant]
What would you do, Admetos? With such a grief
Now lying heavy on you, you dare to entertain a guest [xenos]? Are you a fool?
If from my house or city [polis] I should drive
A coming guest [xenos], would you commend me more?
No you would not: my affliction would not thus 555
Be less, but I would be more inhospitable;
And this trouble [kakon] would be added to my former troubles [kaka]
that my house would be called hostile [ekhthros] to strangers [xenoi].
I have always found him the best [aristos] of hosts [xenoi]
Whenever I go to the thirsty land of Argos. 560
Why did you then conceal your present fortune [daimôn],
if he is a friend [philos] who has come, as you say?
He would not enter my house,
if he had known of my affliction.
Yet acting thus some may perhaps deem me unwise, 565
nor hold me worthy of praise; yet never shall my house
know how to dishonor [treat with no timê] or reject a guest.
O much hospitable and always strophe
free house of this man
even Pythian Apollo who is 570
skilled in the lyre
considered you worthy to dwell in,
and deigned to be called
the shepherd of your pastures:
And as he drove his flocks along, 575
He played rural marriage songs on his pipe.
Delighted with your songs antistrophe
the spotted lynxes
tended flocks with you,
and leaving the wooded glen of Othrys 580
a tawny troop of lions came.
Around your lyre [kithara], Phoibos,
the dappled fawn danced,
coming around the lofty pines
with a nimble foot, 585
rejoicing in your
Hence is your house richest in flocks, strophe
next to the lovely flowing
lake Boibias. The boundary of 590
your ploughed fields
and wide open plains
is where the dark stable of the sun lies,
around the air of the Molossians,
and it stretches to the harborless headlands 595
of Pelion of the Aegean Sea.
Even now you throw open your house, antistrophe
you receive this guest [xenos] though your eyes are moist
weeping over the corpse of your dear [philê] wife
who has just now died in your home. For the generous mind 600
is prompt to generous deed [aidôs];
For all the power of wisdom lies
in the good [agathoi]. I stand in awe.
My soul [psukhê] assumes this confidence,
that a god-fearing man will do well.
Men of Pherae, present here, benevolent to me,
everything has been done for the corpse, and the servants
have lifted it up and are carrying it to the tomb and pyre.
And you, as is customary [nomos], address
the dead woman as she goes down her final road. 610
I see your father coming on his aged legs,
and his servants bringing adornments [kosmos] in their hands
for your wife, pleasing gifts for those below.
PHERES, ADMETOS, CHORUS
I come, my son, to share in your griefs [kaka];
For you have lost a good [esthlê] and virtuous [sôphrôn] wife, 615
No one will deny it; but this
you must endure, though severe and hard to bear.
Receive these ornaments [kosmos], and let her go
beneath the earth. These honors [timai] are her due,
since for your life [psukhê] she died, my son; 620
and she made me not childless, nor allowed
me bereft of you to waste away in mournful old age.
She has made the life of all women
full of glory [kleos] by daring this noble deed.
O you, who has saved [sôzô] my son, and raised us up 625
when we were falling, farewell! Even in the house of Hades
may you be well! I say that such marriages
profit mortals; others are of little worth.
You did not come to this grave called by me
nor do I say that your presence is among friends [philoi]. 630
She will never wear your adornments [kosmos],
for she will be buried needing nothing from you.
Then was the time to commiserate, when I was perishing.
But you could stand aloof, old as you are, and allow another,
a younger person to die; and now will you bewail her death? 635
You are not truly the father of this body of mine
nor did she who allegedly bore me and is called my mother
give me birth, but born from some slaves blood
I was secretly put to her breast.
Your deeds show what you are by plain and evident proof: 640
And never can I deem myself your son,
Who surpass all in mean and abject spirit:
at such an age, having come to the end of life
you were not willing, you would not dare to die
for your own son: but you could allow her, 645
a woman outside our family. With justice [dikê]then
Her only as my father must I deem, her only as my mother.
Yet you would have fought this contest [agôn] nobly,
dying on behalf of your son; brief was
the space of life that could remain to you. 650
I then could have lived, and she could have, the remaining time
and I would not be wailing at my troubles [kaka] deprived of her.
And however much a man must experience [paskhô],
you have experienced [paskhô]
blessedly [with good daimôn]: you spent your youth in power [turannis],
I was your son, a successor of this household, 655
so that not childless would you have died, leaving
your house desolated for others to plunder.
Nor can you say that you gave me up to death
as one that held your age in rude contempt: I was
especially respectful to you. And this is the thanks [kharis] 660
with which you and my mother repay me.
Therefore you should not delay in begetting more children
To take care of you in your old age, to grace you when dead
With sumptuous vest, and lay you in the tomb.
For I will never bury you with this hand of mine! 665
For as far as you are concerned, I am dead. And if I, happening to find
another savior [sôtêr], still look upon the light, I proclaim
that I am the child of that one and supporter of her old age.
Vain is the old man's wish to die,
complaining of age and life's lengthened course; 670
For, when death approaches, no one has the will
To die: old age is no longer grievous to them.
Stop, for the present misfortune is enough.
O son, exasperate not a father's mind [phrên].
My son, who do you think you are talking to: a Lydian 675
or Phrygian slave bought with your silver?
Do you not know I am Thessalian born,
Of a Thessalian father, truly free?
You outrage [verb of hubris] me too much and hurl your
young mans words at me, then not hitting me you run away. 680
I, the master of this house [oikos], brought you up
but I do not owe it to you to die for your sake.
I did not receive this law [nomos] from my forefathers&endash;
that fathers should die for their sons&endash;nor is it a Greek one.
As for you, you were born either fortunate 685
or not: you have whatever we owed you.
You rule over many, and I shall leave you a large extent
of lands; for from my father I received these.
In what then have I wronged you? Or of what have I deprived you?
Do not die for me, and I will not for you. 690
You rejoice looking upon the light&endash;do you think your father does not?
Long I reckon is the time below,
short is the time of life, but sweet.
You, devoid of shame [aidôs], has struggled not to die,
and you live passing the bounds of life assigned by fate, 695
by killing her. My mean and abject spirit
you rebuke, you most base [kakos] man, weaker than the woman
who died for you, her young and beauteous husband?
Cleverly [sophôs] you have found a way never to die
if you can always persuade your current wife 700
to die for you; yet you can reproach your friends [philoi]
if they are not willing to do this, when you yourself are a coward [kakos]?
But hold your peace; and think, if your life [psukhê] is dear [philê]
to you, it must be dear to all. If you will reproach us,
you shall hear more insults, and they will all be true. 705
Too much of ill [kaka] has been spoken in this speech
and in the one before. Cease, old man, from reviling your son.
Say what you will, I have declared my thoughts, but if it pains you to hear the truth [alêthês], you should not have wronged me.
I would have been more wrong if I died for you. 710
Is it the same thing for a young man to die as an old man?
With one life [psukhê] we ought live, and not with two.
May you then live a longer time than Zeus
Do you, having suffered [paskhô] nothing unjust [not dikê], curse
I perceive that you are in love with a long life. 715
But are you not carrying out this corpse instead of yourself?
This is the sign [sêma] of your abject spirit.
She did not die on our account, that you will not say.
Ah, may you some time come to want my aid
Wed many wives, that more may die for you. 720
On you be that reproach, that you were not willing to die.
Dear [philos] is this light of heaven, dear [philos] indeed.
Base [kakon] is your thought, unworthy of a man.
You should not mock an old man while you carry out a corpse.
You will die inglorious [with bad kleos] whenever you die. 725
An ill report will not affect me when I am dead.
Alas, alas, how shameless [without aidôs] is old age!
She was not shameless, but you found out she was foolish.
Be gone, and allow me to entomb the dead.
I am going; you who are her murderer will bury her, 730
but you will pay the penalty [dikê] yet to her relatives.
Or else Acastus is no man,
if he does not avenge his sisters blood.
Get away now, you and that wife of yours.
Grow old childless, though your son still lives, 735
as you deserve. Never again come to this house.
Were it decent to disown you by herald,
I would forbid you from your paternal hearth.
But let us go, since we must bear our immediate ill [kakon],
And place her body on the funeral pyre. 740
O unhappy, courageously daring woman,
Most noble and best [aristê], farewell!
May chthonic Hermes be favorable to you,
and may Hades receive you. If in that place there
is something more for the good [agathoi], may you share in this, 745
being always near the bride of Hades.
I have seen many guests [xenoi] from
all sorts of lands come to the house of Admetos,
for whom I have laid the hospitable feast; but at this hearth
A worse [more kakos] guest [xenos] than this I have never received. 750
Though he saw my master oppressed with grief [penthos],
He boldly entered and passed through the gates.
Then not with sober [sôphrôn] cheer did he take the refreshment offered,
though he knew the affliction of the house. But if we did not bring
something, he command us to bring it. 755
And, grasping in his hands a goblet wreathed with ivy,
filled it high with dark wine&endash;unmixed!&endash;and drank it down,
until the glowing wine inflamed him; then,
crowning his head with a myrtle wreath,
he rudely howls. Two unpleasing strains we heard, 760
one, his harsh notes, who not at all reveres [gives timê to]
the afflictions of Admetos, and then also the voice
of us the household weeping for our mistress, but we did not
show our weeping eyes to the guest [xenos]. For Admetos forbid this.
And now I must take care of the guest [xenos] 765
in the house, some villainous thief and plunderer.
while she has left the house, and neither did I follow
Nor stretch out my hand, lamenting my lost mistress.
who was a mother to me, and to all my fellow-servants;
for from a thousand ills [kaka] she saved us, 770
softening the anger of her husband. Justly [with dikê] do I hate
This stranger [xenos] then, who came amid our grief [kaka].
You there, why that grave and thoughtful look?
A servant must not be sullen to guest [xenoi]
but should receive them with a courteous phrên. 775
A good friend of your master is present:
you receive him with a hostile face and
frowning, mourning a loss that touches not this house.
Come here, so that you may be wiser [more sophos];
Do you know the nature of all mortal things? 780
I think not; how should you? But listen to me.
By all of the human race death is a debt that must be paid,
and there is no mortal who knows whether
he will be alive when tomorrow comes.
It is never clear which way fortune will go 785
and this cannot be learned or comprehended by skill.
Thus, having heard that and having learned from me
cheer up, drink, consider each day
to be your life, and all else is just luck.
Honor [give timê to] the sweetest by far of the gods 790
to mortals, Kypris [Aphrodite]. For the goddess is favorable.
But leave all the rest and obey my
words, if I seem to you to talk straight.
I think I do. Thus let go of excessive pain
and drink with us; overcome this current fortune, 795
And bind your brows with garlands; well I know
that a splash from the cup will loosen up
your pinched and sullen mind [phrên].
Mortals that we are, we must think mortal thoughts.
Since for all those who are serious and frowning, 800
(at least in my opinion, if I am any judge [krinô])
life is not truly life, but a calamity.
These things we know; but we suffer
the sort of thing not worthy of reveling and laughter.
A woman dies, one unrelated; do not 805
grieve [verb from penthos] too much: the lords of this house live.
What do you mean, live? Do you not know the ills [kaka] of this house?
Unless your master in something has deceived me.
He is much too kind to guests [philo-xenoi].
Herakles Should I not have been treated well because of the death of an outsider? 810
An outsider indeed&endash;too much so!
Is it some sorrow which he did not tell me?
Go now with joy; ours are our lord's afflictions [kaka].
These are not words that speak a foreign loss.
Then I would not have been annoyed seeing you celebrate. 815
Herakles But then I have suffered [paskhô] terribly at the hands of my host [xenos].
You came at a bad time to be received in this house.
For we are in mourning [penthos], and you saw our cut hair
and dark clothing.
Who then is dead?
One of his children, or his aged father? 820
His wife Alcestis has perished, stranger [xenos].
What are you saying? And even so could you entertain me?
It shamed him to send you away from his house.
O unhappy man, of what a wife are you bereft!
Not she alone, we all are lost with her. 825
I might have perceived this when I saw his eye
Flowing with tears, and his hair shorn off, but he persuaded me,
Saying that one of foreign birth he mourned and bore to the tomb.
Entering these gates unwillingly [with bia to my thumos]
I drank in the guest-friendly [philo-xenos] house 830
of a man suffering so. And moreover I reveled
crowning my head with garlands&endash;but you did not tell me
that such a misfortune [kakon] afflicted the house.
Where is he burying her? Where shall I find her?
Straight along the road that leads to Larissa, 835
outside of the city you will see her polished tomb.
O my much enduring heart and my right hand,
Show now what a son the daughter of Electryon,
Alcmene of Tirynthia, bore to Zeus.
I must save [sôzô] the woman who has just died, 840
And, to Admetos rendering grateful [kharis] service,
Restore his lost Alcestis to his house.
Going there, I will watch for Death, the black-robed
lord of the dead, and I think I will find him
Drinking the. blood libations near the tomb. 845
If in ambush from my secret stand I rush upon him,
These arms shall grasp him until his panting sides
labor for breath; and who shall force him from me,
until he has given up this woman to me?
But if I miss my prey and he does not come 850
to the clotted blood, I will go below
to the sunless house of Korê [Persephone] and her lord,
and I will beg for Alcestis, assured that I shall lead her back,
and place her in my hosts [xenos] hands,
who received me in his house and did not drive me away, 855
even though pierced with heavy grief;
this he concealed through generous thought and reverence to me.
Who in Thessaly is friendlier to guests [philo-xenos]?
What other house [oikos] in Greece? It never shall be said that
this generous man received in me a worthless [kakos] man. 860
Ah me! How mournful this approach!
How hateful to my sight this widowed house!
Ah, where shall I go? where shall I rest?
What shall I say? or what not say? How may I die?
My mother bore me to a heavy fate [daimôn]. 865
I envy the dead, I long for them,
I wish to dwell in that house.
No more with pleasure shall I view the sun's fair beams,
No more with pleasure walk upon this earth:
Such a hostage has Death taken from me, 870
and handed over to Hades.
Go forward, yet go forward; go into your house. strophe
Your sufferings [pathos] do indeed demand these groans.
You have gone through difficult pains, I know well&endash;
Woe is me!
But all your sorrow does nothing for the dead. 875
Wretch that I am!
To see your dear [philê] wife no more,
No more to see her face, is grief indeed.
You have mentioned that which has seized my mind [phrên].
What greater ill [kakon] can fall on man than to lose
a faithful wife? Would that I never had married, 880
Had never dwelt with her in the house!
I envy those mortals who are unmarried and childless,
for in one single life [psukhê] to mourn is
pain that may be well endured.
To see our children wasting with disease, 885
to see death ravaging our nuptial bed,
this is not to be borne, when we might pass
our lives without a child, without a wife.
Fortune, hard to wrestle with, comes. antistrophe
But to your sorrows will you put no bounds? 890
A ponderous weight indeed to bear, yet&endash;
Woe is me!
Bear them; you are not the first to lose&endash;
Wretch that I am!
&endash;a wife. Misfortune, appearing in different forms
to different people, seizes all mortals.
O lasting griefs [penthos], sorrows for our friends [philoi] 895
beneath the earth!
Ah, why did you restrain me from throwing myself
into the tomb, to share it with her
so that I may lie dead with the best [aristê] woman?
Hades would have had two lives [psukhai] 900
instead of one, very faithful to each other,
together passing over the infernal lake.
There was someone strophe
in my family, who had a son
worthy of lament, for he died in his home 905
and was his only child. Yet firmly
he bore his grief [kakon],
and declining age
led him with hasty steps 910
to gray hairs.
O my house, how shall I enter you,
how shall I dwell beneath your roof, with my fortune [daimôn]
overturned! Ah me, how changed from that,
when amid the pines of Pelion blazing round, 915
and wedding hymns, I made my way,
and led my beloved [philê] wife by her hand.
The festal train with many a cheerful shout
Saluted her, now dead, and me, and hailed
Our union happy [olbios], as descended each 920
From generous blood and highborn ancestry.
But now instead of the nuptial song, the cry [goos] of woe, and
for white robes, this black and mournful garb
attends me to my halls, and to my bed bereft of my wife. 925
From a state of good fortune
this sad lot befell you
who are unaccustomed to adversity.
But you have preserved [sôzô]
your life and soul [psukhê]. 930
Your wife is dead, she has left your love [philia];
What is new in this?
Death has before now
parted many from their wives.
My friends [philoi], I deem the fortune [daimôn] of my wife 935
Happier than mine, though it seems otherwise;
For never more shall sorrow touch her,
And she with glory [kleos] rests from various ills.
But I, who ought not live, overpassing my destined hour,
shall drag on a mournful life. Just now do I understand this. 940
How shall I bear to enter my house?
To whom shall I speak; who will speak to me
so that I may meet with a pleasant entrance. Which way shall I turn?
The loneliness within will drive me out,
when I see my bed empty without my wife, 945
the seats where she sat deserted, the dirty floors
under my roof. My children, falling
around my knees, weep for their mother, and these
too lament the mistress that the house has lost.
This is the scene of misery in my house [oikos]; and outside 950
the weddings of Thessaly's youth and the bright circles of
assembled women will drive me back in, for I will not be able to bear
to see the companions of my wife.
And whoever turns out to be hostile [ekhthros] to me will say,
"Look, it is the man who shamefully lives, who dared not die, 955
But, due to the baseness of his spirit he gave in exchange
his wife, and so avoided Hades. Does he seem to be a man then?
He hates his parents, yet he himself was unwilling
to die." In addition to my troubles [kaka] I will have such
a reputation: what is the advantage in living then, friends [philoi], 960
if I am called evil [kakôs] and suffer evil [kakôs] as well?
My venturous foot has tread strophe
the Muses' arduous heights,
grasping their many stories
But I have found nothing stronger 965
than Necessity, not even some drug
in Thracian tablets,
which the voice of Orpheus
wrote down, nor whatever medicines
Phoibos gave to the heirs of Asklepios 970
as remedies for mortals
in great pain [ponos].
Alone of the gods, she has no
altars to approach, of her no hallowed
image stands, she heeds no sacrifices. 975
Never to me may you come,
Dread goddess, greater than you have before in my life.
For whatever Zeus pledges
this he accomplishes with you.
By your force [bia] you tame even the iron 980
of the Chalybes,
nor is there any aidôs
in your relentless will.
And now this goddess has taken strophe
you in the inescapable chains of her hands. 985
Endure. For your weeping will never
bring back up those
who have perished and gone below.
Even children of the gods
perish in dark death. 990
Dear [philê] while she was with us,
Dear [philê] she will still be now that she has died,
Most generous she, the noblest,
Who graced your nuptial bed.
Let not your wife's sepulchral mound antistrophe
be considered just like the tomb 996
of others who have died
but let it be honored [given timê] like the gods are,
an object of wonder for the traveler.
And someone coming across it 1000
on the road will say this:
"She once died for her husband
and now is a blessed daimôn.
Hail, o mistress, may you be favorable to us."
Such words will be addressed to her. 1005
But this man, I discern, is Alcmenes son
approaching your home, Admetos.
HERAKLES, ADMETOS, CHORUS and the veiled, sielnt Alcestis
I must speak freely to my friend [philos], Admetos,
Nor what I blame keep silent in my heart.
I came to you among your troubles [kaka], 1010
and thought I had been worthy to be proved your friend [philos].
But you did not tell me that the corpse laid out
was your wife, but in your house received me
As if you grieved for someone remote.
I bound my head with garlands, and poured libations 1015
to the gods in your house, which is oppressed with grief.
I find fault with this, yes, fault, that I suffered [paskhô] this.
I do not wish to cause you pain in your time of trouble [kaka].
Why I have turned around and come back here,
I will tell you. Taking this woman here, keep [sôzô] her for me 1020
until leading the Thracian horses here
I come, having killed the Bistonian tyrant [turannos];
should I fail (may that not happen!)
I give her to you to serve your house.
For with much toil she came into my hands. 1025
For I found a certain public contest [agôn]
set up, a worthy labor [ponos] for athletes [athlêtês].
I bring her from there, she is the prize of victory.
For the winners in the easy rounds the prize was
A horse; but for those winners in the greater contests, 1030
like boxing and wrestling, there was a herd of oxen.
And a woman added to these. Since I happened to be there,
it seemed a shame to pass up this glorious [with good kleos] gain [kerdos].
But, as I said, you must look after this woman.
She is not stolen, but the reward of many toils [ponos]; 1035
The time perhaps may come when you will thank me.
Not to dishonor [give no timê to] or belittle you
did I conceal the wretched fortune of my wife.
But to my grief it would have added grief,
if you had set out to the home of another host [xenos]. 1040
It is enough that I mourn the trouble [kakon] which is mine.
But this woman, if it is possible, I beg you, sir,
give her to some other Thessalian to keep safe [sôzô]
who is not suffering [paskhô] what I am. For you
have many friends in Pherae. Do not remind me of my woes [kaka]. 1045
Never in my house could I behold her
but my tears would flow; do not add sorrow to sorrow;
now enough I sink beneath its weight.
Where in the house would a young woman be kept?
For her dress and adornments [kosmos] proclaim her young. 1050
Shall she dwell in the mens quarters?
And how will she, moving among the young men remain
unharmed? It is not easy to restrain young men
Herakles; my care for you warns me of this.
Or if from them removed I hide in my late wife's room, 1055
How could I admit her to my bed?
I should fear a double blame: my citizens
would scorn me as faithless to my wife, my benefactor,
if to her bed I took another young woman;
and I must think about the dead woman herself, 1060
for she deserves to be revered by me. But you, woman,
Whoever you are, know that you have the form, the size
of my Alcestis, and your shape resembles hers.
Oh my. By the gods, remove her from my sight.
It is too much, I cannot bear it. 1065
When I look on her, I think I see my wife.
This wounds my heart, and calls the tears
fresh gushing from my eyes. Oh I am unhappy,
now tasting this bitter grief [penthos].
I cannot praise thy fortune; 1070
but you must bear patiently what the gods give, whatever it is.
Would that I had the power to bring
back to light from the mansions of the dead
your wife, and offer you that favor [kharis].
I know you would like to. But how can this be done? 1075
It is not possible for the dead return to this light.
Check then your swelling griefs; bear them fittingly.
How easy to advise, but hard to bear!
What would it profit you should you always groan?
I know it; but I am in love with grief. 1080
Love for the dead leads to tears.
It has destroyed me more than I can say.
You have lost a good [esthlê] wife , who can deny it?
Never again can life be pleasant to me.
Your sorrow [kakon] now is new, time will soften it. 1085
Time, you say? Yes, the time that brings me death.
Some young and lovely bride will stop it.
Silence! What are you saying? Never could I think &emdash;
Will you always lead a lonely, widowed life?
Never shall other woman share my bed. 1090
And you think this will avail the dead somehow?
This honor [timê] is her due, wherever she be.
This has my praise, but you are bringing on foolishness.
Praise me, or not, I never will wed again.
I praise you that you are faithful to your wife. 1095
Though she is dead, if I betray her may I die!
Well, take now this noble lady into your house.
No, by thy father Zeus let me entreat you.
Not to do this would be to miss the mark.
To do it would with anguish rend my heart. 1100
Let me prevail; this favor [kharis] may turn out useful.
Would that you had not won her in the contest [agôn]!
Yet in my victory you are victor with me.
You speak well: yet let this woman go elsewhere.
If she must go, she shall, but must she go? 1105
She must, unless that will make you angry at me.
There are reasons for my eagerness.
You win then, but much against my will.
The time will come when you will praise me, but for now, obey.
Well, if I must receive her, lead her in to the house. 1110
I would not hand this woman over to your servants.
Lead her into the house yourself then, if that seems best.
I will place her in your hands only.
I would not touch her; but she can go in the house.
I shall entrust her only to your right hand. 1115
You force [verb of bia] me to do this, sir, against my will.
Venture to stretch your hand, and touch the stranger's [xenos].
I stretch it out, as if to behead the Gorgon.
Do you have her hand?
I have, yes.
Now keep her safe [sôzô].
Hereafter you will say the son of Zeus is a generous guest [xenos]. 1120
Look at her, see if she bears resemblance
to your wife, and then change from pain to happiness. [He unveils Alcestis.]
O gods, what shall I say? This is a marvel beyond hope.
Do I truly behold my wife
or does some god afflict me with false joy? 1125
In very deed do you behold your wife.
Take care that it be no phantom from below.
Do not make your guest out to be one who evokes the shades.
And do I see my wife, whom I entombed?
Be sure of it, but I am not surprised that you are diffident. 1130
May I touch her, may I speak to her as my living wife?
Speak to her; you have all you have desired.
Dearest [most philê] of women, do see I again your face,
your person? This exceeds all hope: I thought I would never see you again.
You have her; may no god be envious to you. 1135
O generous son of great Zeus! May you be
blessed [have a good daimôn] and may the father who sired you
protect [sôzô] you! You alone restored her to me.
How did you bring her back to the light from the realms below?
I fought with the one who lords it over the shades. 1140
Where did you join this contest [agôn] with Death?
I lay in wait, and seized him at the tomb.
But why does my wife thus stand speechless?
It is not yet permitted [themis] that you hear
Her voice addressing thee, until she is purified with 1145
offerings to the gods below and the third day has come.
But lead her in: and as you are just [dikaios] in all
Besides, Admetos, see that you reverence strangers [xenoi].
Farewell: I go to achieve the assigned labor [ponos]
For the tyrant [turannos] son of Sthenelus. 1150
Stay with us, and share my friendly hearth.
That time will come again; but now I must hurry on.
May you have success and may you return safe.
Now I command the citizens of this whole region
to institute dances [khoroi] for this good [esthlê] fortune, 1155
let the altars fill with the sacrificial offerings of oxen and their prayers.
For now we will arrange for ourselves a better life
than before, for I will deny that I am fortunate.
Many are the forms of the supernatural [daimones],
and many things do the gods accomplish beyond expectation. 1160
For what seemed likely did not happen,
but the god has found a way for the unlikely.
So has this matter turned out.