Euripides’ Alcestis


Translated by R. Potter

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 slave’s 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]


you are!



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


First Half-chorus

Why is there this quiet [hêsukhia] before the house?

Why is the house of Admetos silent?


Second Half-chorus

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


First Half-chorus

Do you hear a groaning, or

a beating of the hands against the walls

or lamentations [goos] for the dead?


Second Half-chorus

Not even one of the servants

stands here before the gates. 90

Amid this awful gloom

Appear, bright Paean, and dispel the storm!


First Half-chorus

If she were dead, they would not be thus silent;

Nor could the body be gone already from the house [oikos].


Second Half-chorus

How do you know that? I wouldn’t say that for sure.

Why are you so confident? 95


First Half-chorus

How could Admetos make the tomb

of his cherished wife desolate?


Second Half-chorus

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


First Half-chorus

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


Second half-chorus

What are you saying?


First half-chorus

When she must go below the earth.


Second Half-chorus

You touch my psukhê, you touch my phrên.


First Half-chorus

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





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, aren’t 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.






[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.




Alcestis [singing]

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.


Alcestis [singing]

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 youth’s 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 mother’s 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 husband’s. 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 Thracian’s chariot.



How can you? Or are you not experienced with your host [xenos]





I am, for I’ve 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 enemy’s hand.



But, see, here is the ruler of this lard,

Admetos, approaching from his house.





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

cheerful tune.

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.





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 slave’s 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 man’s 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


your parents?



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 sister’s 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.


Servant [therapôn]

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 host’s [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



Ai ai!



Your sufferings [pathos] do indeed demand these groans.



Ee ee!



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



Ai ai!



But to your sorrows will you put no bounds? 890



Ee ee!



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],

though childless,

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 Alcmene’s 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 men’s 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.