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Alcestis is the oldest surviving play of Euripides and the closest thing we have to an extant example of a satyr play. It is the story of a woman who agrees to save her husband's life by dying in his place.

Though the story appears relatively simple it too has been the object of study and controversy. It is the tale of a young man, Admetus, who is king. Through the trickery of his friend, the god Apollo, Admetus escapes Death.

Apollo, in the prologue of the Alcestis, laments the situation he has gotten his friend into: he had persuaded Death to take a substitute for Admetus.

It seemed a fine idea to both Admetus and Apollo; however Death made one stipulation, the substitute had to be a voluntary one.

Admetus believed his elderly parents would willingly take his place and die.

Instead, his parents make it clear that life is sweeter and more precious as one got older and they have no intention to die for him.

None save his young beautiful wife and queen Alcestis come forth. Death comes for Alcestis, leaving her grieving husband to contemplate a life of shame, promised celibacy and isolation.

Fortunately, Alcestis is brought back from the underworld by Hercules and restored to her relieved husband; but the play clearly characterizes Admetus as a totally selfish man.

EURIPEDES of Athens (ca. 485–406 BCE), famous in every age for the pathos, terror, surprising plot twists, and intellectual probing of his dramatic creations, wrote nearly ninety plays. Of these, some eighteen have survived to come down to us from antiquity.



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