“Alcestis” is not a god but rather a play by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides. This tragedy, first produced in 438 BCE, is unique among Greek tragedies for its mixture of tragic and comic elements, and sometimes it is considered to be more of a “problem play” or even a tragicomedy.

Plot Summary

The story of “Alcestis” centers around the titular character, Alcestis, who is the wife of Admetus, the king of Pherae in Thessaly. Admetus is granted a boon by Apollo, allowing him to escape death on the condition that someone else dies in his place. When the fateful day arrives, no one is willing to take Admetus’ place in death except for his devoted wife, Alcestis.

As Alcestis prepares to die, she expresses her love and loyalty to her husband and her concern for the welfare of their children after her death. Her sacrifice is a poignant exploration of love, duty, and selflessness.

Themes and Characters

  • Alcestis: The heroine of the play, characterized by her selflessness and devotion. Her willingness to die for her husband makes her one of the most heroic female figures in ancient Greek drama.
  • Admetus: Alcestis’ husband, who, despite his initial selfishness in accepting his wife’s sacrifice, is portrayed as a loving and grief-stricken husband.
  • Heracles: The hero appears later in the play and provides a more comic and robust contrast to the earlier tragic elements. Unaware of Alcestis’ fate when he arrives, he eventually fights Death itself to bring her back.
  • Death: Personified as a character in the play, Death comes to claim Alcestis and represents the inevitable nature of mortality.


Euripides uses the story to explore themes such as the fear of death, the nature of heroism, and the depths of marital love. The play also examines the roles and expectations of men and women in Greek society, particularly in the context of family and duty.

“Alcestis” is celebrated for its emotional depth and the complexity of its characters, blending tragic circumstances with moments of relief and even humor, particularly through the character of Heracles. This blend of tones and the moral questions posed by the characters’ decisions have made “Alcestis” a subject of interest and debate among scholars and audiences for centuries.