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"ἣ νῦν κατ᾽ οἴκους ἐν χεροῖν βαστάζεται
ψυχορραγοῦσα: τῇδε γάρ σφ᾽ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ

θανεῖν πέπρωται καὶ μεταστῆναι βίου."
Euripides, Alcestis, Lines 19-21 [1]

Alcestis is a play by Euripides, one of the ancient Greek tragedians. The work was composed in 438BC, not as a tragedy, but in the place of one of the satyr plays the playwrights would enter in the competition. As such, Euripides gives the story a more comic treatment than tragic, though it has its fair share of tragedy and drama.

The play is a retelling of the myth of Admetus and Alcestis. The god Apollo had slain the Cyclopes, forgers of Zeus's thunder, and so the sky god punished him by making him serve a mortal man: King Admetus of Thessaly. Because Apollo found Admetus to be a just man, he rewarded him by saving him from death; unfortunately, for this to be done someone else had to die in the king's place.

Admetus finds no one willing to die for him, neither among his friends nor his parents. He returns to discover that his wife, Alcestis, had offered, and the play opens with her upon the verge of death.

The play is available online here... or, for you non-Classical scholar folks, in English here or here.

Tropes used in Alcestis include:
  • Adults Are Useless: Admetus is enraged that not even his parents could bring themselves to die for him, causing Alcestis to die instead.
  • All Deaths Final: Averted once Heracles comes along.
  • Back From the Dead: Alcestis.
  • Character Title
  • Balancing Death's Books: Since not even the gods can grant immortality, for one to cheat death, another must die willingly in their stead.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Hercules, in both the play and the original myth Euripides used.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: When Heracles appears, he goes after Death to bring Alcestis back.
  • Due to the Dead: Heracles is really shocked when he learns of the death, because he had been behaving very inappropriately.
  • Equivalent Exchange
  • Fetch Quest: Heracles appears en route to fetch the man-eating horses of Diomedes for one of his labours.
  • Greek Chorus
  • The Grim Reaper: Death (more specifically, Thanatos; there are two bringers/gods of death, Thanatos and his sisters the Keres)
  • Happy Ending: Which isn't exactly common in the Greek myths...
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Alcestis.
  • Hot-Blooded: In many myths, Heracles becomes so enraged at the people who wrong him that he takes a terrible vengeance on them. In this case, Heracles is so grateful to Admetus for his hospitality that he marches off to rescue Alcestis without a second thought.
  • Important Haircut: Admetus orders all in Thessaly to cut their hair in mourning for Alcestis.
  • It's All My Fault: Admetus, despairing, eventually takes his father's accusations to heart (see Never My Fault, below) and blames himself for allowing Alcestis to die in his stead.
  • Karmic Jackpot: Admetus's kindness to Apollo is what gets him the chance to avoid death. His kindness to Heracles is what allows Alcestis to survive.
  • Love Hurts
  • Mood Whiplash: The play switches from Alcestis's funeral and Admetus's bitter argument with his father to Admetus's friend Heracles, who is drunk and merry. He sobers quickly when he learns of Alcestis's death, though.
    • Justified in that Admetus did not wish to trouble his friend, and so Heracles went much of the night not knowing about his friend's loss.
    • Also was considered part of Sacred Hospitality, which they took seriously even by Greek standards.
  • The Mourning After
  • Never My Fault: Admetus blames his parents for being too cowardly to die for him, even in their old age, resulting in Alcestis's death. His father, meanwhile, is disgusted that Admetus would expect something like that, and states that Admetus himself is truly the one to blame.
  • Not Your Problem: Thanatos says this to Apollo about Alcestis' death.
  • Proper Lady: Alcestis.
  • Sacred Hospitality
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Heracles does this for Admetus and Alcestis.
  • Take Me Instead!: The major part of the agreement Apollo had made Admetus: the king can escape death if someone else offers to die for him. The play opens with his wife, Alcestis, being the only one to offer.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Alcestis asks Admetus not to remarry after her death so that her children wouldn't have to face this trope.
  1. (Now, her spirit about to break loose, she is raised by the hands of those within the house: for on this day she is to die and substitute her life.)