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Alcestis is a myth that is "the most touching of all the Greek dramas to a modern audience" (Lind 213). It is a tragicomedy by the playwright Euripides and it centers on the king and queen of Thessalia. Admetus, the king, has been fated to die yet, due to his alliance with Apollo, is given the chance to find a replacement. His wife, Alcestis, volunteers for the position claiming that she cannot imagine life without her husband. After Alcestis submits her life, Admetus discovers the pain of loss and even determines that Alcestis is the lucky one in dying. In a surprising turn of events, a friend of Admetus, Heracles, goes down into the underworld, wrestles Death, and wins Admetus back his bride. ^1
This tale, as mentioned above, tugs at a reader?s heartstrings. We, as an audience, want to believe that Alcestis is brought to life at the termination of this drama, yet there are those interpreters who believe otherwise. A specific example of this type of person is D.L. Drew, who proposes that the woman given to Admetus is the corpse of his wife rather than the resurrected Alcestis. Drew goes further to comment that this is Heracles?s revenge against Admetus for tricking him into believing that she who died is a stranger and not Alcestis.1 This is a terrible proposition that tends to disturb a reader and, through the examination of the text, seems to be rather incorrect. The concept that Alcestis has been resurrected can be supported, in fact, by several elements. Through the influence of the god Apollo in the drama?s entirety, through the temperament and motivations of Heracles, and through the presence of many comic elements in correlation with the definition of comedy, one can truly believe that Alcestis is brought back to life.
In the onset of Alcestis, the god Apollo utters to Death an oracle. "For a man comes to the dwelling of Pheres?and he shall be a guest in the house of Admetus, and by force shall he tear this woman [Alcestis] from you" (Euripides 66-69). These are the last words of Apollo in this text, yet he does not completely disappear from the drama. He seems to show his covert influence through the use of light and sound.
One may first examine the use of light in this drama. The characters use the concept of the sun many times throughout their dialogue. "Sun, and you, light of day?" (Euripides 244). A similar line comes quickly, "The sun looks upon you and me?" (Euripides 246). Furthermore, a play on the word, "light" is used. Alcestis tells her children to "live happy in the light of day" (Euripides 273) and Pheres accuses his son Admetus of loving "to look upon the light of day" (Euripides 691). These are just four examples of a play filled with mentions of light, and it seems to be a device used by Euripides. This playwright uses the mention of sun and light constantly to hint at the silent presence of Apollo, who is the god of the sun?s rays. He is guiding the fate of the drama?s characters.
A second examination can be focused on the use of the flute in the drama. Apollo is credited as being the creator of music and of the flute. The flute plays throughout the play through stage directions interpreted by editor L.R. Lind. Mostly, the flute is played as Admetus speaks and is quite prominent throughout lines 863-902 where Admetus truly understands why Alcestis gave her life and begins to envy Alcestis in her death. These places of flute are also mentions of the presence of Apollo and perhaps show where he aids Admetus in understanding the reason for Alcestis?s sacrifice.
The most important concept that can be derived from the above material is that Apollo is a god known for oracles at Delphi. Apollo gives the above oracle personally and is constantly brought up as being a character just under the surface of the play. He can been seen as a character guiding the fates of the other characters and can thus be held accountable for the sidetracking of the hero Heracles from his twelve tasks.
This is Apollo?s intent, yet another aspect must be proven and that is whether or not Heracles has the disposition to, as D.L. Drew believes, cruelly present Admetus with the corpse of his
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Argonauts, Alcestis, Women and death, Admetus, Heracles, Pheres, Euripides, Apollo, Alcestis Barcinonensis, god apollo, comic elements, alcestis, greek dramas, thessalia, king and queen, tragicomedy, heracles, lucky one, tugs, interpreters, playwright, lind, motivations, correlation, temperament, corpse, underworld, dwelling, myth
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