Alcestis (might of the home) In Greek mythology, daughter of Pelias and Anaxibia (or Phylomache); wife of Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly. When Admetus, in order to achieve immortality, had to find someone to die in his place, all refused, including his parents; only Alcestis volunteered and gave her life for his. She was later brought back from the underworld by Heracles.

She appears in Euripides’ play Alcestis, in which Admetus is portrayed as being a selfish husband. Many later writers have based their characterizations of Alcestis on Euripides. William Morris wrote “The Love of Alcestis” in 1868, and Robert Browning in Balaustion’s Adventure (1871) has a translation of Euripides’ play in the poem. In medieval tradition Alcestis was the model wife, appearing in Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women.

She is called Celia in T. S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party. In the play Celia prefers to return to the land of the dead because for her it is a greater reality. Milton cites Alcestis in his “Sonnet 23,” and Rilke wrote a poem “Alcestis.” The best known operatic setting is Alceste (1767) by Gluck, based on Euripides’ play. In the opera Apollo, not Heracles, brings back Alcestis. A modern operatic version is Alkestis (1922) by Rutland Boughton in Gilbert Murray’s English translation of Euripides’ play. There is also Alkestis (1924) by Egon Wellesz with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow-Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante