Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Admetus’s palace. Pherae, Thessaly, Greece. All of the action of the play takes place in front of this palace. The house itself connects Admetus with the other characters in the play. For his wife Alcestis, this palace, and especially her marriage bed, provide the motivation for her decision to die for Admetus. While Admetus’s father Pheres has given the palace and its authority over to his son, Pheres is not prepared also to die on his son’s behalf.
The palace also creates a bond of guest-friendship between Admetus and Apollo. Because Admetus has earlier hosted Apollo during the latter’s earthly servitude, Apollo grants him a means of avoiding his fated early death. The palace also unites Admetus with Hercules. According to the Greek custom of xenia or guest-friendship, a guest-friend deserves particular honor in the house. For this reason Admetus does not tell his friend about his wife’s death and Hercules only hears of the event from servants upset by his inappropriate behavior in a house of mourning. Hercules responds by bringing to the house of his grieving friend a woman he claims to have wrested from the hands of death. Hercules relies upon his rights as a guest in Admetus’s house to persuade his friend to marry this woman.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Euripides. Alcestis. Edited by Desmond J. Conacher. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1988. Greek text and English translation. Conacher’s introduction sets the play in context and discusses problems of interpretation. The commentary emphasizes structure and themes.
Euripides. Alcestis. Edited by A. M. Dale. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1954. Contains a Greek text and a valuable introduction and line-by-line commentary. An indispensable starting point for serious study.
Grube, G. M. A. The Drama of Euripides. London: Methuen, 1941. A general treatment of Euripides, still highly regarded. Contains chapters on the structural elements of Euripides’ plays, the chorus, the gods, and contemporary issues; also provides penetrating analysis of individual plays, including Alcestis.
Pickard-Cambridge, Arthur W. The Dramatic Festivals of Athens. Rev. ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. A magisterial work, closely based on ancient sources, treating the religious festivals at which tragedy and comedy were performed. Includes chapters on the actors, costumes, chorus, audience, and guilds of performers.
Wilson, John R., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Euripides’ “Alcestis.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A useful collection of ten critical essays on Alcestis that were originally published between 1940 and 1965, as well as ten “Points of View,” brief, thought-provoking extracts from larger works.