(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Phoebus Apollo has a son, Asclepius, who in time becomes a god of medicine and healing. Asclepius transgresses divine law by raising a mortal, Hippolytus, from the dead, and Zeus, in anger, kills Apollo’s son with a thunderbolt forged by the Cyclops. Apollo then slays the Cyclops, a deed for which he is condemned by Zeus to leave Olympus and to serve for one year as herdsman to Admetus, the king of Pherae in Thessaly.

Some time after Apollo completes his term of service, Admetus marries Alcestis, the daughter of the king of Iolcus, Pelias. On his wedding day, however, he offends the goddess Artemis and so is doomed to die. Apollo, grateful for the kindness Admetus showed him in the past, prevails on the Fates to spare the king on the condition that when his hour of death comes, they accept instead the life of whoever will consent to die in his place.

None of Admetus’s kin cares to offer himself in his place, but Alcestis, in wifely devotion, pledges herself to die for her husband. The day arrives when she must give up her life. Concerned for the wife of his mortal friend, Apollo appeals to Thanatos, who comes to take Alcestis to the underworld. Thanatos rejects his pleas, warning the god not to transgress against eternal judgment or the will of the Fates. Apollo declares that there is one powerful enough to defy the Fates who is even then on his way to the palace of Admetus. Meanwhile Alcestis prepares for her approaching death. On the day she is to die, she dresses herself in rich funeral robes and prays before the hearth fire to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, asking her to be a mother to the two children she is leaving behind, to find a helpmate for the boy and a gentle lord for the girl, and not to let them...

(The entire section is 709 words.)