Alcestis | Study Guide


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Alcestis | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Prologos and Parodos

Alcestis is set in front of Admetus's palace in the town of Pherae, located in the Thessaly region of Greece. The god Apollo enters from the palace, recalling his time as a herdsman in King Admetus's household. Admetus treated him so well that the god considers him a friend. Out of friendship Apollo tricked the Fates into allowing Admetus to avoid death as long as someone else dies in his stead. Only Admetus's wife, Alcestis, is willing to do so. Death arrives to conduct her spirit to Hades.

After the immortals leave, the chorus arrives, wondering whether Alcestis is still alive.

Episode 1–Stasimon 2

A servant tells the chorus that Alcestis is near death and recounts how she prepared herself to die. After washing and dressing herself in her burial robes, she said goodbye to her children and her servants. The servant returns to the palace, and the chorus prays for Admetus and Alcestis.

The family comes out of the palace so Alcestis can see the sun one last time. She blames Admetus's parents for making her children motherless. Being elderly, they should have offered to die. She asks Admetus not to marry again so her children will not have to contend with an abusive stepmother. He readily agrees and adds that he will no longer host parties. He will sleep with a statue of Alcestis so he can see her in his dreams. Alcestis dies, and the family leaves to prepare for her burial. The chorus laments her death.

Episode 3–Stasimon 4

To the chorus's consternation, Heracles arrives for a visit. Admetus comes out to greet him and, dodging questions about his wife's condition, insists Heracles accept his hospitality. After a servant takes Heracles to the guesthouse, the chorus asks Admetus why he has invited Heracles to stay at such a time. Admetus explains that it would make him feel even worse if people thought him inhospitable. The chorus admires his generosity, calling him noble and wise.

Soon Admetus and the funeral procession come out of the palace and run into Pheres, Admetus's father. Admetus, however, doesn't want his father at the funeral. The two men shout insults at one another. Admetus calls his father a coward; Pheres calls his son a murderer. Finally, Admetus orders Pheres out of his sight and disowns him. The chorus joins Admetus and his attendants as the funeral procession moves off.

A servant exits the palace, complaining about Heracles's drunken, inconsiderate behavior. Heracles comes looking for him. Why, Heracles wonders, are the servants so glum? Realizing Heracles doesn't know Alcestis has died, the servant reveals the truth. Heracles decides to rescue Alcestis from Death and leaves just as the funeral procession returns. Inconsolable, Admetus wishes he were dead rather than facing life without Alcestis. The chorus tries to comfort him. No one can change what must be, it says, but Alcestis will be remembered with love and honored "like a god."


Heracles arrives with a veiled young woman he says he won in an athletic contest. He wants Admetus to take care of her while he completes his labor. Admetus tries to refuse, but Heracles insists. Finally, Heracles removes the woman's veil, and Admetus sees it is Alcestis. Admetus orders a celebration, and the chorus marvels at the gods' unpredictable "designs."

Alcestis Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Apollo grants Admetus a long life if someone dies instead.

Rising Action

2 Alcestis agrees to die.

3 Despite Apollo's entreaties, Death comes to take Alcestis.

4 Alcestis dies.

5 In mourning, Admetus welcomes Heracles as a houseguest.

6 Admetus refuses to let Pheres attend the funeral.

7 Admetus realizes letting Alcestis die for him was cowardly.

8 Heracles brings a veiled woman for Admetus to look after.


9 Heracles unveils the woman to Admetus as Alcestis.

Falling Action

10 Heracles explains how he rescued her from Death.

11 Admetus orders the citizens to come out of mourning.


12 Admetus hosts a grand celebration for his kingdom.

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