Alcestis | Study Guide


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Alcestis | Symbols


The symbols Euripides uses in Alcestis link closely with two of the themes. Light and darkness relate to the theme of self-sacrifice. The marriage bed and statue of Alcestis relate to the theme of marriage.


Light is used throughout the play as a synonym for life. In Episode 2 Alcestis wishes to come out into the daylight one last time. From the grave or the underworld, which was believed to be literally underground, the daylight was not visible. Hence, only the living can be in the light. Thus, in Stasimon 2 the chorus wishes it could bring Alcestis "back from the chambers ... of Hades into the light." In the Exodos Admetus tells Heracles, "The dead cannot be brought back to the light."


Just as light symbolizes life, darkness symbolizes death. Hades's realm, the underworld, where the souls of the dead spend eternity, is a place of darkness. As Alcestis is dying in Episode 2, she sings, "My eyes fill with darkness. / Night steals over me." Her son sings that she has "gone below" and "exists no longer ... under the sun." In Stasimon 4 the chorus sings of "the darkness of death."

Marriage Bed

Alcestis and Admetus's marriage bed represents their marriage. In Episode 1 the female servant recounts the difficulty Alcestis has parting from her marriage bed. She imagines another woman "will have" the bed. That is, Admetus will remarry. In Episode 2 Admetus insists this will never happen. Instead, he will share his bed with a statue of Alcestis. After Alcestis's funeral in Episode 4, Admetus speaks of the "empty bed that awaits" him inside the house.

Statue of Alcestis

The statue of Alcestis that Admetus mentions in Episode 2 represents his grief and his memory of Alcestis. He calls it a "cold comfort" and "a frigid delight." However, he hopes the statue would at least prompt dreams of Alcestis, which would bring him joy if only for a short time. The statue also serves as a symbol of death, in that a statue is silent and cold like a corpse. The verbs Admetus uses in his description of the actions that will occur around the statue describe actions that are taken during funerals and after death. Much like a corpse is laid out, Alcestis's statue will "lay upon" Admetus's bed. He will "fall upon" her like the bereaved fall upon the graves of loved ones. Also, he will "wrap" his arms around the statue as it lies in his bed, suggesting the tight wrappings of funerary cloths.

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