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7104: Admetus and Alcestis listen to the oracle. Pompei, casa del Poeta Tragico (VI 8,3), tablino (8). National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

"If I had the voice and music of Orpheus so that I could charm Demeter's daughter or her husband with song and fetch you from Hades, I would have gone down to the Underworld, and neither Hades's hound nor Charon the ferryman of souls standing at the oar would have kept me from bringing you back to the light alive." (Admetus 1 to Alcestis. Euripides, Alcestis 359).

"For you alone, dear among women, had the courage to redeem your husband from Hades at the price of your life." (Elders of Pherae, Euripides, Alcestis 460).

"Glance at the ambition of the men around you, and consider how singularly they are affected with the love of winning a name. Do you suppose that Alcestis would have died for Admetus, or Achilles have sought death on the corpse of Patroclus if they had not expected to win 'a deathless memory for valor,' which now we keep?" (Diotima to Socrates. Plato, Symposium 208d).

Alcestis is remembered for having given her life for her husband.

Background of Admetus 1

Admetus 1, who is found among the ARGONAUTS and among the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, became king of Pherae in Thessaly after his father Pheres 1, the founder of the city. Admetus 1's grandfather was Cretheus 1, founder of Iolcus (another Thessalian city, the ARGONAUTS port of departure) and son of the great Thessalian ruler Aeolus 1, himself son of Hellen 1, eponym of the Hellenes and son of Deucalion 1, one of the most importants survivors of that catastrophical flood, which is known as The Flood of Deucalion 1.

Alcestis' father is Admetus 1's uncle

Admetus 1 wished to marry Alcestis, one of the daughters of King Pelias 1 of Iolcus, successor of Cretheus 1. This Pelias 1 is the same who bade Jason, captain of the ARGONAUTS, to go in quest of the Golden Fleece. About his daughters, it is told that they were persuaded by Medea (after the return of the ARGONAUTS to Iolcus) to make mincemeat of their father and boil him, promising to make him young again with her drugs. Since both Pelias 1 and Pheres 1 are sons of Cretheus 1, it results from it that Admetus 1 and Alcestis were cousins.

How Alcestis' hand was won

When Pelias 1 still was among the living, he promised to give his daughter Alcestis to him who should yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot. Then Apollo, the sweet son of Leto, yoked the beasts and gave them to Admetus 1, who brought them to King Pelias 1, thus obtaining the hand of Alcestis.

Apollo's help

Why should Apollo help Admetus 1? This is the reason:
Asclepius, son of Apollo and a remarkable healer, used the blood of Medusa 1, which he had received from Athena, in such a skillful way that he was able, through remedies conceived by him, to raise the dead. Some say that Zeus feared that men would acquire this art from him and so come to the rescue of each other. So, in order to reestablish the normal ways, the god smote Asclepius with his thunderbolt. Grieved at the death of his beloved son, and not being able to raise his hand against his own father, Apollo, in revenge, slew the CYCLOPES, who had fashioned the thunderbolt for Zeus. Because of this, Zeus would have hurled Apollo to Tartarus, if Leto had not intervened. So instead Zeus ordered Apollo, as a penalty for having destroyed the CYCLOPES, to serve as a thrall to a mortal man for one year. This man was Admetus 1, who already was king of Pherae, where Apollo served him as herdman, performing miracles to improve the outcomes of his new occupation. And since Apollo found he had been kindly treated when given in servitude to Admetus 1, he provided him with the wild beasts, with which Admetus 1 bore off Alcestis in marriage.

0504: Alcestis gives her life for Admetus. Painting by Friedrich Heinrich Füger, 1751-1818. Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildende Künste, Wien.

A special favor

But in offering a sacrifice at his marriage, Admetus 1 forgot to sacrifice to Artemis, and consequently found his marriage chamber full of coiled serpents. Apollo bade King Admetus 1 appease the goddess, and meanwhile he obtained (because Admetus 1 was such a kind master towards him) a special favor of the MOERAE: that when Admetus 1 should be about to die, he might be released from death, if someone should choose voluntarily to die for him.

"In Admetus I found a godly man. And so I rescued him from death by tricking the MOERAE. These goddesses promised me that Admetus could escape an immediate death by giving in exchange another corpse to the powers below." (Apollo. Euripides, Alcestis 10).

Alcestis dies in vicarious death

Admetus could not find someone who would die for him, for certainly life is dear to most mortals. Not even those who were closer to him by blood—his aged parents—wished to agree to such a deal. But Alcestis was willing to died in his stead, showing the measure of her love for him. She died for Admetus in vicarious death, but Heracles 1 took her back from the Underworld, having wrestled against Thanatos (Death). Or perhaps Persephone just sent the loving wife up again.


Alcestis alone among the daughters of Pelias 1 did not take part in the killing of her father when her sisters, deceived by Medea, cut him into pieces. (Roscher, Lex. 1.233.67).
Jason married Alcestis to Admetus 1, first after the death of her father. He thought that he should assume responsibility for the daughters of Pelias 1 when the latter's kingdom was ruined. (Dio.4.53.2).






Pelias 1 & Anaxibia 2


Pelias 1 & Phylomache


Genealogy tells that Anaxibia 2 was daughter of Bias 1, son of Amythaon 1, son of Cretheus 1 (again).
Phylomache is of Theban origin, a daughter of Amphion 1 and Niobe 2, that is, she is to be counted among the NIOBIDS. Niobe 2 is daughter of the impious Tantalus 1.

Admetus 1

Eumelus 1

Perimele 2

Eumelus 1 became one the SUITORS OF HELEN, and one of the ACHAEAN LEADERS in the Trojan War (leader of the Pheraeans). He is also found among those who were inside the WOODEN HORSE. Eumelus 1 married Iphthime 1, a daughter of Icarius 1, that is, she was sister of Penelope, Odysseus' wife.

Perimele 2 was married to Argus 3, allegedly builder of the Argo, the ARGONAUTS' ship. After their son Magnes 3, the district of Magnesia was called.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Admetus 1, Aeolus 1, Alcestis, Argus 3, Athamas 1, Cretheus 1, Deucalion 1, Eumelus 1, Hellen 1, Icarius 1, Iphthime 1, Magnes 3, Odysseus, Pelias 1, Penelope, Perimele 2, Pheres 1, Phrixus 1, Salmoneus, Tyro.

Related sections  

Eur.Alc. passim; Hyg.Fab.24, 50, 51; Apd.1.9.10-16, 3.10.8; Apd.Ep.3.14; Hom.Il.2.713; Lib.Met.23, Dio.4.53.2.