When Admetus reigned over Pherae, Apollo served him as his thrall,1 while Admetus wooed Alcestis, daughter of Pelias. Now Pelias had promised to give his daughter to him who should yoke a lion and a boar to a car, and Apollo yoked and gave them to Admetus, who brought them to Pelias and so obtained Alcestis.2 But in offering a sacrifice at his marriage, he forgot to sacrifice to Artemis; therefore when he opened the marriage chamber he found it full of coiled snakes. Apollo bade him appease the goddess and obtained as a favour of the Fates that, when Admetus should be about to die, he might be released from death if someone should choose voluntarily to die for him. And when the day of his death came neither his father nor his mother would die for him, but Alcestis died in his stead. But the Maiden3 sent her up again, or, as some say, Hercules fought with Hades and brought her up to him.4
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2 Compare Hyginus, Fab. 50, 51.
3 That is, Persephone.
4 This pathetic story is immortalized by Euripides in his noble tragedy Alcestis, happily still extant. Compare Zenobius, Cent. i.18, which to a certain extent agrees verbally with this passage of Apollodorus. The tale of Admetus and Alcestis has its parallel in history. Once when Philip II of Spain had fallen ill and seemed like to die, his fourth wife, Anne of Austria, “in her distress, implored the Almighty to spare a life so important to the welfare of the kingdom and of the church, and instead of it to accept the sacrifice of her own. Heaven, says the chronicler, as the result showed, listened to her prayer. The king recovered; and the queen fell ill of a disorder which in a few days terminated fatally.” So they laid the dead queen to her last rest, with the kings of Spain, in the gloomy pile of the Escurial among the wild and barren mountains of Castile; but there was no Herakles to complete the parallel with the Greek legend by restoring her in the bloom of life and beauty to the arms of her husband. See W. H. Prescott, History of the Reign of Philip the Second, bk. vi. chap. 2, at the end.
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