The Abduction (Hercules and Alcestis)

The Abduction (Hercules and Alcestis)

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Herakles (Euripides)

Herakles (Ancient Greek: Ἡρακλῆς μαινόμενος , Hēraklēs Mainomenos, also known as Hercules Furens) is an Athenian tragedy by Euripides that was first performed c. 416 BC. While Herakles is in the underworld obtaining Cerberus for one of his labours, his father Amphitryon, wife Megara, and children are sentenced to death in Thebes by Lycus. Herakles arrives in time to save them, though the goddesses Iris and Madness (personified) cause him to kill his wife and children in a frenzy. It is the second of two surviving tragedies by Euripides where the family of Herakles are suppliants (the first being Herakles' Children). It was first performed at the City Dionysia festival.


THE river-god Achelous told the story of Erisichthon to Theseus and his companions, whom he was entertaining at his hospitable board, while they were delayed on their journey by the overflow of his waters. Having finished his story, he added, "But why should I tell of other persons' transformations when I myself am an instance of the possession of this power? Sometimes I become a serpent, and sometimes a bull, with horns on my head. Or I should say I once could do so but now I have but one horn, having lost one." And here he groaned and was silent.

Theseus asked him the cause of his grief, and how he lost his horn. To which question the river-god replied as follows: "Who likes to tell of his defeats? Yet I will not hesitate to relate mine, comforting myself with the thought of the greatness of my conqueror, for it was Hercules. Perhaps you have heard of the fame of Dejanira, the fairest of maidens, whom a host of suitors strove to win. Hercules and myself were of the number, and the rest yielded to us two. He urged in his behalf his descent from Jove and his labours by which he had exceeded the exactions of Juno, his stepmother. I, on the other hand, said to the father of the maiden, 'Behold me, the king of the waters that flow through your land. I am no stranger from a foreign shore, but belong to the country, a part of your realm. Let it not stand in my way that royal Juno owes me no enmity nor punishes me with heavy tasks. As for this man, who boasts himself the son of Jove, it is either a false pretence, or disgraceful to him if true, for it cannot be true except by his mother's shame.' As I said this Hercules scowled upon me, and with difficulty restrained his rage. 'My hand will answer better than my tongue,' said he. 'I yield to you the victory in words, but trust my cause to the strife of deeds.' With that he advanced towards me, and I was ashamed, after what I had said, to yield. I threw off my green vesture and presented myself for the struggle. He tried to throw me, now attacking my head, now my body. My bulk was my protection, and he assailed me in vain. For a time we stopped, then returned to the conflict. We each kept our position, determined not to yield, foot to foot, I bending over him, clenching his hand in mine, with my forehead almost touching his. Thrice Hercules tried to throw me off, and the fourth time he succeeded, brought me to the ground, and himself upon my back. I tell you the truth, it was as if a mountain had fallen on me. I struggled to get my arms at liberty, panting and reeking with perspiration. He gave me no chance to recover, but seized my throat. My knees were on the earth and my mouth in the dust.

"Finding that I was no match for him in the warrior's art, I resorted to others and glided away in the form of a serpent. I curled my body in a coil and hissed at him with my forked tongue. He smiled scornfully at this, and said, 'It was the labour of my infancy to conquer snakes.' So saying he clasped my neck with his hands. I was almost choked, and struggled to get my neck out of his grasp. Vanquished in this form, I tried what alone remained to me and assumed the form of a bull. He grasped my neck with his arm, and dragging my head down to the ground, overthrew me on the sand. Nor was this enough. His ruthless hand rent my horn from my head. The Naiads took it, consecrated it, and filled it with fragrant flowers. Plenty adopted my horn and made it her own, and called it 'Cornucopia.'"

The ancients were fond of finding a hidden meaning in their mythological tales. They explain this fight of Achelous with Hercules by saying Achelous was a river that in seasons of rain overflowed its banks. When the fable says that Achelous loved Dejanira, and sought a union with her, the meaning is that the river in its windings flowed through part of Dejanira's kingdom. It was said to take the form of a snake because of its winding, and of a bull because it made a brawling or roaring in its course. When the river swelled, it made itself another channel. Thus its head was horned. Hercules prevented the return of these periodical overflows by embankments and canals and therefore he was said to have vanquished the river-god and cut off his horn. Finally, the lands formerly subject to overflow, but now redeemed, became very fertile, and this is meant by the horn of plenty.

There is another account of the origin of the Cornucopia. Jupiter at his birth was committed by his mother Rhea to the care of the daughters of Melisseus, a Cretan king. They fed the infant deity with the milk of the goat Amalthea. Jupiter broke off one of the horns of the goat and gave it to his nurses, and endowed it with the wonderful power of becoming filled with whatever the possessor might wish.

The name of Amalthea is also given by some writers to the mother of Bacchus. It is thus used by Milton, "Paradise Lost," Book IV.:

". That Nyseian isle,
Girt with the river Triton, where old Cham,
Whom Gentiles Ammon call, and Libyan Jove,
Hid Amalthea and her florid son,
Young Bacchus, from his stepdame Rhea's eye."


AEsculapius, the son of Apollo, was endowed by his father with such skill in the healing art that he even restored the dead to life. At this Pluto took alarm, and prevailed on Jupiter to launch a thunderbolt at AEsculapius. Apollo was indignant at the destruction of his son, and wreaked his vengeance on the innocent workmen who had made the thunderbolt. These were the Cyclopses, who have their workshop under Mount AEtna, from which the smoke and flames of their furnaces are constantly issuing. Apollo shot his arrows at the Cyclopses, which so incensed Jupiter that he condemned him as a punishment to become the servant of a mortal for the space of one year. Accordingly Apollo went into the service of Admetus, king of Thessaly, and pastured his flocks for him on the verdant banks of the river Amphrysos.

Admetus was a suitor, with others, for the hand of Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, who promised her to him who should come for her in a chariot drawn by lions and boars. This task Admetus performed by the assistance of his divine herdsman, and was made happy in the possession of Alcestis. But Admetus fell ill, and being near to death, Apollo prevailed on the Fates to spare him on condition that some one would consent to die in his stead. Admetus, in his joy at this reprieve, thought little of the ransom, and perhaps remembering the declarations of attachment which he had often heard from his courtiers and dependents fancied that it would be easy to find a substitute. But it was not so. Brave warriors, who would willingly have perilled their lives for their prince, shrunk from the thought of dying for him on the bed of sickness and old servants who had experienced his bounty and that of his house from their childhood up, were not willing to lay down the scanty remnant of their days to show their gratitude. Men asked, "Why does not one of his parents do it? They cannot in the course of nature live much longer, and who can feel like them the call to rescue the life they gave from an untimely end?" But the parents, distressed though they were at the thought of losing him, shrunk from the call. Then Alcestis, with a generous self-devotion, proffered herself as the substitute. Admetus, fond as he was of life, would not have submitted to receive it at such a cost Lut there was no remedy. The condition imposed by the Fates had been met, and the decree was irrevocable. Alcestis sickened as Admetus revived, and she was rapidly sinking to the grave.

Just at this time Hercules arrived at the Palace of Admetus, and found all the inmates in great distress for the impending loss of the devoted wife and beloved mistress. Hercules, to whom no labour was too arduous, resolved to attempt her rescue. He went and lay in wait at the door of the chamber of the dying queen, and when Death came for his prey, he seized him and forced him to resign his victim. Alcestis recovered, and was restored to her husband.

Milton alludes to the story of Alcestis in his Sonnet "on his deceased wife":

"Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint."

J. R. Lowell has chosen the "Shepherd of King Admetus" for the subject of a short poem. He makes that event the first introduction of poetry to men.

"Men called him but a shiftless youth,
In whom no good they saw,
And yet unwittingly, in truth,
They made his careless words their law.
"And day by day more holy grew
Each spot where he had trod,
Till after-poets only knew
Their first-born brother was a god."


A large proportion both of the interesting persons and of the exalted acts of legendary Greece belongs to the female sex. Antigone was as bright an example of filial and sisterly fidelity as was Alcestis of connubial devotion. She was the daughter of OEdipus and Jocasta, who with all their descendants were the victims of an unrelenting fate, dooming them to destruction. OEdipus in his madness had torn out his eyes, and was driven forth from his kingdom Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all men, as an object of divine vengeance. Antigone, his daughter, alone shared his wanderings and remained with him till he died, and then returned to Thebes.

Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to share the kingdom between them, and reign alternately year by year. The first year fell to the lot of Eteocles, who, when his time expired, refused to surrender the kingdom to his brother. Polynices fled to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his daughter in marriage, and aided him with an army to enforce his claim to the kingdom. This led to the celebrated expedition of the "Seven against Thebes," which furnished ample materials for the epic and tragic poets of Greece.

Amphiaraus, the brother-in-law of Adrastus, opposed the enterprise, for he was a soothsayer, and knew by his art that no one of the leaders except Adrastus would live to return. But Amphiaraus, on his marriage to Eriphyle, the king's sister, had agreed that whenever he and Adrastus should differ in opinion, the decision should be left to Eriphyle. Polynices, knowing this, gave Eriphyle the collar of Harmonia, and thereby gained her to his interest. This collar or necklace was a present which Vulcan had given to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, and Polynices had taken it with him on his flight from Thebes. Eriphyle could not resist so tempting a bribe, and by her decision the war was resolved on, and Amphiaraus went to his certain fate. He bore his part bravely in the contest, but could not avert his destiny. Pursued by the enemy, he fled along the river, when a thunderbolt launched by Jupiter opened the ground, and he, his chariot, and his charioteer were swallowed up.

It would not be in place here to detail all the acts of heroism or atrocity which marked the contest but we must not omit to record the fidelity of Evadne as an offset to the weakness of Eriphyle. Capaneus, the husband of Evadne, in the ardour of the fight declared that he would force his way into the city in spite of Jove himself. Placing a ladder against the wall he mounted, but Jupiter, offended at his impious language, struck him with a thunderbolt. When his obsequies were celebrated, Evadne cast herself on his funeral pile and perished.

Early in the contest Eteocles consulted the soothsayer Tiresias as to the issue. Tiresias in his youth had by chance seen Minerva bathing. The goddess in her wrath deprived him of his sight, but afterwards relenting gave him in compensation the knowledge of future events. When consulted by Eteocles, he declared that victory should fall to Thebes if Menoeceus, the son of Creon, gave himself a voluntary victim. The heroic youth, learning the response, threw away his life in the first encounter.

The siege continued long, with various success. At length both hosts agreed that the brothers should decide their quarrel by single combat. They fought and fell by each other's hands. The armies then renewed the fight, and at last the invaders were forced to yield, and fled, leaving their dead unburied. Creon, the uncle of the fallen princes, now become king, caused Eteocles to be buried with distinguished honour, but suffered the body of Polynices to lie where it fell, forbidding every one on pain of death to give it burial.

Antigone, the sister of Polynices, heard with indignation the revolting edict which consigned her brother's body to the dogs and vultures, depriving it of those rites which were considered essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure assistance, she determined to brave the hazard, and to bury the body with her own hands. She was detected in the act, and Creon gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having deliberately set at naught the solemn edict of the city. Her lover, Haemon, the son of Creon, unable to avert her fate, would not survive her, and fall by his own hand.

Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian poet Sophocles. Mrs. Jameson, in her "Characteristics of Women," has compared her character with that of Cordelia, in Shakspeare's "King Lear."

The following is the lamentation of Antigone over OEdipus, when death has at last relieved him from his sufferings:

"Alas! I only wished I might have died
With my poor father wherefore should I ask
For longer life?
O, I was fond of misery with him
E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
When he was with me. O my dearest father,
Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
Wast dear, and shalt be ever."
Francklin's Sophocles


Penelope is another of those mythic heroines whose beauties were rather those of character and conduct than of person. She was the daughter of Icarius, a Spartan prince. Ulysses, king of Ithaca, sought her in marriage, and won her, over all competitors. When the moment came for the bride to leave her father's house, Icarius, unable to bear the thoughts of parting with his daughter, tried to persuade her to remain with him, and not accompany her husband to Ithaca. Ulysses gave Penelope her choice, to stay or go with him. Penelope made no reply, but dropped her veil over her face. Icarius urged her no further, but when she was gone erected a statue to Modesty on the spot where they parted.

Ulysses and Penelope had not enjoyed their union more than a year when it was interrupted by the events which called Ulysses to the Trojan war. During his long absence, and when it was doubtful whether he still lived, and highly improbable that he would ever return, Penelope was importuned by numerous suitors, from whom there seemed no refuge but in choosing one of them for her husband. Penelope, however, employed every art to gain time, still hoping for Ulysses' return. One of her arts of delay was engaging in the preparation of a robe for the funeral canopy of Laertes, her husband's father. She pledged herself to make her choice among the suitors when the robe was finished. During the day she worked at the robe, but in the night she undid the work of the day. This is the famous Penelope's web, which is used as a proverbial expression for anything which is perpetually doing but never done. The rest of Penelope's history will be told when we give an account of her husband's adventures. Next: CHAPTER XXIV. Orpheus And Eurydice- Aristaeus- Amphion- Linus- Thamyris- Marsyas- Melampus- Musaeus.


Euripides presented “Alcestis” as the final part of a tetralogy of unconnected tragedies (which included the lost plays “The Cretan Woman”, “Alcmaeon in Psophis” and “Telephus”) in the competition of tragedies at the annual City Dionysia competition, an exceptional arrangement in that the fourth play presented at the dramatic festival would normally have been a satyr play (an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, not dissimilar to the modern-day burlesque style).

Its rather ambiguous, tragicomic tone has earned for the play the label of “problem play”. Euripides certainly expanded the myth of Admetus and Alcestis, adding some comic and folk tale elements to suit his needs, but critics disagree about how to categorize the play. Some have argued that, because of its mingling of tragic and comic elements, it can in fact be considered a kind of satyr play rather than a tragedy (although clearly it is not in the usual mould of a satyr play, which is usually a short, slapstick piece characterized by a Chorus of satyrs – half men, half beasts – acting as a farcical backdrop to the traditional mythological heroes of tragedy). Arguably, Heracles himself is the satyr of the play.

There are also other ways in which the play can be considered problemmatic. Unusually for a Greek tragedy, it is not clear exactly who the main character and tragic protagonist of the play is, Alcestis or Admetus. Also, some of the decisions made by some the characters in the play seem somewhat suspect, at least to modern readers. For example, although hospitality was considered a great virtue among the Greeks (which is why Admetus did not feel he could send Heracles away from his house), to hide his wife’s death from Heracles purely in the interests of hospitality seems excessive.

Likewise, although ancient Greece was very much a chauvinistic and male-dominated society, Admetus perhaps overreaches the bounds of the reasonable when he allows his wife to take his place in Hades. Her unselfish sacrifice of her own life in order to spare her husband’s illuminates the Greek moral code of the time (which differed considerably from that of the present day) and the role of women in Greek society. It is unclear whether Euripides, by showing how hospitality and the rules of the male world transcend the whims (and even the dying wish) of a woman, was merely reporting the social mores of his contemporary society, or whether was he calling them into question. “Alcestis” has become a popular text for women’s studies.

Clearly, the unequal relationship of man to woman is a major theme of the play, but several other themes are also explored, such as family vs. hospitality, kinship vs. friendship, sacrifice vs. self-interest and object vs. subject.

Labor #2: Slaying the Hydra

Ethan Doyle White/Wikimedia Commons/CC by SA-4.0

In those days there was a beast living in the swamps of Lerna that ravaged the countryside devouring cattle. It was known as the Hydra. For his second labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to rid the world of this predatory monster.

Taking his nephew, Iolaus (a surviving son of Hercules' brother Iphicles), as his charioteer, Hercules set out to destroy the beast. Of course, Hercules couldn't simply shoot an arrow at the beast or pummel him to death with his club. There had to be something special about the beast that made normal mortals unable to control it.

The Lernaean Hydra monster had 9 heads 1 of these was immortal. If ever one of the other, mortal heads was cut, from the stump would immediately spring forth 2 new heads. Wrestling with the beast proved difficult because, while trying to attack one head, another would bite Hercules' leg with its fangs. Ignoring the nipping at his heels and calling upon Iolaus for help, Hercules told Iolaus to burn the neck the instant Hercules took a head off. Searing prevented the stump from regenerating. When all 8 mortal necks were headless and cauterized, Hercules sliced off the immortal head and buried it underground for safety, with a stone on top to hold it down. (An aside: Typhon, the Nemean Lion's father, was a perilous underground force, too. Hercules was often pitted against chthonic dangers.)

Having dispatched with the head, Hercules dipped his arrows in the gall of the beast. By dipping them Hercules made his weapons lethal.

Having accomplished his second labor, Hercules returned to Tiryns (but only to the outskirts) to report to Eurystheus. There he learned that Eurystheus denied the labor because Hercules had not accomplished it on his own, but only with the help of Iolaus.

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman

Giambologna’s Abduction of a Sabine Woman is one of the most recognized works of sixteenth-century Italian art by one of the least well-known artists of the period. And while Giambologna may not be a household name like Michelangelo, his influence on late sixteenth- and early seventeenth- century European art was extensive and long lasting. The Abduction of a Sabine Woman is located in a spot few tourists miss—the Loggia dei Lanzi, just outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence.

Giambologna, Mercury, c. 1586, bronze, 72cm high (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden)

The story of how Giambologna came to create the Sabine sculpture is almost as interesting as the historical tale it represents. Giambologna (born Jean du Boulogne in Douai in Flanders), arrived in Florence sometime around 1552, and within a few short years was court sculptor to the Medici and running his own large and productive workshop. Giambologna was highly regarded for his small to mid-size works in marble and bronze which were collected by connoisseurs and sent as Medicean diplomatic gifts all across Europe.

Giambologna and Mannerism

Giambologna’s works exemplified the characteristics of the Mannerist period, a time in which artists exploited the idea of beauty for beauty’s sake in works that showcased their artistic talent with figures composed of sinuous lines, graceful curves, exaggerated poses, and a hyper-elegance and preciousness that delighted viewers. His figure of Mercury (above) is an example of what made his work so popular.

While Giambologna’s fame and workshop flourished, there was one area in which he was not active, and that was in monumental sculpture. And in Florence, just taking the short walk from the Cathedral to the Palazzo Vecchio becomes a demonstration of the long history of life-size or larger public sculpture that dominated the cityscape. There were marble sculptures by such famous fifteenth-century sculptors as Donatello, Nanni di Banco, and Lorenzo Ghiberti on the façade of the cathedral, in the niches on the campanile (the belltower), and encircling the exterior of Orsanmichele, and in the Piazza della Signoria—the center of Florentine life and politics—were the truly monumental sculptures, including Michelangelo’s David (1504), Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1525-32), and Bartolommeo Ammanati’s Neptune Fountain (1565).

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, marble, 410 cm high (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence)

A sculptor of monumental works too

Thus, Giambologna also wanted to prove himself as a sculptor of monumental works. And as the story is told, Giambologna undertook the Sabine project without any specific subject in mind with the only goal being to produce a complex multi-figural group.[1] When the work was nearly complete and placed in the Loggia dei Lanzi in August of 1582, it was referred to simply as “group of three statues,” as no one knew what the subject was.[2] However, just a short time later, the work was interpreted as representing an ancient Roman event, and Giambologna produced a bronze narrative relief to be inserted into the base of the sculpture to help clarify the content of the three figures above.[3]

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, marble, 410 cm high (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence)

The subject

The subject is a dramatic one from ancient Roman history. According to the accounts of both Livy and Plutarch, after the city of Rome was founded in 750 B.C.E., the male population of the city was in need of women to ensure both the success of the city and the propagation of Roman lineage. After failed negotiations with the neighboring town of Sabine for their women, the Roman men devised a scheme to abduct the Sabine women (which they did during a summer festival).

What we see in Giambologna’s sculpture is the moment when a Roman successfully captures a Sabine woman as he marches over a Sabine male who crouches down in defeat. (As a note, the sculpture is also referred to as the Rape of a Sabine Woman, which can lead to confusion over the subject. In Latin, the word rapito means “abduction” (and in Italian, the verb rapire means “to abduct,” thus the title Abduction of a Sabine Woman is technically more correct than the Rape of a Sabine Woman, which has explicit connotations of sexual violence. And indeed, in Livy’s account of the episode, he claims there was not sexual violence, rather a variety of enticements by the Roman for how the women would be treated as their wives.)[4])

A triumph

The Sabine was indeed a triumph for Giambologna. According to one account, when the work was officially unveiled to the Florentine public, not one person could find fault with it.[5] And if we compare the Sabine with another multi-figure group, such as Bandinelli’s two-figure Hercules and Cacus, it is immediately apparent how Giambologna dramatically altered the conception of a sculpture involving more than two figures. Bandinelli’s Hercules stands over a defeated Cacus, both men trapped in stony stillness. Neither figure expresses emotion or seems to possess the potential for movement.

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, marble, 410 cm high (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence)

In contrast, Giambologna built his figures up from the bottom, beginning with the cowering Sabine male (above), whose body twists and contorts in reaction to what is happening above him. The man’s straining muscles are evident as he raising his left hand up in despair as the triumphant Roman literally straddles his body, as he strides forward, carrying the Sabine woman away. If you look closely where he grabs her left hip, his fingers actually press into her flesh (below), thus amplifying the effect of these figures being more than marble statues. The woman herself, arms outstretched, twists back and over the Roman’s shoulder as she is hoisted into the air. These figures convey movement, aggression, fear, and struggle, as they move upward in a flame-like or twisting pattern known as figura serpentinata (serpentine figure), popular with Mannerist artists of the period. And to enhance the sense of frenetic energy, Giambologna did not provide a single or primary viewpoint for the work so the viewer must engage with the sculpture in 360 degrees in order to see the entirety of the drama unfold.

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, marble, 410 cm high (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence)

The Abduction of the Sabine Woman proved to be Giambologna’s entrée into the Florentine world of monumental sculpture. From this point forward he went on to create numerous other works that occupy principal sites in Florence, including the Cosimo I de’Medici Equestrian Monument in the Piazza della Signoria, St. Luke for a niche at Orsanmichele, and a brilliant Hercules Battling the Centaur, which is situated just a few feet from his Sabine group in the Loggia dei Lanzi.

Giambologna, Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, marble, 410 cm high (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence)


The influence of what Giambologna accomplished with the Sabine group was seen through the next several decades. For example, in Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius we can most certainly begin to see the influence of Giambologna on the man who would become the face of Baroque sculpture in Italy. In Bernini’s Pluto and Proserpina, the forward stride of Pluto, the elevation of Proserpina above his head, his fingers pressing into the flesh of her thigh, and her outstretch arms and anguished face all point directly to the influence of Giambologna’s Sabine group. And it wasn’t only other sculptors who were responsive to Giambologna’s sculpture. Painters such as Nicolas Poussin and Pietro da Cortona both executed paintings of the same subject and clearly borrowed from both Giambologna’s Sabine figural group, but also his bronze narrative relief as well.

[1] Charles Avery, Giambologna. The Complete Sculpture (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1993), 111.

Heroes and Friends

The first hero Odysseus spoke with was Agamemnon who said Aegisthus and his own wife Clytemnestra had killed him and his troops during the feast celebrating his return. Clytemnestra wouldn't even close her dead husband's eyes. Filled with distrust of women, Agamemnon gave Odysseus some good advice: land secretly in Ithaca.

After Agamemnon, Odysseus let Achilles drink the blood. Achilles complained about death and asked about his son's life. Odysseus was able to assure him that Neoptolemus was still alive and had repeatedly proved himself to be brave and heroic. In life, when Achilles had died, Ajax had thought the honor of possessing the dead man's armor should have fallen to him, but instead, it was awarded to Odysseus. Even in death Ajax held a grudge and would not speak with Odysseus.

Opera Scotland

Raniero da Calzabigi. Revised version by Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc du Roullet.

Classical Greek play Alkestis by Euripides.

First performance: Vienna (Burgtheater), 26 December 1767.
Revised version: Paris (Opéra), 23 April 1776.
First UK performance: London (King&rsquos Theatre), 30 April 1795.
First performance in Scotland: Ledlanet, Kinross-shire, 11 October 1972.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (King&rsquos Theatre), 19 August 1974.

By the time he came to compose Alceste for Vienna, Gluck had spent many years as a successful composer in the opera seria style. He and his collaborator Calzabigi were determined to introduce a new style of dramatic composition. The result is powerfully effective as drama and extremely difficult to perform well, but no longer contains the elements of obvious virtuosity to which audiences were accustomed. The subject had been a popular inspiration for opera composers including Lully (Alceste 1674) and Handel (Admeto 1727). Gluck and Calzabigi removed any plot elements not directly relevant, and the emotional centre of the opera became the noble simplicity of the character of Alcestis. In modern times, a number of great singers have been attracted to the role, including Kirsten Flagstad, Maria Callas, Julia Varady and Janet Baker.

Herald (baritone)
Evandre (tenor)
Alcestis, wife of Admetus (soprano)
High Priest of Apollo (baritone)
Admetus, King of Thessaly (tenor)
Hercules (baritone)
Thanatos (bass)
Voice of Apollo (baritone)

Plot Summary
Admetus is suffering from a fatal disease. The Oracle of Apollo has decreed that the king will only recover if another person willingly gives up his life. No one is willing to do this but for Alcestis. She resolves to die. After Admetus recovers he is horrified to discover the cost involved. Hercules arrives, and he goes down to the underworld to rescue Alcestis and bring her back to the world. The Oracle announces that Admetus and Alcestis are to be rewarded by both being restored to life, and Hercules&rsquo own reward is to become a god.

Licensing Edit

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Labors of Hercules Nr. 12: Capturing Cerberus

Before setting off to complete his task, the hero was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries . Accompanied by Athena and Hermes , he descended into the dark kingdom of the souls through a crevice known as Taenarum . After freeing Theseus and killing Hades's herdsman Menoetes in a wrestling match, Hercules presented himself before the ruler of the Underworld and explained his mission. Hades allowed Hercules to take Cerberus with him, provided that he would capture him with his bare hands and that he would return him back, after showing him to Eurystheus.

Hercules remained true to his promise. After a fierce fight, he managed to capture the monstrous dog and, accompanied by Hermes, he ascended to earth from a gap near Troezen. Then, after presenting Cerberus to Eurystheus in order to receive due credit, he returned him to Hades.

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