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This review is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

FRIENDS WITH THE BRAVE EURIPEDES, Alcestis: in a version by Ted Hughes (Faber) £12.99

This is the story of Admetos, King of Thessaly, and Alcestis his Queen: Admetos is destined to die young but his old friend Apollo intervenes and Admetos is allowed to ask someone to die for him. Only Alcestis is willing. At her funeral, another old chum, Heracles, turns up, and Admetos, straining the Greek duty of hospitable xenia beyond the limit, hides his wife's death in order to entertain him. When Heracles realises what he has done, he goes to the underworld, rescues Alcestis, and presents her to her mourning husband.

Euripedes, characteristically, made of this enigmatic story an even more problematic play, one performed, for all its horrors, in the comic 'satyr play' part of the Greek programme. Men and gods behave badly. Apollo is wily and deceptive, withholding the story from the audience. Death, with whom he has something like a street scrap, is distinctly louche. The servants lecture their masters, especially the drunk and easily muddled Heracles. Admetos roars and rails against fate, engages in a particularly nasty cat fight with his elderly father about which of them killed Alcestis, and breaks, for Heracles' sake, the promises he made to the dying Alcestis - not to entertain, and not to accept another woman (in fact the resurrected, disguised Alcestis) into his house. Only Alcestis, first of Euripides' strong women, is entirely admirable, dying calmly after bidding a painful farewell to life. Euripides is radical both in allowing a woman a hero's death, and in ...

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