FOR many years the remembrance of Apollo's service kept
Thessaly full of sunlight. Where a god could work, the
people took heart to work also. Flocks and herds throve,
travellers were befriended, and men were happy under the
rule of a happy king and queen.
But one day Admetus fell ill, and he grew weaker and weaker
until he lay at death's door. Then, when no remedy was found
to help him and the hope of the people was failing, they
remembered the promise of the Fates to spare the king if
some one else would die in his stead. This seemed a simple
matter for one whose wishes are law, and whose life is
needed by all his fellow-men. But, strange to say, the
substitute did not come forward at once.
Among the king's most faithful friends, many were afraid to
die. Men said that they would gladly give their lives in
battle, but that they could not die in bed at home like
helpless old women. The wealthy had too much to live
for; and the poor, who possessed nothing but life,
could not bear to give up that. Even the aged parents of
Admetus shrank from the thought of losing the few years that
remained to them, and thought it impious that any one should
name such a sacrifice.
All this time, the three Fates were waiting to cut the
thread of life, and they could not wait longer.
Then, seeing that even the old and wretched clung
 to their gift of life, who should offer herself but the young and
lovely queen, Alcestis? Sorrowful but resolute, she
determined to be the victim, and made ready to die for the
sake of her husband.
She took leave of her children and commended them to the
care of Admetus. All his pleading could not change the
decree of the Fates. Alcestis prepared for death as for some
consecration. She bathed and anointed her body, and, as a
mortal illness seized her, she lay down to die, robed in
fair raiment, and bade her kindred farewell. The
household was filled with mourning, but it was too late.
She waned before the eyes of
the king, like daylight that must be gone.
At this grievous moment Heracles, mightiest of all men, who
was journeying on his way to new adventures, begged
admittance to the
palace, and inquired the cause of such grief in that
hospitable place. He was told of the misfortune that had
befallen Admetus, and, struck with pity, he resolved to try
what his strength might do for this man who had been a
friend of gods.
Already Death had come out of Hades for Alcestis, and as
Heracles stood at the door of her chamber he saw that awful
form leading away the lovely spirit of the queen, for the
breath had just departed from her body. Then the might that
he had from his divine father Zeus stood by the hero. He
seized Death in his giant arms and wrestled for victory.
Now Death is a visitor that comes and goes. He may not tarry
in the upper world; its air is not for him; and at length,
feeling his power give way, he loosed his grasp of the
queen, and, weak with the struggle, made escape to his
native darkness of Hades.
 In the chamber where the royal kindred were weeping, the
body of Alcestis lay, fair to see, and once more the breath
stirred in her heart, like a waking bird. Back to its home
came her lovely spirit, and for long years after she lived
happily with her husband, King Admetus.