Hercules at Admetus
When Hercules sailed by ship across the sea to the shores of Thrace for the horses of the king Diomed, then he decided to visit his friend, the king Admet, since the path lay past the city Fer, where Admet rules.
Hercules chose a difficult time for Admet. Great sorrow reigned in the house of King Fer. His wife Alkestida should have died. Once upon a time, the goddesses of fate, the great moirs, at the request of Apollo determined that Admet could get rid of death if, in the last hour of his life, someone voluntarily agreed to descend into the gloomy realm of Hades instead of him. When the hour of death came, Admet asked his elderly parents for one of them to agree to die in his place, but the parents refused. No one from the inhabitants of Fer agreed to die voluntarily for King Admet. Then the young, beautiful Alcestis decided to sacrifice her life for her beloved husband. On the day Admet was supposed to die, his wife prepared for death. She washed the body and put on funeral clothes and ornaments. Approaching the hearth, Alcestis turned to the goddess Hestia, who gives happiness in the house, with a fervent prayer:
- Oh, great goddess! For the last time I kneel here before you. I pray you, protect my orphaned children, because today I have to descend into the realm of gloomy Hades. Oh, don't let them die like I'm dying, prematurely! May their life be happy and rich here at home.
Then Alcestis went around all the altars of the gods and decorated them with myrtle.Finally, she went to her chambers and fell on her bed in tears. Her children came to her - a son and a daughter. They wept bitterly on their mother's breast. The maidservants of Alcestis also wept. In despair, Admet embraced his young wife and begged her not to leave him. Alcestis is already ready for death; the god of death Thanat, hated by gods and people, is already approaching the palace of the king of Fer with inaudible steps to cut off a lock of hair from the head of Alcestis with a sword. The golden-haired Apollo himself asked him to postpone the hour of death of his beloved Admet's wife, but Tanat is inexorable. Alkestida feels the approach of death. She exclaims in horror:
- Oh, a two-oared rook is already approaching me Charon, and the carrier of the souls of the dead shouts menacingly to me, ruling the rook: "Why are you procrastinating? Hurry up, hurry up! Can't stand the time! Don't delay us. Everything is ready! Hurry up!" Oh, let me go! My legs are getting weak. Death is coming. The black night covers my eyes! Oh, children, children! Your mother is no longer alive! Live happily ever after! Admet, your life was dearer to me than my own life. Let the sun shine on you, not on me. Admet, you love our children as much as I do. Oh, don't take your stepmother into their house so that she doesn't offend them!
The unfortunate Admet suffers.
- You take all the joy of life with you, Alkestis! - he exclaims, - all my life now I will grieve for you. Oh, gods, gods, what a wife you are taking away from me!
Alkestida says in a barely audible voice:
- Goodbye! My eyes have already closed forever. Goodbye, children! I am nothing now. Goodbye, Admet!
- Oh, look again at least once! Don't leave the children! Oh, let me die too! Admet cried with tears.
Alkestida's eyes have closed, her body is getting cold, she died. He weeps inconsolably over the deceased Admet and bitterly laments his fate. He orders his wife to prepare a magnificent funeral. For eight months he tells everyone in the city to mourn Alcestis, the best of women. The whole city is full of sorrow, because everyone loved the good queen.
They were already preparing to carry the body of Alcestis to her tomb, when Hercules comes to the city of Phera. He goes to the palace of Admet and meets his friend at the gates of the palace. Admet met with honor the great son of the aegis-bearing Zeus. Not wanting to sadden the guest, Admet tries to hide his grief from him. But Hercules immediately noticed that his friend was deeply saddened, and asked about the reason for his grief. Admetus gives an unclear answer to Hercules, and he decides that Admetus has a distant relative who was sheltered by the king after his father's death. Admet orders his servants to take Hercules to the guest room and arrange a rich feast for him, and lock the doors to the women's half so that the moans of sorrow do not reach Hercules' ears. Unaware of the misfortune that has befallen his friend, Hercules is feasting merrily in the palace of Admetus. Cup after cup he drinks. It is hard for servants to serve a cheerful guest, because they know that their beloved mistress is no longer alive. No matter how hard they try, on Admet's orders, to hide their grief, yet Hercules notices tears in their eyes and sadness on their faces. He calls one of the servants to feast with him, says that the wine will give him oblivion and smooth out the wrinkles of sadness on his forehead, but the servant refuses. Then Hercules guesses that a heavy grief has befallen the house of Admetus. He starts asking the servant what happened to his friend, and finally the servant tells him:
- Oh, stranger, Admet's wife descended today into the kingdom of Hades.
Hercules was saddened. It hurt him that he was feasting in a wreath of ivy and singing in the house of a friend who had suffered such great grief. Hercules decided to thank the noble Admetus for the fact that, despite the grief that had befallen him, he still received him so hospitably. The great hero's decision to take away from the gloomy god of death quickly matured Tanata his prey - Alkestida.
Having learned from the servant where the tomb of Alcestis is located, he hurries there as soon as possible. Hiding behind the tomb, Hercules waits for Tanat to arrive to drink sacrificial blood at the grave. Here the flapping of the black wings of the Tanat was heard, the cold of the grave blew; the gloomy god of death flew to the tomb and greedily pressed his lips to the sacrificial blood. Hercules jumped out of the ambush and rushed at Thanatos. He embraced the god of death with his mighty arms, and a terrible struggle began between them. Exerting all his strength, Hercules fights with the god of death. Thanatos squeezed the chest of Hercules with his bony hands, he breathes on him with his chilling breath, and from his wings the cold of death blows on the hero. Yet the mighty son of the thunderer Zeus defeated Thanatos. He bound Thanatos and demanded, as a ransom for freedom, that the god of death bring Alcestis back to life. Thanatos gave Hercules the life of Admetus' wife, and the great hero led her back to her husband's palace.Admet, returning to the palace after his wife's funeral, bitterly mourned his irreplaceable loss. It was hard for him to stay in the deserted palace, Where should he go? He envies the dead. He hates life. He calls death. Tanat stole all his happiness and took it to the kingdom of Hades. What could be harder for him than the loss of his beloved wife! Admet regrets that she did not allow Alcestis to die with her, then their death would have united them. Hades would get two souls loyal to each other instead of one. Together, these souls would have crossed the Acheron. Suddenly Hercules appeared before the mournful Admetus. He leads a veiled woman by the hand. Hercules asks Admetus to leave this woman, who got to him after a hard struggle, in the palace until his return from Thrace. Admetus refuses; he asks Hercules to take the woman to someone else. It is hard for Admet to see another woman in his palace when he has lost the one he loved so much. Hercules insists and even wants Admetus to bring a woman into the palace himself. He does not allow Admet's servants to touch her. Finally, Admet, unable to refuse his friend, takes the woman by the hand to lead her into his palace. Hercules says to him:
- You took it, Admet! So guard her! Now you can say that the son of Zeus is a loyal friend. Look at the woman! Does she look like your wife Alcestis? Stop pining! Be happy with life again!
- Oh, great gods! Admetus exclaimed, lifting the woman's veil, "my wife Alcestis! Oh, no, it's just a shadow of her! She stands in silence, she hasn't uttered a word!
- No, it's not a shadow! - Hercules replied, - this is Alcestis. I got it in a hard struggle with the lord of souls Thanat. She will be silent until she is freed from the power of the underground gods, bringing them redemptive sacrifices; she will be silent until the night changes day three times; only then will she speak. Now farewell, Admet! Be happy and always observe the great custom of hospitality, sanctified by my father himself - Zeus!
- Oh, great son of Zeus, you have given me the joy of life again! Admetus exclaimed, "how can I thank you?" Stay with me as a guest. I will command you to celebrate your victory in all my possessions, I will order you to make great sacrifices to the gods. Stay with me!
Hercules did not stay with Admetus; a feat awaited him; he had to fulfill the commission of Eurystheus and get him the horses of King Diomedes.