It was Lisa’s birthday yesterday. Night before last I was reading Greek tragedy–the “translation” of Alcestis made by Ted Hughes shortly before his death–and thinking about Lisa. No, not in the context of a Greek tragedy! I’ve got a couple of bad analogies here, so if that sort of thing causes you pain you might want to skip this and go read Bruno (not only is Chris a much better writer than I, but his work is illustrated).
No, I was thinking that I know a lot of people like Alcestis. Queen of Thessaly, she gave her life so that her husband, Admetos, could live (he was “doomed to die young.” Her husband in his grief showed hospitality to Heracles, and in response Heracles went, wrestled Hades, and brought Alcestis back to life. Typical deus ex machina ending, I suppose.
Except. Many of my classmates’ spouses, including Lisa, gave up comfortable lives elsewhere to make enormous sacrifices so that their significant others’ lives could improve. In Lisa’s case, she gave up friends, familiar surroundings, and two incomes in Washington, DC to come to an uncertain income in a city with a much higher cost of living. Whatever Heracles watches over those between employment saw to it that she got a lucrative job, one that has already sent her to Italy once. But that doesn’t lessen the enormity of her sacrifice.
It occurred to me that I’ve not said “thank you” to her publicly. So thank you, dear. I’m no Admetos, but you out-Alcestis Alcestis for me.
Continuing in the face of Death
Another Alcestis resonance for me this week was more obvious. How did Admetos have the strength, knowing that his wife gave her life to save his, to throw open the doors to welcome Heracles?
I think that all of us, as we struggle to continue with life “back to normal, but not business as usual,” have to figure out for ourselves how Admetos did it.