Padraic Colum (18811972). The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles. 1921.
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter V. Admetus
AS Admetus was coming back from the temple he heard a great shout; he looked up and saw one standing at the palace doorway. He knew him by his lions skin and his great height. This was HeraclesHeracles come to visit him, but come at a sad hour. He could not now rejoice in the company of Heracles. And yet Heracles might be on his way from the accomplishment of some great labor, and it would not be right to say a word that might turn him away from his doorway; he might have much need of rest and refreshment.
Thinking this Admetus went up to Heracles and took his hand and welcomed him into his house. How is it with you, friend Admetus? Heracles asked. Admetus would only say that nothing was happening in his house and that Heracles, his hero-companion, was welcome there. His mind was upon a great sacrifice, he said, and so he would not be able to feast with him.
The servants brought Heracles to the bath, and then showed him where a feast was laid for him. And as for Admetus, he went within the chamber, and knelt beside the bed on which Alcestis had lain, and thought of his terrible loss.
Heracles, after the bath, put on the brightly colored tunic that the servants of Admetus brought him. He put a wreath upon his head and sat down to the feast. It was a pity, he thought, that Admetus was not feasting with him. But this was only the first of many feasts. And thinking of what companionship he would have with Admetus, Heracles left the feasting hall and came to where the servants were standing about in silence.
Then the servant told Heracles the story of how Alcestis had taken her husbands place, going in his stead with Death. Heracles thought upon the sorrow of his friend, and of the great sacrifice that his wife was making for him. How noble it was of Admetus to bring him into his house and give entertainment to him while such sorrow was upon him. And then Heracles felt that another labor was before him.
I have dragged up from the Underworld, he thought, the hound that guards those whom Death brings down into the realm of the god of the Underworld. Why should I not strive with Death? And what a noble thing it would be to bring back this faithful woman to her house and to her husband! This is a labor that has not been laid upon me, and it is a labor I will undertake. So Heracles said to himself.
He left the palace of Admetus and he went to the temple of the gods. He stood inside the temple and he saw the bier on which Alcestis was laid. He looked upon the queen. Death had not touched her yet, although she lay so still and so silent. Heracles would watch beside her and strive with Death for her.
Heracles watched and Death came. When Death entered the temple Heracles laid hands upon him. Death had never been gripped by mortal hands and he strode on as if that grip meant nothing to him. But then he had to grip Heracles. In Deaths grip there was a strength beyond strength. And upon Heracles a dreadful sense of loss came as Death laid hands upon hima sense of the loss of light and the loss of breath and the loss of movement. But Heracles struggled with Death although his breath went and his strength seemed to go from him. He held that stony body to him, and the cold of that body went through him, and its stoniness seemed to turn his bones to stone, but still Heracles strove with him, and at last he overthrew him and he held Death down upon the ground.
Now you are held by me, Death, cried Heracles. You are held by me, and the god of the Underworld will be made angry because you cannot go about his businesseither this business or any other business. You are held by me, Death, and you will not be let go unless you promise to go forth from this temple without bringing one with you. And Death, knowing that Heracles could hold him there, and that the business of the god of the Underworld would be left undone if he were held, promised that he would leave the temple without bringing one with him. Then Heracles took his grip off Death, and that stony shape went from the temple.
Soon a flush came into the face of Alcestis as Heracles watched over her. Soon she arose from the bier on which she had been laid. She called out to Admetus, and Heracles went to her and spoke to her, telling her that he would bring her back to her husbands house.