little town north of
Delphi, and not very far from the sea, there lived a young man named
He was the ruler of the town, and hence was called its king; but his
was so small that he could walk all round it in half a day. He knew the
name of every man and woman and child in the town, and everybody loved
him because he was so gentle and kind and at the same time a king.
day, when the rain
was falling and the wind was blowing cold from the mountains, a beggar
came to his door. The man was ragged and dirty and half starved, and
knew that he must have come from some strange land, for in his own
no one ever went hungry. So the kind king took him into the house and
him; and after the man had bathed he gave him his own warm cloak, and
the servants make a place for him to sleep through the night.
morning Admetus asked
the poor man his name, but he shook his head and made no answer. Then
asked him about his home and his country; and all that the man would
was: "Make me your slave, master! Make me your slave, and let me serve
you for a year."
The young king
did not need
another servant. But he saw that the poorest slave in the land was
off than this man, and so he took pity on him. "I will do as you ask,"
he said. "I will give you a home and food and clothing; and you shall
me and be my slave for one year."
There was but
the stranger knew how to do, and so he was sent to the hills to take
of the king's sheep and goats. For a whole year he tended the flocks,
the greenest pastures and the freshest water for them, and keeping the
wolves away. Admetus was very kind to him, as he was to all his
and the food and clothing which he gave him were of the best in the
But the stranger did not tell his name nor say anything about his
or his home.
When a year
and a day had
passed, it so happened that Admetus was walking out among the hills to
see his sheep. All at once the sound of music fell upon his ear. It was
no such music as shepherds play, but sweeter and richer than any he had
ever heard before. He looked to see where the sound came from. Ah! who
was that sitting on the hilltop, with the sheep around him listening to
his music? Surely it was not his shepherd?
It was a
tall and handsome
young man, clad in robes lighter and finer than any king might wear.
face was as bright as sunbeams, and his eyes gleamed like lightning.
his shoulder was a silver bow, from his belt hung a quiver of sharp
and in his hands was a golden lyre. Admetus stood still and wondered.
the stranger spoke:
Admetus," he said,
"I am the poor beggar whom you fed-your slave to whom you were so kind.
I have served you, as I agreed, for a whole year, and now I am going
Is there anything I can do for you?"
me your name."
"My name is
the answer. "Twelve months ago my father, mighty Jupiter, drove me away
from before his face and bade me go out friendless and alone upon the
and he told me that I should not turn again towards home until I had
a year as some man's slave. I came to you, ragged and half starved, and
you fed and clothed me; and I became your slave, and you were as kind
me as though I were your son. What shall I give you to reward you?"
the Silver Bow,"
said the king, "I have all that any man can want. I am happy in the
that I have been of some help to you. I can ask for nothing more."
well," said Apollo;
"but if the time should ever come when you need my help, let me know."
bright prince walked
swiftly away, playing sweet music as he went; and Admetus with glad
returned to his home.
II. THE CHARIOT
place where Admetus
lived it was only a few miles to Iolcus, a rich city by the sea. The
of Iolcus was a cruel tyrant named Pelias, who cared for nobody in all
the world but himself. This Pelias had a daughter named Alcestis, who
as fair as any rose in June and so gentle and good that everybody
her. Many a prince from over the sea had come to woo Alcestis for his
and the noblest young men in Greece had tried to win her favor. But
was only one to whom she would listen, and that was her young neighbor,
went before gruff
King Pelias to ask him whether he might wed Alcestis.
shall have my daughter,"
said the old king, "until he proves that he is worthy to be my
If you want her, you must come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and
a wild boar. If you come in any other way, she shall not be your wife."
And Pelias laughed, and drove the young man out of his palace.
went away feeling
very sad; for who had ever heard of harnessing a lion and a wild boar
in a chariot? The bravest man in the world could not do such a thing as
walked along and saw
the sheep and goats feeding on the hilltops near his own town, he
to think of Apollo and of the last words that he had heard him say:
you need my help, let me know."
"I will let
him know," said
next morning he
built an altar of stones in the open field; and when he had killed the
fattest goat of the flock, he built a fire on the altar and laid the
of the goat in the flames. Then when the smell of the burning flesh
up into the air, he lifted his hands towards the mountain tops and
the Silver Bow,"
he cried, "if ever I have shown kindness to the poor and the
come now and help me. For I am in sore need, and I remember your
he done speaking
when bright Apollo, bearing his bow and his quiver of arrows, came down
and stood before him.
kings," he said,
"tell me how I can help you."
Admetus told him all
about the fair Alcestis, and how her father would give her only to the
man who should come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild
me," said Apollo,
"and I will help you."
two went together
into the forest, the Lord of the Silver Bow leading the way. Soon they
started a lion from its lair and gave chase to it. The fleet-footed
seized the beast by its mane, and although it howled and snapped with
fierce jaws it did not touch him. Then Admetus started a wild boar from
a thicket. Apollo gave chase to it, too, making the lion run beside him
like a dog. When he had caught the boar, he went on through the forest,
leading the two beasts, one with his right hand, the other with his
and Admetus followed behind.
IT WAS A STRANGE
It was not yet
noon when they
came to the edge of the woods and saw the sea and the city of Iolcus
a little way off. A golden chariot stood by the roadside as if waiting
for them, and the lion and the boar were soon harnessed to it. It was a
strange team, and the two beasts tried hard to fight each other; but
lashed them with a whip and tamed them until they lost their fierceness
and were ready to mind the rein. Then Admetus climbed into the chariot;
and Apollo stood by his side and held the reins and the whip, and drove
Pelias was astonished
when he saw the wonderful chariot and the glorious charioteer; and when
Admetus again asked him for the fair Alcestis, he could not refuse. A
was set for the wedding, and Apollo drove his team back to the forest
set the lion and the wild boar free.
Admetus and Alcestis
were married, and everybody in the two towns, except gruff old King
was glad. Apollo himself was one of the guests at the wedding feast,
he brought a present for the young bridegroom; it was a promise from
Mighty Folk upon the mountain top that if Admetus should ever be sick
in danger of death, he might become well again if some one who loved
would die for him.
III. THE SHADOW LEADER
and Alcestis lived
together happily for a long time, and all the people in their little
loved and blessed them. But at last Admetus fell sick, and, as he grew
worse and worse every day, all hope that he would ever get well was
Then those who loved him remembered the wedding gift which Apollo had
him, and they began to ask who would be willing to die in his stead.
and mother were
very old and could hope to live but a short time at best, and so it was
thought that one of them would be glad to give up life for the sake of
their son. But when some one asked them about it, they shook their
and said that though life was short they would cling to it as long as
brothers and sisters
were asked if they would die for Admetus, but they loved themselves
than their brother, and turned away and left him. There were men in the
town whom he had befriended and who owed their lives to him; they would
have done everything else for him, but this thing they would not do.
all were shaking
their heads and saying "Not I," the beautiful Alcestis went into her
room and called to Apollo and asked that she might give up her life to
save her husband. Then without a thought of fear she lay down upon her
bed and closed her eyes; and a little while afterward, when her maidens
came into the room they found her dead.
At the very
same time Admetus
felt his sickness leave him, and he sprang up as well and strong as he
had ever been. Wondering how it was that he had been so quickly cured,
he made haste to find Alcestis and tell her the good news. But when he
went into her room, he saw her lying lifeless on her couch, and he knew
at once that she had died for him. His grief was so great that he could
not speak, and he wished that death had taken him and spared the one
In all the
land every eye
was wet with weeping for Alcestis, and the cries of the mourners were
in every house. Admetus sat by the couch where his young queen lay, and
held her cold hand in his own. The day passed, and night came, but he
not leave her. All through the dark hours he sat there alone. The
dawned, but he did not want to see the light.
At last the
sun began to
rise in the east, and then Admetus was surprised to feel the hand which
he held growing warm. He saw a red tinge coming into the pale cheeks of
later the fair lady
opened her eyes and sat up, alive and well and glad.
How was it
had been given back to life?
died and left her
body, the Shadow Leader, who knows no pity, led her, as he led all
to the cheerless halls of Proserpine, the queen of the Lower World.
this who comes so
willingly?" asked the pale-faced queen.
she was told how
Alcestis, so young and beautiful, had given her life to save that of
husband, she was moved with pity; and she bade the Shadow Leader take
back again to the joy and sunlight of the Upper World.
So it was
that Alcestis came
to life; and for many years she and Admetus lived in their little
not far from the sea; and the Mighty Ones on the mountain top blessed
and, at last, when they had become very old, the Shadow Leader led them
both away together.