Matthew Greenburgh: Admetus

Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’

175x110cm - edition of 4 plus artist's proof
88x55cm - edition of 5

In Euripides’ play Alcestis, Admetus is given a reprieve from death providing someone will die in his place. Ademetus asks his elderly father but he refuses. So Alcestis, Admetus' wife, chooses to be the one to die. Ademetus is furious with his father and the play contains a fantastic row between them. This barrage from Admetus gives a flavour:

“How insincere they are, these prayers for death voiced by the elderly, these complaints they make against old age and the tedious passing of the years! If death draws near, not one of them wants to die; old age is suddenly a burden that weighs lightly on their shoulders.”

The issues brought out in the row between Admetus and his father are relevant to the pressures that opponents of assisted dying believe could be brought to bear on the elderly. Unusually for a Greek tragedy, the heroine is in fact quickly brought back from death and Admetus is not punished for his unfilial behaviour.

My picture follows the basic structure of Peyron’s painting of Admetus at Alcestis’ death bed, which appropriately has some magnificent autumn colours.





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Death of Alceste or The Heroism of Conjugal Love (detail), Pierre Peyron, 1785

Copyright Matthew Greenburgh © 2015. All Rights Reserved.