Alcestis: A Play
In the years before his death at age sixty-eight in 1998, Hughes translated several classical works with great energy and ingenuity. His Tales from Ovid was called "one of the great works of our century" (Michael Hofmann, The Times, London), his Oresteia of Aeschylus is considered the difinitive version, and his Phèdrewas acclaimed on stage in New York as well as London. Hughes's version of Euripides's Alcestis, the last of his translations, has the great brio of those works, and it is a powerful and moving conclusion to the great final phase of Hughes's career.
Euripides was, with Aeschylus and Sophocles, one of the greatest of Greek dramatists. Alcestis tells the story of a king's grief for his wife, Alcestis, who has given her young life so that he may live. As translated by Hughes, the story has a distinctly modern sensibility while retaining the spirit of antiquity. It is a profound meditation on human mortality.
Ted Hughes's last book of poems, Birthday Letters, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize. He was Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II and lived in Devon, England until he died in 1998.