Admetus was famed for his hospitality and justice. When Apollo was sentenced to a year of servitude to a mortal as punishment for killing the Cyclops, the god chose Admetus' home and became his herdsman. Apollo was so impressed by Admetus' treatment that the god made all the cows bear twins.
Apollo also helped Admetus win the hand of the princess Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, the king of Iolcus. Alcestis had so many suitors that Pelias set an apparently impossible task to the suitors — to win the hand of Alcestis, they must yoke a boar and a lion to a chariot. Apollo harnessed the yoke with the animals and Admetus drove the chariot to Pelias, and thus married Alcestis.
Admetus, however, neglected to sacrifice to Artemis. The offended goddess filled the bridal chamber with snakes and again, Apollo came to Admetus' aid. Apollo advised Admetus to sacrifice to Artemis, and the goddess removed the snakes.
The greatest aid Apollo gave to Admetus was persuading the Fates to reprieve Admetus of his fated day of death. Apollo made the Fates drunk, and the Fates agreed to reprieve Admetus if he could find someone to die in his place. Admetus initially believed that one of his aged parents would happily take their son's place of death. When they were unwilling, Alcestis instead dies for Admetus.
The scene of death is described in Euripides' play Alcestis, where Thanatos, the god of death, takes Alcestis to the Underworld. As Alcestis descends, Admetus discovers that he actually does not want to live:
- I think my wife's fate is happier than my own, even though it may not seem so. No pain will ever touch her now, and she has ended life's many troubles with glory. But I, who have escaped my fate and ought not to be alive, shall now live out my life in sorrow.
The situation was saved by Heracles, who rested at Pherae on his way towards the man-eating Mares of Diomedes. Told of Admetus' situation, Heracles entered Alcetis' tomb. He wrestled with Thanatos until the god agreed to release Alcestis, then led her back into the mortal world.
- March, J., Cassell's Dictionary Of Classical Mythology, London, 1999. ISBN 0-304-35161-X