In the years before his death 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 Phèdre was acclaimed on stage in New York as well as London. Hughes's version of Euripides's Alcestis, the last of his translations, has all the brio and sharpness of these other works, and is, moreover, 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 displays a distinctly modern sensibility while retaining the spirit of antiquity. It is a profound meditation on human mortality.