An NPR recommendation, of all things that even I find chagrining these days, led me to the enjoyable, Sapphic take on the Greek legend of Alcestis.  Alcestis’ story as passed down by legend (to Wikipedia) is one of female devotion to her husband.  It goes like this:

Alcestis’ newlywed husband Admetus foolishly made the impertinent mistake of not offering a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis on his wedding night.  Gods can be quite temperamental, so upon finding his wedding bed, he found a bed of lethal snakes in addition to his wife.  Another awesome God, Apollo, appeared and graciously said that if anyone would volunteer to die in Admetus’ place, he could live.  After a particularly long and uncomfortable silence from all his gathered friends (I’m not really sure just what was expected there), Alcestis spoke up.  She was whisked away to Hades.  After a period of serious pouting by Admetus, Heracles went down to Hades and rescued her.

Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis is told from the first-person perspective of Alcestis.  From the start, we aren’t greeted by a romantic framing of ancient Greece, but the realistic (albeit, one with Gods who roam about and are their usual prickly, capricious selves) place where woman are objects under control of men, with no rights and very little to say about anything.  Beatner’s Alcestis longs for her long-lost sister in Hades, and tolerates the world of men with a grudging weariness.  Where there is single-minded obedience and sacrifice for her husband in the legend, Beatner creates a multi-dimensional character that craves for more and understands a great deal more than the men around her.  Her journey to Hades, encountering the seductive wife of Hades, Persephone, allows Alcestis to claim more from her return than any woman likely could hope to in that time.  Alcestis is a refreshing, emotional, and thoughtful reboot of the male-fantasy myth.

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