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Alcestis

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 review with 5 star rating   See All Ratings
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  • Posted December 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This terrific retelling of the Greek mythos adds incredible depth to the heroine who finds the Underworld liberating.

    In ancient Greece, King Admetus of Pherae fears death although he knows Hermes will be coming for him. On the other hand his wife Alcestis has known death from her birth. Her mother died giving birth to her and cursed her with her last words. That loss meant nothing but when her sister Hippothoe died that grief never left Alcestis.

    When death comes for her spouse, he refuses to go and demands a sacrificial replacement to satisfy Hermes. He is stunned when his spouse agrees to journey into the Underworld. As Alcestis begins her trek, the court praises her as a martyr of love. She knows there is some truth to the accolades, but it is not love for her husband; instead Alcestis seeks Hippothoe. In the Underworld, she meets and finds true love with Persephone even as that overly muscled moron Heracles has come to take her home; a place she does not want to return to as Pherae is a gilded cage and she has learned to fly having tasted love and freedom to move around in the Underworld.

    This terrific retelling of the Greek mythos adds incredible depth to the heroine who finds the Underworld liberating. Unlike her legend written by men, Katharine Beutner's version adds the real motive for volunteering to die beyond the inane romantic notion and fills in a vivid telling of what happened in her three days in the Underworld. Although the ending feels rushed, fans will fully relish the story behind the legend.

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2010

    In her own words...

    In this novel by Katharine Beutner, Alcestis tells us her story in her own words, starting with the story her family has told her of her own birth, from which her mother dies. Alcestis lives in a time and a place where the gods-local minor wind gods that echo through her father's palace and volatile, capricious Olympians-are a part of everyday life, and it is up to mortals to step lightly lest they inadvertently offend (or attract the attention of) these beings.

    We follow Alcestis as she grows up in the same claustrophobic chambers that saw the birth of her and her siblings and the death of their mother. At fifteen, she marries King Admetus of Pherae, and so she passes from the house of her father to the house of her husband, becoming queen. Her new husband is a favorite of Apollo, who, as a wedding gift, has arranged with the Fates that the king will be able to escape death past his fated time if another will take his place in the realm of Hades.

    Death comes for Admetus, and none agree to die in his stead. Alcestis steps forward and agrees to take her husband's place, thus securing her place in legend, though that is not why she offers herself up. In play and poem, this is all we know. Alcestis goes to the realm of Hades for her husband, the epitome of spousal love. Heracles later travels there to wrestle death in order to retrieve her for her husband. Of what happens to Alcestis in the Underworld, nothing is said.

    Beutner's Alcestis is taken to the land of the dead, which she finds to be a completely alien landscape. Negotiating her encounters with Hades and Persephone is nothing like negotiating encounters with human kings and queens, the dead roaming the asphodel fields are not what she expects, and talking to Hades and falling under Persephone's power forever alters Alcestis' perceptions.

    Reading Alcestis' story, in her own voice, from her perception, will forever alter our view of her, her legend, and I think, the other voiceless women of myth and story.

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