ALCESTIS

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I came to you, ragged and half starved, and you fed and clothed me; and I became your slave, and you were as kind to me as though I were your son. What shall I give you to reward you? I am happy in the thought that I have been of some help to you. I can ask for nothing more. Then the bright prince walked swiftly away, playing sweet music as he went; and Admetus with glad heart returned to his home.

From the place where Admetus lived it was only a few miles to Iolcus, a rich city by the sea. The king of Iolcus was a cruel tyrant named Pelias, who cared for nobody in all the world but himself. This Pelias had a daughter named Alcestis, who was as fair as any rose in June and so gentle and good that everybody praised her.

Many a prince from over the sea had come to woo Alcestis for his wife; and the noblest young men in Greece had tried to win her favor. But there was only one to whom she would listen, and that was her young neighbor, King Admetus. If you want her, you must come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild boar. If you come in any other way, she shall not be your wife. Admetus went away feeling very sad; for who had ever heard of harnessing a lion and a wild boar together in a chariot? The bravest man in the world could not do such a thing as that.


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Early the next morning he built an altar of stones in the open field; and when he had killed the fattest goat of the flock, he built a fire on the altar and laid the thighs of the goat in the flames. Then when the smell of the burning flesh went up into the air, he lifted his hands towards the mountain tops and called to Apollo.

For I am in sore need, and I remember your promise. Hardly was he done speaking when bright Apollo, bearing his bow and his quiver of arrows, came down and stood before him. Then Admetus told him all about the fair Alcestis, and how her father would give her only to the man who should come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild boar. Then the two went together into the forest, the Lord of the Silver Bow leading the way. Soon they started a lion from its lair and gave chase to it. The fleet-footed Apollo seized the beast by its mane, and although it howled and snapped with its fierce jaws it did not touch him.

Then Admetus started a wild boar from a thicket. Apollo gave chase to it, too, making the lion run beside him like a dog. When he had caught the boar, he went on through the forest, leading the two beasts, one with his right hand, the other with his left; and Admetus followed behind. It was not yet noon when they came to the edge of the woods and saw the sea and the city of Iolcus only a little way off. A golden chariot stood by the roadside as if waiting for them, and the lion and the boar were soon harnessed to it. It was a strange team, and the two beasts tried hard to fight each other; but Apollo lashed them with a whip and tamed them until they lost their fierceness and were ready to mind the rein.

Then Admetus climbed into the chariot; and Apollo stood by his side and held the reins and the whip, and drove into Iolcus. Old King Pelias was astonished when he saw the wonderful chariot and the glorious charioteer; and when Admetus again asked him for the fair Alcestis, he could not refuse. A day was set for the wedding, and Apollo drove his team back to the forest and set the lion and the wild boar free.

And so Admetus and Alcestis were married, and everybody in the two towns, except gruff old King Pelias, was glad. Apollo himself was one of the guests at the wedding feast, and he brought a present for the young bridegroom; it was a promise from the Mighty Folk upon the mountain top that if Admetus should ever be sick and in danger of death, he might become well again if some one who loved him would die for him.

Admetus and Alcestis lived together happily for a long time, and all the people in their little kingdom loved and blessed them. But at last Admetus fell sick, and, as he grew worse and worse every day, all hope that he would ever get well was lost. Then those who loved him remembered the wedding gift which Apollo had given him, and they began to ask who would be willing to die in his stead. His father and mother were very old and could hope to live but a short time at best, and so it was thought that one of them would be glad to give up life for the sake of their son.

But when some one asked them about it, they shook their heads and said that though life was short they would cling to it as long as they could.


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  7. Then his brothers and sisters were asked if they would die for Admetus, but they loved themselves better than their brother, and turned away and left him. There were men in the town whom he had befriended and who owed their lives to him; they would have done everything else for him, but this thing they would not do. Then without a thought of fear she lay down upon her bed and closed her eyes; and a little while afterward, when her maidens came into the room they found her dead.

    May 03, Kogiopsis rated it really liked it Shelves: reviewed , first-reads , not-for-the-sensitive , favoritereads , queer-stuff. This book reminded me quite a bit of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Palace Of Illusions and that's good, because that book is what all myth retellings have to live up to in my mind.

    Now, bear in mind that I'm not familiar with the original myth of Alcestis. That being said, this book was gorgeous. The writing might seem overwrought to some readers, but I found it lyrical, visceral, and intense. Alcestis is very much a woman of her times and culture, not a feminist insert put there to challenge t This book reminded me quite a bit of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Palace Of Illusions and that's good, because that book is what all myth retellings have to live up to in my mind.

    Alcestis is very much a woman of her times and culture, not a feminist insert put there to challenge the world around her. And yet, even as she is quiet and passive, she is an intensely feminist narrator. She's a lot like Offred from The Handmaid's Tale , actually: while neither really speaks up or does much to break their bonds, their plain description of their lives is in and of itself subversive.

    Alcestis grows from sheltered girl to jaded wife, and the transition is elegant and a tiny bit chilling. When she goes to the underworld in her husband's place, it is not an emotional impulsive choice but a calculated decision, just this side of cold. It's almost suicide, actually. The days she spends in the underworld have a dreamlike air to them, and the emotions she has for Persephone are equally hazy and strange. Persephone herself gave me the willies. She was so very inhuman it was terrifying; she was capricious, emotional, dishonest, and impulsive. She was cruel, sometimes without meaning to, sometimes just acting as she had learned from the other gods.

    I never doubted that she didn't play by mortal rules, and that was scary. While she was the most present member of the pantheon, her stories and the stories of humans showed the other gods to be just as inhuman. I've read a lot of reviews complaining that new Greek mythology-inspired novels whitewash the gods. This one certainly doesn't. Reading Alcestis was an intense experience. Beutner's writing and voice drew me in, and her story was deeply emotional and beautiful. I loved, loved, loved that the conflict of Alcestis and Persephone's relationship was not that they were both women but that they were married women, and yet at the same time that Alcestis was aware of her husband's infidelity - that through her very complacency, not through speaking out, she highlighted the cultural misogyny to which she was subjected.

    I received this book through the First Reads program and I'm so very glad I did. Aug 12, Hannah rated it did not like it Shelves: kindle , library , europe , fantasy-worlds. Perhaps I didn't read closely enough, but it took me a few chapters to realize that the gods Alcestis spoke of were actually real and not metaphorical.

    A lot of things described in the book were hard for me to imagine for some reason. Not a lot of action happens, but Alcestis thinks a lot about the things going on around her and has a strange obsession with her sister. When I looked up the myt Perhaps I didn't read closely enough, but it took me a few chapters to realize that the gods Alcestis spoke of were actually real and not metaphorical.

    When I looked up the myth, I noticed that the author did take some liberties with Alcestis's myth, especially the underworld part. And it was at the underworld part that my brain reacted with "WTF just happened. You make it very clear that Persephone behavior is unacceptable. I don't care if she is a goddess.

    I don't care if she is a woman. Persephone's behavior is unacceptable. Some people may think, "Oh, it's so sweet that she wanted to show her love before Alcestis turned into a shade. Oh, it's so touching Persephone will always remember even though Alcestis forgets. Can we go back to the part where Persephone pretty much rapes her and abuses her power to take advantage of Alcestis and keeps secrets from her?

    That's the absolute reason why I rated this book as a one-star book. There is nothing romantic about someone who violates your will. There is nothing loving about someone holding her power over your head. This is just not ok. Alcestis even claims that she could've refused Persephone. Yeah, but I don't think Persephone would've stopped if Alcestis refused. I think the fact that Persephone pins down Alcestis arms shows that Persephone didn't plan to stop. The fact that Alcestis calls this "love" is what makes me really angry.

    When someone nearly rapes you, that's not love. That's oppression and a violation of your self. I don't care if it's man-man, man-female, or female-female, rape is rape, and it's not ok. It's really unfortunate that Alcestis couldn't find someone better than Persephone. Whether they're dating men or other women, women need healthier relationships than those displayed in this book. Sep 02, Ksenia rated it it was ok. So the book follows this myth very closely. Now, I was wholly enjoying everything about the book while I was reading it, but when it got to those three days spent in the Underworld, I felt a slight disconnect.

    But first…. Here, the gods are real. That would be Apollo. And who takes Alcestis down to the underworld? That would be Hermes. The author did a wonderful job of describing the Underworld by having Alcestis explore it while trying to find her sister that she loved, and who had died years earlier. So what was my disconnect in the Underworld?

    Mainly it was the relationship between Alcestis and Persephone. Was I missing something? Cause I thought there was something missing there!

    ALCESTIS IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY

    Persephone came off as very manipulating at times. I could understand why she was very hesitant to tell Alcestis where her sister was since she knew that the sister would never recognize Alcestis, and it would be too painful for Alcestis to witness. And Hades? And not the all-powerful Lord of the Underworld I had imagined him to be.

    Despite this, if the author does write another book though, I think I will check it out anyway, especially if it deals with another little-known myth. Jun 03, Nikki rated it liked it Shelves: fantasy , greek-roman , queer , based-on-myth-saga-etc. I'm torn on this one. It was spellbinding, but in a soft, dusty way -- Alcestis as a character is too obedient for most of her life to have any colour to her. The bit in the Underworld is still quite colourless, quite literally, except for Persephone.

    I was actually more interested in the relationship between Hades and Persephone than that between Persephone and Alcestis. I wanted to understand them, what made them tick, what made them volatile.


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    I understand that there's actually a degree of hist I'm torn on this one. I understand that there's actually a degree of historical accuracy here to way a real Alcestis would've lived, just with the gods treated as a rational part of everyday life as well, but she seems so meek and resigned -- until she's in the Underworld.

    I can appreciate the liberation of a female character from a stifling traditional role that must have been so flattering to the men in that male dominated world, and it makes sense it could happen in the Underworld, where the rules of life don't apply. I guess in summary, I just didn't fall for it. There were some lovely sections, gorgeous imagery, and there was some interesting interplay between characters, but all in all it didn't work for me. Jun 14, Jane rated it did not like it Recommends it for: no one.

    Shelves: ancient-greece , mythology. Started out great, giving Alcestis' backstory while growing up and was good through her marriage, but I lost her when we got to Hades and her adventures there. I skimmed most of it set in Hades, then finished up. Her dealings with Persephone were not believable and made me uncomfortable. I enjoyed most the author's comments at the back. Cover misled me; such an atmospheric cover made me eager to read the story. Jul 27, Sam rated it it was amazing Shelves: fantasy , lgbtq. This book sucked me in real quick. I read it in one night. Mar 06, Liza Gilbert rated it liked it Shelves: adult-fiction.

    The beginning of this Greek myth of 16 year-old Alcestis, who dies in order to save her husband, is enjoyably visceral. Beunter did a nice job with the historical details, and I felt fairly sunk into the story early on. Descriptions of food, place, smells, and touch were placed throughout the text without going overboard. I enjoyed the first half of the book, but then things started to unravel and the quality of the writing went downhill. Beutner's dep The beginning of this Greek myth of 16 year-old Alcestis, who dies in order to save her husband, is enjoyably visceral. Beutner's depiction of the underworld was distressingly forgettable, and I have some serious qualms about how Hades, Persephone, and other gods were portrayed.

    Usually when I think of Persephone, I don't immediately think psychopathic sex-maniac. Heracles Hercules , who plays a heroic role in the tale, is described as "meek and ponderous as a cow" pg. For an author who did a fair amount of research to get the history "right," I find the treatment of some of the other deities to be off. If she had wanted to tell an alternative history, that would have been one thing.

    But the vast majority of the tale is told from a "straight" history perspective, and then, suddenly, Heracles of the Twelves Labors of Heracles is portrayed as "meek and ponderous as a cow. After Alcestis hits the underworld, her character changes severely. Granted, death will do that to a person, but the rest of the tale falls apart because Alcestis doesn't really have a core.

    To top it all off, the novel has one of the more disappointingly abrupt endings I have read in a while. I felt like I put all this work into reading the book only to have the ending fail to, well, end. If Soho Press doesn't want to give credit for the art on the cover, that's their own issue, but some of us will recognize it as a John William Godward called Ophelia.

    If you're going to use a painting of a famous woman in literature on the cover of a book about a famous woman in literature, you might want to make sure that they are 1 actually the same woman, or 2 similar in theme. Granted, a proper discussion of the similarities and differences between Alcestis and Ophelia would take a bigger forum than this, but it's a bit off-putting from the beginning of the book to think Soho Press would assume that all readers don't know their art AND don't know their literature.

    Jan 15, Sheila rated it it was amazing Shelves: first-reads , historical-fiction , mystars , greece. I just received an autographed copy of this from the author through Goodreads First Reads. Thank you Katharine! I entered to win this book because I love reading about Greek mythology. But as much as I enjoy learning the stories of the gods and the mortals, usually the writing of Greek mythology is very dry, and often hard to follow. I enjoy learning, but often have to force myself to actually read it. But then comes Katharine Beutner's Alcestis.

    Greek mythology written as a thoroughly enjoyable, I just received an autographed copy of this from the author through Goodreads First Reads. Greek mythology written as a thoroughly enjoyable, easily readable, and totally believeable novel! What a great idea! Since Alcestis is a bit of a lesser character in mythology, I was not aware of her story ahead of time.

    But I did look her up on Google, and got the one paragraph synopsis of her tale. But this book fleshes the whole story out wonderfully. And Ms. Beutner's writing style makes all of the characters, both the mortals and the gods, come to life! When Apollo makes an appearance, you actually believe this god could just be appearing in the room, as the story leading up to it was so believable and real life. Even Alcestis' 3 days spent in the underworld with Hades and Persephone is facinating. I've never really spent time imagining what the underworld of Greek mythology is really like, but this is a huge, detailed part of this story, and it is told and described wonderfully.

    About the Author

    I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about Greek mythology, and also to anyone who enjoys a good historical novel. And I hope Ms. Beutner will consider writing more books of this genre. If other characters from Greek myths could have their stories written as novels, I would definately read them. View all 4 comments. Oct 30, Tara Chevrestt rated it really liked it Shelves: arc , release.

    This falls into the fantasy genre, I think. I normally read historical fiction, but my interest in Greek mythology caused me to pick this up. I have kept my personal tastes in mind while writing this review. The first half of this novel is wonderful. Readers meet Alcestis, grand daughter of Poseidon, god of the sea. Alcestis's mother died birthing her and her father is a cruel man who really has nothing to do with his daughters.

    Therefore, Alcestis grows attached to her sisters, and one in parti This falls into the fantasy genre, I think. Therefore, Alcestis grows attached to her sisters, and one in particular, Hippothoe. When Hippothoe dies of what nowdays would be called an asthma attack, Alcestis must overcome her grief and while doing so, she comes of age for marriage. A persistant suitor wins her hand thanks to the god Apollo. Alcestis marries and discovers her husband and Apollo, the sun god, have more than a mere god and mortal relationship.

    An even bigger surprise is in store for her tho when Hermes comes to take her husband to the Underworld land of the dead and Alcestis goes in his place. The second half takes place in the Underworld, the land of three headed dogs and gates with minds of the their own. Here, Alcestis begins a cat and mouse game with Persophone, goddess of the Underworld.

    They begin a lusty and often hateful relationship. What I did not like about the last half of the book is everyone begins speaking in riddles. It takes poor Alcestis forever to find her dead sister. Or will she find her at all? A good debut. Mar 25, Lisa rated it really liked it. I'm loving the books I'm reading about women in mythology telling their "own" stories, first Lavinia and now Alcestis. Alcestis is the archetypical good and loyal wife, famous for sacrificing herself so her husband wouldn't die. In this version Alcestis is a very complex character, driven not so much by love for her husband but other reasons, including wanting to see her long dead sister.

    While she is in the underworld, she also falls for the goddess Persephone, Queen of the underworld. A very i I'm loving the books I'm reading about women in mythology telling their "own" stories, first Lavinia and now Alcestis. A very interesting read. May 31, Emeline added it Shelves: mythology , queer-reads. Well, this certainly stirred some This book starts off very sweet. I love seeing the depth and intensity of Alcestis' relationships with each of her sisters, how their care for each other differs but they still all feel like nuanced and real enough characters to really fit together as a family.

    That alone was a really great part of the book. I'll admit, though, from the start the book was a slow one. Slow to the point of me putting the book aside and n Well, this certainly stirred some Slow to the point of me putting the book aside and not going back to it for days. Every time I saw it lying there on my shelf, I was torn between knowing it was a WLW read and knowing it was taking an agonizingly long time to get to the real action of the story!

    But then, finally, I did go back. And you know what? It really picked up. Pace-wise, yes the book does span years, from Alcestis' childhood through to her being a young woman, but the tone of the writing really seemed to improve after the first couple of chapters, and as much as I'm conflicted over the rest of the book, I can't deny that it certainly kept me turning pages. Weak beginning, sure, but the writing does get better.

    Alcestis is also a really interesting character. As a kid, it's hard to really get a read on her, to get what she's like, but over time, she just becomes this If that makes sense? Living in a majorly restrictive society, it would have been very difficult for her to really rebel, but she found a kind of power in the life she had. And I really admire that. Her entire wedding scene was also gorgeously written.

    Really, there are some gems in this book, and that scene was absolutely one of them. I love, as well, that her husband turned out to be this gentle, shy, forgetful man who's flawed, yes, but very human and very natural feeling. I actually find it pretty sad that for me, the most compelling relationship in this book by far was that between Admetus and Apollo! I pick up this book on the basis of queer women love, only to find that Alcestis' husband is bisexual and in love with a god, and honestly, I'd read miles of that love. I don't even have the words for what it was, it was just so beautiful and tragic to read about.

    Sad, because compared to Admetus and Apollo, Alcestis and Persephone's relationship was downright disturbing. It was horrifying. And yet only ever framed as some dark, alluring, ultimately amazing and beautiful love! I'm sorry, but WHAT??! In what fucked up universe is their love - if it can even be called that, I'm sorry, but I'm calling bullshit on that front - something to be celebrated?! As fucked up as Persephone is, I was all about her dynamic with Hades. That was amazingly done, and I love how the author treated their relationship.

    It was a thousand times fucked up, but like, actually acknowledged as fucked up, and fucked up in the kind of way that you can read and not feel like you've been tainted at the end. Because Persephone's interest in Alcestis? Bearing in mind that these two only know each other for THREE DAYS, that should already be a sign that any affection they have for each other is unlikely to actually be as amazing and earth-shattering as this book would like to make out.

    Definition

    Next, Persephone really doesn't seem to have any real reason for her interest. She never actually explains that destiny, just throws the word in like it sounds suitably romantic, and moves on. I'm sorry, I know love at first sight is real in very few cases, but all the same , but "idk" is the weakest lame-ass excuse for love or even lust that I've ever heard. If you're going for love at first sight, then bloody well put the work in. Don't be so astoundingly lazy as to literally have neither character even KNOW what's pulling them together.

    You want to make it destiny? Explain that destiny. For god's sake, that shouldn't have to be said. And that's not even the worst of it. Not only is their initial attraction based in practically nothing, but their actual 'love'? As this book would choose to see it? Is founded in Persephone literally raping Alcestis. Trapping her in some garden prison that Alcestis literally cannot turn away from or exit once she's inside, and then Persephone pins her down with magic and rapes her.

    And then they're in love. That is just It's so profoundly disturbing I don't even know how to describe it. I just. I can't. Somehow it's okay because Alcestis enjoys it? And then the author literally ignores her own canon, as Alcestis later thinks to herself that she "could have" tried to fight Persephone off but she didn't. And I just. I should have stopped reading at that point. But I thought the book was going to have Alcestis recognize Persephone for the emotionally manipulative, literal rapist and abuser that she was.

    And that never happened. And then , the book tries to make off like Alcestis has become empowered by the assault. That, because her husband couldn't please her that much, it was perfectly fine that a woman raped her and made her think that the abuse was love. The entire ending of the book is thoroughly ruined by what led to it.

    Alcestis finds real power when she returns to Admetus, and it could have been such a powerful ending, such a moving development for her character.

    Alcestis Daughter of Pelias

    But no, the author just had to go and kill all that with trying to pass off violent assault and abuse as true love, just because they're two women. Fuck that. Women deserve so much better than that. Jul 18, Jeanne rated it liked it Shelves: female-author , american-author , lgbtqa , set-in-greece , s , historical-fiction , mythology-based , retelling.

    Having read the play of the same name by Euripides not that long ago, I'm quite curious as to why the author made the changes she did. Unlike most Greek myth retellings, I'm not upset with what has been changed, I just want to know the reasoning behind it. Despite this I still can't give it a full four stars. As much as I enjoyed the author taking on the "ideal Greek wife" myth, the story felt hollow to 3. As much as I enjoyed the author taking on the "ideal Greek wife" myth, the story felt hollow to me in places, especially in the Underworld.

    May 26, Bikki rated it it was ok.

    Euripides, Alcestis

    I did not know this story when started the book. I really jumped into the beginning and enjoyed it, but ended up skimming the end. Two stars - it was okay. Oct 19, Stephanie rated it it was amazing Shelves: read-harder-challenge. I've been getting so lazy on reviews lately, but I'm going to get caught up now. This one fulfills the category of 'retelling of a classic story' for the Read Harder Challenge. Prior to this book I had never really heard of the story of Alcestis. That didn't really take away from the story. If anything it enhanced it for me. And that's how my limited awareness of the Alcestis myth worked out for me.

    My lack of knowledge ended up positioning her as the voice for all the voiceless women I've read about in myth. All these women who somehow touched the heart of baby feminist me in middle school, who loved her greek myth unit, but who couldn't stop wondering what happened to all these women after their sons go on to have great adventures.

    What of these women and their trauma? Their survival? How did they feel. Alcestis isn't totally average. She's a princess, after all. But she's a thoroughly ordinary person in a lot of ways with a penchant for being taciturn. This despite her background. Her father was sired by Poseidon, though, and we learn in bits and pieces how the rape of her grandmother has echoed down through the generations of this dysfunctional, disparate family.

    There's a passage early on in which Alcestis talks about all the tales of gods taking mortal women, how everyone tries to keep their head down and avoid the attention of the gods. And then Alcestis attracts the attention of the gods herself, after making a quick decision, mostly driven by the ennui she feels as a wife.

    Except she draws the attention of a goddess in particular Persephone and one who has also experienced abduction. And so they understand each other, and so they don't understand each other at all. Some of their interactions are riveting, and you never quite know who has the upper hand. Basically, this book explored my interest in this dark strain of greek myth, and how it effected the normal, un-heroic, unexceptional people that sometimes attract the attention of the gods.

    So much of greek myth is not at all pretty more on that later when I review Anne Carson's An Oresteia I gave it five stars because I think it took some risks, and has some beautiful prose. I don't think it's for everyone, nor is it without flaws view spoiler [I feel like we needed a chapter or two between Alcestis disavowing Persephone, and then suddenly being incredibly in love with Persephone once Alcestis realizes Herakles is coming to rescue her. I get the allure of Persephone- she is fascinating in this book- but something about that felt abrupt.

    It's pretty unrelenting in its gloominess and its exploration of all the compromises women have had to make over the millennia. So, no, not a fun read but it still got to me.


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