Those familiar with Greek mythology may recall Alcestis as the symbol of an ideal wife, a woman who so loved her husband, Admetus, that she gave her life in exchange for his when his hour came. She is also often known as the silent woman who was rescued from the underworld by Herakles and returned to her husband without speaking of what had happened to her. Little is known of her life before her famous death and return from death; was Alcestis’s sacrifice truly altruistic? How was she returned from Hades?
In Alcestis, Beutner has recreated a history for this model wife and her time spent in the underworld. Beutner painstakingly describes everyday life in ancient Greece, sometimes perhaps in too detailed a fashion. It is clear that she has done her research, but the information occasionally disrupts the flow of the story as she initially sets the scene for her tale. However, once Alcestis enters the underworld (and the fantastical, exiting the realm of the strictly historical), the story comes alive. Alcestis’s time spent in the underworld is intriguingly imagined, with prose both lyrical and engaging. This is not a slim volume, but from the moment Alcestis dies, her story moves quickly.
A warning to those looking for historical accuracy: deities come to dine at palaces and are very real entities in this book. Beutner offers a look at loss, love, and duty that is no less poignant for this fantastical element.