Weekly Reads: The Dark Wife

Photo Credit: Sam Evergreen

Content Warnings: Sexual Assault, Abuse

As a kid, the story of Persephone, Goddess of Spring, and Hades, King of the Underworld, was one of my favorites. There are many variations, but the most commonly told is where Hades kidnaps Persephone from her home with her mother, Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, to be his wife in the Underworld. Distraught at losing her daughter, Demeter neglects her duties to humanity’s crops to search for her, bringing the first winter to earth. Persephone is ready to return to her mother, but she has eaten the food of the Underworld, tying her to the Underworld forever. It is therefore negotiated that, as she only ate six pomegranate seeds, she stays six months with Hades and six months with her mother, thereby creating the four seasons.

However, many scholars believe Persephone was not taken against her will, and her “kidnapping” is merely a mistranslation of the Spartan tradition of “carrying off” a bride. Many writers have run with this concept, rewriting the Hades and Persephone myth as lovers against adversity. Some went as far as to say Persephone was held hostage by a manipulative mother and escaped her through Hades. Some say Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds knowing she couldn’t leave and was neither forced to nor did she eat them by accident.

Seeing all the versions of the story over the years has been very intriguing. As much as I love their story, they are a heterosexual couple, so I never imagined there would be a lesbian rendition of the myth. I was very wrong. S.E. Diemer did a beautiful lesbian retelling of Hades and Persephone in her novella, “The Dark Wife,” where Hades is a woman.

Persephone simultaneously lives in paradise and prison. As she and her mother, Demeter, dwell on earth under the oppressive eyes of Zeus, Persephone wants nothing more than to escape. When she travels to Olympus to meet her father for the first time, she might have found her way out, for she meets Hades, Lord of the Dead.

Hades, however, isn’t a lord at all; she is a beautiful woman, referred to as “lord” by Zeus as a mockery of her lesbianism. Hades offers Persephone a place in her kingdom, where Zeus cannot touch her, and Persephone, enraptured by Hades’ kindness and beauty, agrees. The two begin to fall in love, but at the cost of the world above; to bargain with Hades for Persephone’s return, Zeus forces Demeter to freeze the earth, killing crops and humans alike. Persephone wants nothing more than to remain in the Underworld with her lover and stay far from her father, but is there a way to appease both?

“The Dark Wife” is, by far, my favorite retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. Not only does it handle trauma, loss, parental abuse and assault in a visceral, somewhat realistic way, it also captures the love between Hades and Persephone so beautifully. I thoroughly recommend this book to women who love women and also fans of Greek mythology.