However, a closer look will show that Whitman’s “love at first sight” scenario with Persephone and Hades is a dramatic reversal of the original myth’s love story. If Persephone could learn to love Hades after he kidnapped her and imprisoned her in the Underworld, surely she could fall in love with this “selfish tyrant” in a moment before deciding to go to the Underworld as his queen. It is here that the unconditional love Demeter never had for her daughter grows in Persephone for her husband, an unusual twist. Moreover, Whitman’s transformation of the Underworld into a bright reflection of earth hints somehow at Plato’s dialogue about shadows and sunlight. Sadly, justice has no place in this picture of heaven and hell; there are no judges to render punishment or reward to souls like in Greek mythology. Equality reigns eternal over the dead, which is an unfair element in the concept of an afterlife.
Nonetheless, Hades himself poses as can be imagined: a rebellious character desiring more power and antagonistic toward Zeus. This idea that Hades tries to fight back against his brother’s earlier treachery is intriguing. In fact, Radiant Darkness frequently illuminates the power of free will and independence, using even the famous pomegranate seeds to promote self-reliance and have special meaning. Radiant Darkness is not just a tale of love and war between immortals; it tells of people’s unjustified fears of mythical beings and the cruelty of this false sense of dependence, the ways that people take advantage of such emotions and use them to prove themselves superior to others. It is a stunning representation of an ancient story that metamorphosed into a flowering coming-of-age tale set in ancient times.
Radiant Darkness is available in local libraries and bookstores in Fresno, and online.