The Autobiography of Red is inventive because of the continuous juxtaposition of modern-day life and mythology. The tale itself is a spin-off from the famous Greek myth, the Twelve Labors of Hercules; but Anne Carson poignantly spurns a revitalized depiction of Hercules, instead choosing to fasten her attention to one of antagonists – Geryon the monster. Hercules journeyed to the end of the world, an island called Erythia, to capture the cattle of Geryon for his tenth labor. Geryon was said to be a monstrous creature, with three heads and three sets of legs, born of the spawn of Medusa and the daughter of a Titan. As the legend goes, upon arrival on Erythia, Hercules slayed every creature that opposed him in effort to seize the oxen, including, the mighty Geryon came to stop his theft.
Anne Carson culls the idea of Hercules as the hero, opting to paint him as thief who took the livelihood of another for selfish purposes. In his stead, Carson anoints Geryon the status of protagonist of her tale, the little red monster who was bullied and broken into submission. Through her eyes, readers are taken on an expedition through the life of Geryon and the magnificent love affair that shattered his heart.
Carson emphasizes the parallels between old and new by sprinkling analogies to other moments in time. The personification of Geryon’s wings, the absence and/or presence of distress signals – being bound, covering them, flying – an allusion to the Icarus, who escaped from his life-long prison by the beautiful construction of wax wings but his celebration of his new freedom ultimately was the cause his death. Geryon’s compulsive obsession with photographing volcanos an allusion to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius entrapping the lives and stories of the people of Pompeii in its ash and magma.
By juxtaposing old and new, modern and myth, Carson accentuates the repetitive nature of our stories. All though some aspects of these stories change, some do not. It is these unchanging facets that Carson underscores: that queer narratives are forgotten, pushed aside in favor of heteronormativity. Through the inversion the tenth labor of Hercules in Autobiography of Red, Carson is sharing the untold truth of Geryon’s queer narrative.