Title: Geryon, Beyond the Monster


Carson, Anne. "Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse". 1st Vintage Contemporaries ed., Aug. 1999. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1999.

“Geryon.” Accessed November 19, 2020. https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Geryon/geryon.html.


This story is very loosely based on the myth of the Tenth Labor of Herakles involving the humanoid monster Geryon. As told from the perspective of Geryon, we see the life of a boy who is considered a monster by many due to his red skin and general appearance yet has a sweet demeanor towards the world around him. He grows up in a house where he is sexually abused by his older brother and seemingly ignored by his mother, even though she is quite nice to Geryon. This theme of complicated relationships continues as sometime in his teenage years he meets and falls in love with Herakles, a beautiful and athletic boy. Geryon becomes obsessed with capturing this moment of romantic and sexual self-discovery through photography in the hopes of stopping the passage of time. Herakles then disappears without much explanation, only to be found again ten years later when Geryon bumps into him while on a trip to Argentina. The story is left open-ended with Geryon grappling with feelings he still holds for Herakles, who is in a new relationship.

Cultural origins

Anne Carson (poet/scholar of Ancient Greek) studied the poem “Geryoneis”, composed in the 6th Century BCE by the lyric poet Stesichorus. The poem has become fragmented over time, yet the general plot is about Herakles stealing Geryon’s cattle as one of his twelve labors. Geryon is described as a three-bodied monster who is condemned by the gods to be killed by Herakles, who finishes the deed. Carson’s 1998 book “The Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse” expands on the relationship between Geryon and Herakles, having them meet as young men without the pressure of gods having Herakles to do their bidding. In 1995 “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire was published, which to some degree started the trend of looking at classic villains more complexly. Carson has not referenced “Wicked” or Maguire as inspirations, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that a narrative trend was forming.


I imagine my audience comprising of teenagers to adults in a public library, most likely in a book talk context to promote Carson’s novel. I could also see this being included in programming around adaptations of ancient mythologies, whether at a school or library.

Adaptation Ideas

I think this story could be paired with “Persephone in the Underworld” very well, showing different relationship dynamics and difficulties around self-expression. Both adaptations queer the original texts but don’t do so in the same way because “Geryon” is more critical and heartbreaking. In my adaptation of this story, I’d like to focus on the creative work of Geryon and how this is part of his beauty by re-interpreting the world around him. I would like to keep some specific phrasing from the book so that readers of Carson’s work can pick up on them, also inviting the lyric structure to inspire how I tell the story. I can see this story pairing with “Source Decay” as well, in the sense that both have characters (Geryon and A.) who have been emotionally abused by a close friend/lover (Jenny and Herakles). I think the overall tone would be lower energy than either “Persephone” and “Source Decay” because of Geryon’s worldview being quite pessimistic.