Books: Dinner With Persephone by Patricia Storace
Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff
Of course the book titles would refer to characters of Greek myth–but did they both have to refer to beautiful women trapped in Hades? Of course in Persephone’s case it is only part of the year, but still….
Quick refresher course in Greek mythology, for those who haven’t read their Edith Hamilton recently.
Eurydice was the object of adoration of Orpheus. She died (snake bit in one version) and went to the underworld. Orpheus made a deal to get her back, but had to promise that he would walk ahead of her and not look back. You guessed it. He looked back, and she disappeared forever.
Persephone fared somewhat better. The daughter of Demeter, the patron of all things that grow, she was snatched away to live in the underworld with its King, Hades, but her mother worked a deal (those Greek gods were as good at working deals as the mortals) and got her back. Of course there was a catch. The god of the underworld gave her a pomegranate and if she ate it she had to return to Hades. She only ate 1/3 of the pomegranate seeds, so only had to live underground 1/3 of the time. Mama pitched a fit and refused to let anything grow during that 1/3 of the year. Hence, winter. And hence, the Queen of the Underworld was also the goddess of Spring.
The convolutions of Greek mythology and the complex and contradictory relationships help prepare one for contemporary Greek culture. Patricia Storace, with a fine eye for detail, observes the every day behaviors of Athenians during a period in the 90’s when she lived there. As she studies the Greek language and makes friends she hears many stories, meets many characters and shares them in Dinner with Persephone (1996).
The second Athens book on my shelf was published in England and is not widely available in the United States, although Amazon books does have copies. Raised in England, Sofka Zinovieff spent anthropology graduate study years in Greece. Her Greek husband had not lived in his native land since childhood. They decided they wanted to move to Greece and “become Greek,” raising their daughters to know Greece. She chronicles their discoveries about Greece in Eurydice Street (2004). I enjoyed Zinovieff’s book because of her combination of detached, anthropologist’s view and her passionate love and appreciation of Greek traditions as they are lived in every day life.
The personal histories related in these two books go far toward humanizing Athens and explaining why it is the way it is.
As Patrice Storace was leaving Greece, a friend wished her well. “I wish you a good journey,” he says, “but I warn you of what the novelist Vassilikos says about Greece–that it is the place where when you are here you long to leave, and the minute you leave, you yearn uncontrollably to come back.”
Have you been to Athens? Do you agree with novelist Vassilikos? Do you have other books that shed light on Athens for the traveler?
See Also Novel Set on a Greek Island
Photograph by VMB, all rights reserved.