My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The ancient Greeks knew what appealed to the senses. The cult of beauty was the caryatid pillars of the culture that sublimated the human body into a divine canvas of the mind. So much so that they codified the value of beauty in their belief system, ranging from mythology to philosophy, in pursuit of kalokagathia , the harmonious combination of physical beauty with spiritual goodness. The perennial upshot of this Greek admiration of kalokagathia is Mary Norris’s charming Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, a wonderful cabinet of her infatuations with all things Greek, ranging from awesome Goddess Athena to dashing Sean Connery as Agamemnon, to the whimsical variations of Greek pronunciation, and to her exhilarating skinny-dipping in Aphrodite’s Beach. With her gift of scintillating narrative skills flavored with accessible erudition, Norris warmly invites the reader to her own delightful Greek festival of words, gods, romances, and delicacies.
It is said that when you love, you want to know. An erotic impulse charged from the imposing physical presence of Sean Connery as Agamemnon became a stimuli that galvanized a shy celibate Catholic bluestocking into her never-ending solo odyssey in pursuit of a mystical ambrosia, the food of the Greek gods, for the sensuous delight of the arcane Eleusinean Mysteries. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part reference book, Greek to me is a lovely treatise on Norris’s lasting affairs of the heart with words and adventures in the land of the capricious Olympians, olive trees, and phonetic alphabets with infinite varieties. The scholarly subjects of mythology and language of Greece are never dealt with academic superciliousness or elitist snobbishness that separates them (and the author) from a general reader. Contrariwise, Norris is an intelligently gorgeous writer who wears her erudition lightly and writes in plain language felicitously topped with her artless witticism that makes her a winsome literary troubadour. If Edith Hamilton, author of Mythology and The Greek Way, has an aura of dour-faced platonic conservative teacher of the ancient Greek mythology and the culture, Mary Norris is of a coterie of amiable Socrates, sharing her knowledge with the public – literate, illiterate.
In the exhilarating sensation of naked freedom astride the gushing foams of wild waves in Aphrodite’s Beach, the reader feels connected to the author’s paroxysm of pleasure and transformed into a votary of the goddess of love. Norris’s solipsistic adventure becomes a tour of coterie, traveling beyond the territorial borders into the mythological world of gods and goddesses in search of the Golden Fleece fit to one’s appropriate need. Although the chapters devoted to the lexicons of the Greek language can be taxing to comprehend to whom it all looks Greek, most of the book is invested with the vicarious Eureka pleasure of going there, being there, and seeing there, all made possible by Norris’s goddess Athena-like literary prowess. Besides, if the reader happens to be a quiet solo Catholic woman graduating from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ (more specifically, all-women Douglass College therein), secretly desirous of solitary skinny-dipping in Aphrodite’s Beaches basking in freedom from insecurity, this book will feel like a new friend.