Mary Norris is known for her work as a copy writer on the New Yorker, and in her book, Between You and Me. Her latest book, Greek to Me, is an enjoyable journey through Norris’s studies of modern and ancient Greek, and her many voyages around and Greek mainland and among the many islands.
Disappointed by her father’s refusal to permit her to learn Latin at school, Norris was later inspired by Sean Connery’s portrayal of Agamemnon in the 1981 movie, Time Bandits, and she began to learn modern Greek, taking a trip to Greece. It was on this trip that she was motivated first to read Homer and Herodotus, then to begin learning ancient Greek. So many times, this book seemed to be talking about me – “what’s not to love about Greece, after all?” says Norris. My sentiments exactly.
Norris continues with descriptions of the Greek landscape, its people, animals, the myths and, of course, the language. She describes her private lessons in both modern and ancient Greek, and her studies at Rutgers taking Professor Froma Zeitlin’s module on mythology. She discusses writers such as Edith Hamilton, Rick Riordan and Stephen Fry, all of whom have successfully brought the Greek myths to life for multiple generations. In a particularly memorable chapter, Norris narrates her trip to Eleusis, retracing the steps of the initiates of the cult of Demeter who walked from Athens to Eleusis on a road known as the Sacred Way.
Norris’s writing is funny and captivating. On many occasions, I felt she was speaking directly to me. I wanted to shout out, ‘me too!’ She tells how she came out of her “Greek swoon for a few hours a day to go to the office and copy-edit for the purpose of paying the rent.” Like me, she enjoyed reading Xenophon’s Anabasis, not for its monotonous reporting of how many parasangs the troops walked on whatever day, but for the exhilaration when I completed my translation of an ancient Greek sentence, any ancient Greek sentence! I understand only too well the feeling of going to work to pay the bills, then coming home to do what I really wanted to do: read Greek.
Greek to Me is a wonderful introduction to both ancient and modern Greek culture as well as being an enthralling account about Mary Norris and her fascinating life. I have read it twice, and I know I will dip into it time and time again.