A festive evening of Greek art, myth, travel, and food!
With unforgettably vivid characters, poetic language, and page-turning suspense, Madeline Miller’s #1 New York Times bestseller Circe is a story of the Odyssey’s most infamous female figure and a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world. In discovering the power of witchcraft, Circe is banished by a threatened Zeus to a deserted island, where she hones her craft, tames wild beasts, and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in mythology. When pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians, Circe must summon all of her strength to protect what she loves most in an epic battle. Miller is also the author of The Song of Achilles, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Mary Norris, the beloved Comma Queen of The New Yorker’s celebrated copy department, returns with a witty, wise, and charming book about language, love, and the wine-dark sea of Greece. Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen is Norris’s unforgettable account of her lifelong affair with words, her passion for Greek gods and myths, her solo journeys in the land of olive trees and ouzo, and her fresh take on Greece and the exotic yet strangely familiar language that so deeply influences our own.
VIP Experience includes reserved front section seating, priority book-signing access, and a three-course dinner with Mary Norris and Madeline Miller in the Founders Room, featuring a Greek menu and wine at 6:00 pm in the Founders Room.
Public $130, DMA Member $110
Q&A with authors Mary Norris and Madeline Miller
Q: What drew you to writing about Greek mythology and Greece?
Mary Norris: I began to study modern Greek in order to travel in Greece. I had always wanted to travel, and when I went to England, I felt alienated despite the common language. After that, I swore I would always study the language of a place before I went there. I decided to go to Greece after seeing "Time Bandits," which has a scene set in ancient Greece, starring Sean Connery. I was very taken by the landscape: dry and stark, yet capable of producing olives and grapes. I made up my mind instantly that I wanted to go there. I studied modern Greek (the alphabet is not the barrier people think it is), which led to ancient Greek, as travel writing led to the classics: Homer is full of mythology.
Madeline Miller: I have loved the Greek myths since I was a child, and I think what drew me to them was how incredibly real and human they felt. Achilles and his grief-stricken rage, Odysseus the exhausted war veteran, Penelope desperately (and brilliantly) fending off the suitors, Cassandra who couldn’t make anyone listen to her. Despite being nearly three thousand years old, these characters leapt off the page and wouldn’t let go of me. I learned ancient Greek in high school, and reading the Iliad was a further revelation—Homer’s language is so beautiful and potent. I went on to get my masters in Classics, specializing in ancient poetry. All that time, I had also been writing, and it was thrilling to realize that I could be part of telling these stories I had loved for so long.
Q: Have you traveled extensively throughout Greece and the Islands?
Mary Norris: I have been to Crete, Rhodes, Patmos, Samos, Chios, Thasos, Lesbos, Paros, Naxos, Santorini, Corfu, Cefalonia, Mykonos, Delos (the uninhabited island sacred to Apollo), and Cyprus (which is not part of Greece, but has a lot of Greek culture; it is the birthplace of Aphrodite), and spent time in Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as in the Peloponnese—the tourists sites, of course (Epidauros, Nauplio, Olympia, Pylos, Monemvasia), and particularly Kardamyli, in the Mani, the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of my favorite travel writers.
Madeline Miller: Yes! And I loved every minute of it. I worked for an archaeological dig on Corfu, and I also toured and traveled around, visiting Knossos, Athens, Mykonos, Lesbos, Santorini, and more. I would never have been able to write either Circe or The Song of Achilles without those trips. It gave me the sort of visceral inspiration that you can only get in person—the way the light falls on the water, the sounds, the smell of the earth.
Q: What was it like, either for you or your characters, being a woman living alone there?
Mary Norris: When I first went to Greece, in my early thirties, people didn't understand why I was traveling alone and they refused to believe that I was doing so by choice. They always wanted to know, "Where is your husband?" I got hit on a lot, and not by Greek shipping magnates. (It was mostly waiters.) (And sailors.) I drew the line at descending into Zeus's cave with a shepherd. Eating alone in restaurants was particularly awkward. It's easier now, partly because I'm inured to it, but also because I have reached the age of invisibility. It never bothered me so much that I was discouraged from going wherever I wanted to go.
Madeline Miller: One of the things that is at once comforting and depressing about the ancient world is realizing how little has changed. The ancients have a saying for it: nothing new under the sun. In the ancient world, women were kept from the halls of power, abused, assaulted, silenced; sadly, these things are all too familiar today, as is the fact that we still villainize powerful women. Circe is the first witch in Western literature, and witch remains one of our favorite insults for women who take up what society considers to be too much space.
Q: What is your favorite thing that you discovered while writing about Greece?
Mary Norris: Ouzo and etymology. While traveling in Greece, I came to enjoy the ritual of ouzo: sitting in a cafe with a shot of clear ouzo, a bucket of ice, and a pitcher of water; adding the ice to the ouzo, which makes it cloudy, and diluting it with a little water. It's always served with some kind of little snack (mezedakia, the Greeks say): olives or cubes of feta cheese. Then you sit back and watch people stroll by. All this, preferably, on the waterfront.
While writing, I suppose my chief pleasure is etymology: learning where the modern Greek words come from. And they come from all over—ancient Greek, Turkish, Italian . . . Somehow with Greek it is easier to see how a literally meaning developed a metaphorical one. For instance, trucks in Greece often say on them METAFORA—TRANSPORT—and you can see how the word metaphor has a concrete meaning as well as a figurative one. That is backwards, I suppose--the concrete meaning came first. But when you are looking at Greek through the lens of English, and you suddenly see the concrete meaning beneath the metaphorical one, it's (forgive me) transporting.
There is no bottom to these stories—myths and poetry were how humans began to make sense of powerful human experiences: fear, grief, rage, love, hope, courage, injustice, parenthood. No matter how many times I read Homer, or Vergil, or Sappho, there are always new resonances to be found. I love that Classics never stops surprising or humbling me. And I also love discovering new retellings and ways to look at them.
Public $40, DMA Member/Educator $30, Student $20