When Norris was a child in Cleveland, a 2-year-old sibling died, and he or she grew up feeling irrationally responsible about that demise. Certainly one of her most important recollections is of a school course in Greek mythology that one way or the other launched her from this nervousness, offering her with the wherewithal to depart “girlhood for the lifetime of a lady.” This eager for the magic of the traditional world repeated itself years later when, whereas taking a course in Greek tragedy at Columbia, she grew to become satisfied that no matter she learn in that class “would put my very own troubles in perspective.” On the finish of her guide, Norris visits the well-known Dafni Monastery, which comprises a very nice Christ mosaic. If ever there was a second when her infatuation with Greece and all issues Greek appears to climax, that is it. The impact on her of that mosaic was nearly miraculous. “My gratitude has made me simpler to get together with ever since,” she writes.
Norris was about 30 when she took her first journey to Greece, got here dwelling besotted and lowered herself into the ocean of Greek research obtainable in New York Metropolis: “Within the years that adopted, I swung forwards and backwards between fashionable Greek and historical Greek, cramming fashionable Greek earlier than a visit, returning to historical Greek once I received dwelling.” At one level she even moved to Astoria, the Greek-American neighborhood in Queens, embedding herself amongst residing Greeks so that each waking hour away from her workplace she’d be surrounded by both the demotic Greek of the road or the Greek of Thucydides in her armchair.
In a small disquisition on the event of written language in historical Greece, Norris tells us that the Greeks wrote phrases as run-ons: JUSTIMAGINETHAT. Spacing was “an incredible leap ahead.” As was the invention of Norris’s beloved comma, which comes from the Greek phrase komma, and was invented to additional make clear that means. She additionally makes the fascinating remark that with the appearance of social media and on-line publication we appear to be regressing to these long-ago instances by buying and selling in “turnable pages sewn between covers” for scrolling, and by casting off vowels, “now playfully omitted, as in the event that they took up an excessive amount of house.” She mourns the centuries-long effort at growing punctuation for the sake of ever better readability, now being deserted, daily, in our benighted modern tradition. This remark is just a reminder of what everyone knows; nonetheless, it shocked me.
Two loves particularly dominate “Greek to Me”: the Acropolis and Homer, each of which Norris returns to so religiously that she usually ends a passage about one or the opposite on a joking observe, to keep away from, I presume, sinking into sentimentality or self-dramatization. She tells us that one of many issues she most loves about Homer is the traditional poet’s use of epithets (right here meant solely as an figuring out trait, not a time period of contempt). “Grey-eyed Athena” particularly appeals to Norris as a result of she herself has grey eyes. The passage ends: “The phrase that Homer depends on for Athena is glaukopis. … I’d gladly step as much as the epithet of Athena, however the kind for a driver’s license doesn’t have a field to verify for the attention shade ‘glaucous.’”
The guide is structured not as a scholarly information however as a presentation of the variousness of Norris’s Greek experiences held collectively by stretches of prose devoted, on the one hand, to her recollections of early household life in Irish Catholic Cleveland and, on the opposite, to life on the copy desk at The New Yorker. Collectively, these strands lend the work a tone that means girlishness (Norris is 67).