Having taught ancient Greece to eager (kidding) sixth graders, I have had an interest in Greek mythology for quite some time. I remember reading Greek myths as a child, but more vividly as a teacher, I remember an oversized book with a bright yellow cover called D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I loved the stories and back then, had quite an extensive catalog of gods, goddesses, demigods, naiads, nymphs, rivergods, monsters, etc. in my head, but alas, you do lose it if you don’t use it. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library. What a book. Miller gives the gods life like no author I’ve read. The gods of my youth were remote, distant. These characters pulse with life. This Circe starts out as a somewhat naive good girl, trying to please her daddy, Helios. Always telling the truth, her siblings and cousins see her as guileless. She was content to be alone, but didn’t know what she was looking for in life, unlike her siblings who blatantly schemed and did whatever needed doing, in order to grab more power. For example, Circe was punished by her father for doing exactly the same thing that her brother and sister had done, except that Circe told the truth about it, and they did not. When her brother Aeetes visited her in her room after her father had announced to the court what her punishment was to be, he accused her of being a fool for admitting what she’d done to their father. In anger she said, ” I suppose I should take you as my tutor and deny everything.”
“Yes,” he said. “That is how it works, Circe. I tell Father that my sorcery was an accident, he pretends to believe me, and Zeus pretends to believe him. And so the world is balanced. It is you own fault for confessing. Why you did that, I will never understand.” (and this was the sibling she genuinely loved and felt close to!)
This was yet another book, where a woman was marginalized because she had power that frightened the estableshment, in this case, the gods. That power was pharmakeia, (witchcraft, sorcery) the knowledge of plants and herbs and the proper way to mix them to make powerful draughts and tinctures. When her father found out that she had and used this power, Circe might have gotten away with it had she played the game like her brother, Aeetes, but she chose a different path, making her an enormously sympathetic and interesting character. I really loved this Circe, the flawed goddess who was destined to pay for her honesty into eternity. I intend to make a concerted effort to find out more about modern herbalism, starting with a book by Rosemary Gladstar (great name!) who, in addition to writing books about the subject, runs an herbal retreat center in Vermont. Not quite ready for that, but who knows? Maybe someday.
THE BEAUTY: Circe’s island, Aiaia, sounded very beautiful. Of course, noone really knows where it was, but it is suspected to be Ponza in the Tyrhenian Sea, vacation location of Romans in the know, and home to Pontius Pilate. Circe supposedly spent her winters in a grotto on Ponza, now known as “Grotta della Maga Circe,” and the summers on Mt. Circe on the Italian mainland.
Mt. Circe photo from geocaching.com
Grotto photo from ponzaviaggi.com
Circe had her hands full with her son, Telegonus when he was, literally, a wild child, but he grew up to be a thoughtful and wise young man, who had a passion for adventure. After not speaking to one another for several days, Circe finally relented, allowing him to pursue his passion, even risking a showdown with one of the more powerful Olympians to secure her son’s safety. The night before he was to embark on his journey, she prepared his favorite meal: fish stuffed with roasted herbs and cheese. Not much to go on, but I had to eliminate all the recipes I found that had tomatoes in them, because the ancient Greeks didn’t have tomatoes. But they did have cheese, so I’m thinking feta. This recipe, simple as it is, fits the description as much as it can all these centuries later, and is really delicious.
Greek Baked Fish
4 pieces of haddock
salt and pepper
2 C loosely packed, coarsely torn breadcrumbs or chopped peasant-style bread
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stem fresh oregano, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
generous handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, homemade or store-bought, patted dry and chopped
handful of pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
½ medium or ¼ large red onion, finely chopped
about ⅓ to ½ C EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup Greek Feta, drained and crumbled
Preheat oven to 400 ºF. Arrange fish in a baking dish. Lightly dress with EVOO; season with salt and pepper.
Combine bread, garlic, oregano, parsley, red pepper, chili, olives and onions in a bowl and dress with just enough EVOO to lightly coat. Arrange topping all over the top of the fish and around the dish. Scatter feta around and over the bread layer. Bake fish 20-25 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges alongside.