As if the Greeks hadn’t given us enough from Homer to Socrates to the Olympics, in 1921 we’re relying on their alphabet to name new mutations of the corona virus. After the backlash from China when the former President blamed the pandemic on that country, the World Health Organization made a smart decision. Blaming any one nation for a new variant was neither true nor fair. And since the scientific name for the first one discovered was the non-rememberable SARS-CO-V-2, WHO turned to the Greek alphabet.
Contradicting the phrase “it’s all Greek to me,” WHO chose to use their alphabet as the letters’ names are easy to remember. Thus we have the Alpha instead of the ‘British virus’ because it first appeared there. The next mutation is Beta, not ‘South African virus,’ Brazil’s is Gamma, and today’s highly contagious mutation is not named for India where it first surfaced, but the Greek letter Delta.
As for Alex Michaelides’ novel, the ancient Greeks told the story of the Earth goddess Demeter who shut down harvests after the evil god Hades kidnapped her beautiful daughter Persephone taking her into his underworld. (Her Roman name is Ceres, think cereal.) When Hades had to return Persephone before everyone starved to death, crops grew again. But because Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in Hades, she had to return to the underworld one third of the year. We call it ‘winter.’
While the mythological ‘maidens’ were a cult honoring Persephone, the goddess of death, in Michaelides’ book they are a contemporary cult of female students worshipping Edward Fosca, a Cambridge University professor of Greek tragedy. After the first of these ‘maidens’ is murdered, Fosca becomes the chief suspect. At least he is to the main character Mariana. A new widow, Mariana forces her way into the investigation of what becomes a series of murdered ‘maidens,’ to protect Zoe, her adopted niece and the most beloved person left in Mariana’s life.
Like the labyringth on Crete that held the man-eating Minotaur, this story moves through twists and turns that can be dizzying with an ending worthy of O’Henry. No spoilers, but any familiarity with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.” wouldn’t hurt a reader either. Like knowing, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” is from this Tennyson elegy to the poet’s young friend Arthur Henry Hallam.