In The Homeric Hymns the poet describes the four daughters of Keleos, who discovered the bereaved Demeter near a spring where they had gone to fetch water. The goddess appeared to them as an old woman. They showed her the respect due to age and persuaded their mother, Metaneira, to hire the old woman as a nurse for their baby brother. Metaneira proposed a long term employment contract, with excellent pay and outstanding performance incentives. The girls ran back to the spring to tell the goddess the good news.
The lovely image of the four girls has survived for 3000 years:
And they, as deer or heifers
in the season of spring
sated in their hearts with pasture
frisk over a meadow,
held up the folds of their lovely robes
and darted along the hollow wagon road,
as their flowing hair
tossed about their shoulders,
like the flowers of the crocus.
Charming—not only for the picture of the children but as one of the earliest descriptions of the rich doing “job creation”.
I thought about this while spading my garden, and about Rebecca Lochlann’s historical fantasy of life in Crete during the ‘Minoan’ era. [see Amazon: Children of the Erinyes]
I don’t know much about the Minoan period, maybe nobody really does, but Ms. Lochlann certainly knows more than I—so I cheerfully accepted her picture of an Elysian era when women were worshipped (as, surely, they are entitled to be) the Queen got to marry the boldest and strongest of each year’s crop of suitors, and (perhaps best of all) to dispose of him in the labyrinth before he got too boring.
There is pretty good evidence that Minoan religion required a fresh royal husband for each spring solstice, but whether or not this was actually so, or whatever it may have meant to the Minoans themselves, Ms. Lochlann’s books make a plausible case for how such a system might have worked, as mediated through the consciousness of a modern woman.
The books are set in that unhappy decade when Santorini exploded, causing a massive tsunami. Natural disaster was followed by disaster man-made, an invasion of Mycenaean male chauvinists. The Cretan matriarchy was destroyed and the island incorporated into that three millennium disaster of male domination known as ‘Western Civilization’.
“Oh woe,” I thought.
But then, I wondered, “How much do we really know?” We call them ‘Minoans’ but what did they call themselves, what language did they speak, where did they come from? And in spite of the blesséd Michael Ventris, whose decoding of Linear B confirmed that the Mycenaens were Greek—we don’t know a whole lot more about the Mycenaens. Magnificent ruins, beautiful treasures, a few hundred tablets (warehouse inventories, cryptic allusions to threatening ‘sea people’.) Not so much.
But of course, we have Homer (whoever he, she or they may have been) and that makes all the difference. It gives us a sense of who we are and where we came from. We are still Greeks, albeit a hundred generations down the road. Demeter and Persephone, are not ‘their’ goddesses—they are ours, Achilles and Hector our own heroes, and Helen (as ditsy as she may have been) our ideal blonde.
Do their stories tell ‘the truth’ about them? Did Athena constantly butt into the war at Troy to favor one side over the other? Maybe not. Does Ms. Lochlann’s historical fiction reveal the reality of Knossos? Or was Crete like Egypt—a traditional society, boringly repetitive and wearisome, except for certain high points barely visible from our peak in Darien?
I remembered the country fellow who gave up reading fiction when he learned it was just ‘made-up stories’. I wondered if I should do the same. But then I thought, “That’s what the past is for, fodder for wild surmise.” And it follows, I think, that that’s what we are for—to make up stories, so that on Mars, a hundred generations hence, people will know about ‘Earth’—who we were and who they are. Not literally, of course, but fictionally—by far the more important truth.
I finished spading the tomato patch and came inside for a beer.
 (trans. Athanakos N. Athanassakis, Johns Hopkins University, 2004)
 Metaneira later reneged, and the consequences were pretty dire—but the probability of hiring an angry goddess is low and the risk can be offset by Goddess Default Swaps (available at my website for a modest premium.)
 It is implied that the girls were teenagers, but at least in the classical period, any girl who had entered puberty wouldn’t have been allowed frisky frolics in the sunshine. However, Persephone’s story predates classical Greece—so different rules may have applied. Persephone herself, a goddess of marriageable age (assuming the gods worried about such details) got into trouble while outdoors picking flowers.
 Not unlike contemporary CEOs, nobly utilizing their excessive wealth to create jobs, like candy flung from a Mardi Gras float.
 See, J. Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B, Cambridge University, 1958 (a wonderful book.)
 Our beautiful, pathetic (nearly tragic) ‘Marilyn’ being but a recent incarnation.