CHAPTER 1: THE BANQUET HALL ON MT. OLYMPUS (excerpt)
She had disappeared again. “Kore!” I called out to her. “Kore, where are you?” No sign of her. “Kore!” I shouted as I headed toward the banquet hall. Most of the immortals were already there. I hoped she might be there with Hekate.
“Have you seen the Kore anywhere?” I asked one of the mortals, cowering in a corner of the hallway. He stared at me, open-mouthed. “I asked you a question,” I said, raising my voice. “Have you seen the Kore?” He shook his head and lowered his eyes. “Fool,” I said, walking away.
I entered the hall to find the banquet already underway. The usual sights and sounds and smells accosted me. Father Zeus sat at the center of the head table, guzzling down meat and the fruits gathered from the harvest. Hera was on one side of him, Athena on the other. I scoured the table in search of the Kore. Hekate was there, but there was no sign of the Kore. Hermes and Iris were engrossed in conversation. And Aphrodite was whispering something in Hephaestus’ ear. I was surprised to see Hades at the banquet because he so seldom came to the upper world.
I watched as mortals approached the head table with faltering steps. They bowed to offer their gifts of roasted pork and the fruits of the first harvest. Their hands trembled as they lay the food on the table in front of the gods. They scurried to the back of the hall while dodging the gnawed up bones and fruit remains thrown at them. The gods enjoyed a bit of sport while devouring their feast.
I scanned the room but still could find no sign of the Kore. Hekate must have seen my distress. She left the table and came toward me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“She’s gone again. I can’t find her,” I said.
”Don’t get upset,” Hekate said. “I’m sure she’s here somewhere. I’ll help you look for her.”
“Where can she be?” I asked. “She’s always running around. I never know where she is or what she’s up to,” I said, gesturing in frustration. “She doesn’t listen to me, Hekate. She does exactly as she pleases. I should lock her up in her room and never let her out.”
“Come now, Demeter. It can’t be as bad as all that,” she said. “I’m sure she’s fine. The Kore is still a child. She’s probably playing outside with her friends. You know how much she likes being out in the fields, surrounded by flowers.” Hekate put her arm on my shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Between the two of us, I’m sure we’ll find her.”
Just then, surrounded by a bevy of young girls, the Kore appeared at the far end of the hall, barefoot and scantily clad. Her flesh-colored tunic hung loosely on her delicate frame. It was so flimsy and transparent that it revealed the contours of her slim, tender body. Her face was flush from the outdoors. Her neck, wrist, and long, dark flowing hair were adorned with garlands of colorful hyacinths and pink peonies.
I gasped. She was growing up, and I hadn’t noticed. She was quite lovely. She was so young and so beautiful and so stupidly innocent as she giggled and whispered to her friends, all of whom were similarly adorned with flowers. I scoured the room. I wasn’t the only one captivated by the Kore’s appearance. I sensed lecherous eyes devouring my child. She seemed completely oblivious to their stares, flouncing and giggling as if she had no care in the world.
I turned to Hekate, my face taut with anxiety. She smiled and patted me on the back. “See, she’s fine,” she said. “I’ll leave you to it.” She walked back to take her seat at the table.
“Kore! Come here at once!” I shouted across the hall. Just then a mortal, a sheepish expression on his face, approached me offering a bowl of grapes. I shoved him aside. “Out of my way, you fool,” I said.
I watched the Kore as she zigzagged her way through the crowded banquet hall. “What is it, mother?” she said when she reached my side. She paused to catch her breath. “What’s wrong?”
“How many times have I told you not to go running off on your own like that? How many times must I explain this to you?” I shook her body to rattle some sense into her. She must be made to understand. “You have to stay near me, Kore. You must not wander off on your own like that.”
“But I wasn’t alone, mother,” she protested. “I was playing by the side of my friends. I was with Leukippe, Phaino, Electra, Ianthe, Melite . . .”
“Yes, yes, yes,” I interrupted her. “I’m in no mood to hear about your friends, Kore. Your friends are nothing. Your friends will not be able to protect you. Only I can protect you. Do you understand?”
“We were picking flowers and playing,” she said. “You told me I shouldn’t be alone, and I wasn’t alone. I don’t know why you’re always so angry with me.” She looked bewildered. She took a lock of her long hair and tugged and twirled it around her finger, a nervous habit of hers. I slapped her wrist to make her stop.
“Listen to me,” I said. “I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over again. Your friends won’t be able to protect you from the gods if one of them comes after you to satisfy his ravenous appetite for females. Only I can protect you. Only your mother who loves you more than anything in the world can protect you. Are you listening to me, Kore?” I said. I lifted her chin to force her to look me in the eye.
“Yes, mother, I’m sorry,” she said. She bowed her head and spoke barely above a whisper. “I’m sorry I worried you. I was having so much fun making flower garlands with my friends that I forgot to check back with you. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
“I’ve heard your promises before, Kore,” I said.
Just then we heard a loud crash from the other end of the banquet table. One of the gods had thrown something, shattering it into little pieces. This was followed by loud, raucous laughter.
“Come with me, Kore,” I said. “We can’t talk here.”
I took her by the hand as we zigzagged our way toward the door of the banquet hall, avoiding the throngs of servants carrying food and gifts. Another mortal scurried toward me, offering a plate of roasted pork. I scowled at him and he scuttled a retreat.
Finding a quiet corner in the hall, I pinned the Kore against the wall and lifted her chin to make her look at me. “Listen to me, my child,” I said. “You are too young to know them well. But your father, your uncles, all the gods—-they’re capable of doing terrible things, especially to women. I’m trying to protect you for your own good. I’m your mother. I don’t want any harm to come to you.” Her eyes glazed over. I had lost her.
“You’re no longer a child,” I said. “You’ve blossomed into a beautiful, young maiden. And they see it. They look at you harboring lust in their hearts. They covet you. Do you understand?” I said, shaking her shoulders. “Don’t be fooled by their niceness toward you, Kore. They’re lecherous. They can hurt you.” She fidgeted with her tunic and avoided my eyes. “I’m only trying to protect you,” I said. “I just don’t want any harm to come to you.” She had stopped listening.
I had to make her understand in spite of herself. “I have told you the stories of how your father disguised himself as a swan and ravaged Leda,” I said, my voice rising in desperation. “I have told you of the god Apollo and how he chased after Daphne until she could run no further. She begged her father to save her from Apollo’s clutches, so he transformed her into a laurel tree to avoid Apollo’s frenzied sexual desire.”
I lifted the Kore’s chin. “Look at me. Is that what you want for yourself?” I asked. “To be transformed into an object for your own protection?” She tugged at her hair, her face sullen.
“I’ve even warned you about Hades, God of the Underworld, and cautioned you against eating any food he may offer you from the Land of the Dead since that condemns you to return to his dark realm. Kore, I have told you so many stories so many times to caution you. And, yet, you persist in running around with your friends, away from my protection, as if you didn’t have a care in the world. Kore, are you listening to me?”
“Yes, mother,” she said, her eyes lowered.
“What more can I do? What more can I say to make you understand?” I asked.
“What am I supposed to do, mother?” she said, looking up at me. She choked back tears. “Tell me what you want of me. Am I to stay by your side forever? Am I not to play and run and gather flowers with my friends? Am I not to have any fun? I don’t understand what you expect of me.” Water pooled in her eyes. “I don’t understand why I should be treated any differently from my friends. They’re free. They can come and go as they please. Why can’t I?”
The despair in her voice surprised me. I stepped back. Despite her naiveté, she was partially right. What did I expect of her? I couldn’t keep her tied to me like an animal on a leash. She was not a prisoner, after all. She should be allowed to laugh and play with other children her age. But she was unlike other children. She was my child. I didn’t care what happened to other people’s children. I cared only for my child.
“You’re right,” I reassured her, smiling. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to worry so much. I’ll try to give you a little more space to play. Just don’t stray too far from me. That’s all.” I stroked her hair. “You know I love you, don’t you?” She didn’t reply. “Kore,” I said, “you know I love you, don’t you?” She nodded her head. “And you know I’m doing this for your own good, don’t you?” She nodded her head. “Come,” I said, smiling. “Let’s join the others.” I took her by the hand and led her back to the banquet hall.
A Pomegranate and the Maiden