“The Goddess frowned at the way houses had sprouted like mushrooms around the base of the hill, taking up land that should be farmed. The king seemed to forget that his wealth came from the produce of the land.”
In this scene from Moon of the Goddess, my first published novel, we get a hint of the conflict that drives the story and connects the modern reader to it. The issue is urbanization and the disconnect between city and farm that was real in Ancient Greece and is present in our day.
When we think of Greece, we are drawn to the classical age, to the people who built the stunning monuments we visit. But, beside and beneath the temples to Olympians, are the pottery with snaking spirals, the images of fertile women, and the shrines to the older goddesses who gave life to people and the land.
In my story, I call this earth-goddess “Eurynome,” and she is in a fight to keep the allegiance of the valley she has nourished from the domination of Poseidon. She seeks to keep the people of the growing city connected to the land, while the Olympian is recruiting new worshipers to strengthen his position.
The king is caught. He needs the produce of barley and olives from the land, but Poseidon’s earthquakes endanger the city. It feels to him as if the gods of Olympus are stronger than the old goddess who is tied to the river and the valley. The goddess has to prove that her power and gifts are essential to life.
I won’t spoil the progress of the conflict or tell you who wins out in my book. In Greek history, the cities dominated. They needed fertile land and rivers, but the stories got the shape we know from poets who lived in the cities and reinforced the values that structured urban life.
The hints of a primarily agricultural and rural culture are still there if we look. Many of the stories are set in rural contexts. Herakles is fighting beasts on the hills. Orpheus is playing his harp and singing under the trees by a meadow. Logically, as a huntress, Artemis is pictured in the woods, but Aphrodite is often in the countryside, such as the time she was drawn to a Trojan shepherd on Mount Ida.
The classical stories are focused on the fortunes of the various cities, but in the background is the reminder that the countryside matters. And this was a conversation I had often this past summer as drought hit the land hard and urban folks relished days off without rain.