"In the valley of Nemea dwelt a monstrous lion whose hide was so tough it could not be pierced by any weapons. It was one of Echidna's dreadful offspring, which Zeus had let live as a challenge to future heroes.
Heracles chased it out of its lair, seized it in his bare hands, and squeezed it to death."
The selection in the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths proceeds fairly systematically, beginning with Gaia and Uranus and the succession to Cronos and then Zeus, then dealing in turn with the Olympian gods, the lesser gods, nymphs, satyrs and other immortals, and the mortal descendants of Zeus. There is a very brief summary of the Trojan War right at the end and Odysseus is mentioned only once, in passing, so the work was perhaps intended to be longer than it is. (I ended up supplementing it with Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden's The Adventures of Odysseus.)
The D'Aulaires provide an index, which is useful, but there is no guide to sources or other background information.
With slightly larger print and simpler language, Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths is aimed at younger children. The illustrations by Anthony Lewis are not in the D'Aulaires' class (and are smaller), but they are attractive and engaging and well-matched to the text. Coats reworks the stories fairly freely, elaborating the storyline and adding dialogue, but keeps their basic outlines. She includes the deaths, transformations, and other violence but takes the edge off them: they rarely evoked a defensive "covering of the page" reaction from my fairly sensitive four and a half year old. She also opts for the less confronting option when there are alternative story lines, for example in having Artemis rescue Iphigenia from the sacrifice.
"The very first task that Heracles ever had to perform for King Eurystheus was to kill the Nemean lion. This lion was one of the children of the terrible monsters Echidna and Typhon, and it was a most dreadful beast.
Heracles met no one on his way to Nemea — the lion had devoured them all — so he had to search for a long time before he found the lion's cave. When he did find it, the lion was just returning after a day's hunting. He was covered in blood, and flies were buzzing after him as he padded along on his huge paws, swishing his tail like a cat. Heracles hid in a bush and shot several sharp arrows at him. But to his surprise the arrows bounced off, and the lion just yawned and lay down to sleep off his meal. ..."
The coverage is reasonably comprehensive, with all the best-known and most engaging stories included. There's some jumping around, but the obvious groupings: the first few stories cover Gaia and Uranus down to Zeus, Heracles' labours are grouped together, and the work ends with the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus. The stories vary in length, but much less so than the D'Aulaires' ones, which makes them better for "one more story before lights out". There's no index, but the stories are given simple descriptive names ("The Dirtiest Job in the World") as well as more formal ones ("How Heracles Cleaned the Augean Stables").
Coats provides a framing story in which the Cretan sandalmaker Atticus tells the stories as he travels around mainland Greece and the Aegean, accompanied by his donkey Melissa. This takes the form of a paragraph or two at the end of each story, along with some small illustrations, forming a teaser for the next story. This framing is an adjunct, not the main course, but I quite liked it: it gives something of the context of storytelling and of myth as shared experience, and a feel for its embedding in the geography of ancient Greece (there's a map showing Atticus' route and where each of the stories were told).
Both these volumes are large — we have hardcover editions, which are possibly easier to manage — so children reading them themselves might need to rest them on the floor or a table. Given how much they fit in, they are extraordinarily good value for money: buy these and borrow the plenitude of short myth books from the library. Both works are also available (on various platforms) as audio books, where the D'Aulaires' runs to over four hours and Atticus the Storyteller to over seven.
- External links:
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- information from Lucy Coats
- share this review on Facebook or Twitter