03 October 2011

Greek Myths and Everyday Life

Greek MythsI had a book of Greek myths when I was a kid, and I remember loving it. So not too long ago, we got the girl a copy of the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and last month I read it to her. I love reading to her, but sometimes it starts to feel like a slog. Not with this; I was as enthusiastic about getting to the next adventure as she was.

For me, it was a great refresher on all of those characters and concepts that are around us every day and in so many books. For her, there was plenty of excitement, and lots of "text to self" connection.

I read wistfully about Niobe, whose 14 children were killed by Apollo and Artemis, breaking her heart - "She wept for so long that the gods at last took pity on her and changed her into unfeeling rock." - and I missed Niobe yet again.

Did you know of the wily nature of Sisyphus? He tricked Hades, twice! When he finally ended up in the underworld for good, he was set to work pushing that boulder up the hill, over and over again, sisyphean - like picking up your messy room again and again and again.

We learned that Achilles was "invulnerable except for his heel by which his mother held him over the fire", and I pointed out that that's why the back of your ankle is called the achilles tendon.

Echo, echo, echo. Punished by Hera for being a chatterbox, Echo couldn't form her own words, but "could only repeat the words of others" - and that's where echoes come from.

And you know how you find piles of rocks in the woods, guiding you along the way? Hermes is inside them. He'd killed a servant of Hera's, and she called all the gods together to judge him - "those who found Hermes guilty of a crime were to throw their pebbles at Hera's feet, those who found him innocent were to throw their pebbles at his feet." He was buried in a heap of pebbles, and even today, stands in all of those cairns we've found in the woods.

Atalanta was abandoned in the wilderness, but "she did not perish, for a she-bear heard her cries and carried her gently to her den, nursed her, and raised her with her cubs". And the girl told me Oh, Mama, that's just like Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god.

The Persphone / Demeter tale was one we knew from an old Disney short called The Goddess of Spring, which is about 10 minutes long and worth watching on YouTube.

Cerberus and centaurs are both present in the Harry Potter books. Pegasus we know well - (s)he's on the ceiling at Grand Central, and on every Mobil station around.

My old phrygian cap even made an appearance - I knew what it was, from art and gall bladders - I hadn't known that it was King Midas's. See, Apollo gave Midas ass's ears, to ridicule him, and ever after, Midas wore a "tall, peaked cap on his head to hide his long ears".

And for me, the once-upon-a-time music major/flute player, I loved remembering all the tales I know from their musical settings, like Orpheus & Eurydice in Monteverdi's Orfeo. (And then I detoured to Dido & Aeneas, and the snicker-out-loud-when-you're-18 aria that starts off "When I am laid". It's actually "when I am laid in earth", but...well, 18 year old college students?)

And speaking of Orpheus, the girl loved learning that there was a muse called Calliope, because her second grade teacher was named Kalliope.

And of course, reading of war victory by Trojan horse sent us to Monty Python:

The moral of my story? Reread your Greek myths; they are more enchanting than you remember.


niobe said...

D'Aulaires is, like, my favorite book ever.

And thanks for missing me.

Liz Miller said...

I love that book. LOVE. IT.

De said...

I am in luck! They had it on the shelf at my library. I note that each chapter is only a couple of pages, which will work well for us: we read a "together" story with both kids and then they split up to read in their own bed, so short chapters help us get to bed on time.

mayberry said...

We went through a Percy Jackson phase a while back; I think we should go back to the source, as it were, with these.

(I also still think, to this day, that learning Greek and Latin roots in 9th grade was one of the most important things I got out of high school. Not the same as myths, but if you know those roots, you know what so many English words mean.)

Bibliomama said...

The Percy Jackson books got my son totally hooked on the Greek myths. My daughter did a drama camp where all their plays were Greek myths (her friend Marielle was Echo). They're very engaging for kids.

Lady M said...

I still have my copy of that book! Love it.

thordora said...

I was missing Niobe the other day myself.

We have a really neat version of Jason....girls haven't been too much into the myths. Ros likes pegasus but I think that's more of a barbie thing than anything else...thankfully they have good taste otherwise :p

MARY G said...

Lovely tales - I cop to editing a few with my kids...Io for instance.

Have you tried her on the Jungle Books? Boy raised by wolf.

alejna said...

Wonderful! My own education in Greek myths was actually pretty minimal, so I could probably learn quite a bit from that book, myself. And it does sound fun to read it aloud.

anna ~ random handprints said...

my daughter and i are reading that now too. i love her interpretations of some of these stories, totally seen through the kid lens.