This is one in a loosely connected group of columns; start here! https://bibliolennlibrary.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/tuk-wants-to-be-a-great-hunter-like-his-father-but-a-polar-bear-chases-the-pair-back-home-and-tries-to-eat-them-sled-dogs-and-all/
The late Nelson Mandela once wrote: “[I]f your story grows wings and becomes the property of others, you may not hold it back. One day it will return to you, enriched by new details and with a new voice.” These words can be found in Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales (2002, filed in the Lennoxville Library at C-136).
Taking that concept to heart would make the court singer and poet Homer one of the most successful storytellers of all time. He was born seven or eight centuries before Christ, but his tales of the Ancient Greek gods have been told, and told, and told again. The names of Zeus, Athena, Hermes and Dionysus still have meaning so many centuries later. In a very real way, Homer helped launch the Western imagination.
So who’s telling his stories these days? Author Rick Riordan has created a modern world of half-bloods in his popular Percy Jackson series, with 12-year-old Jackson the son of Poseidon and a human mother. And there are many other such demigods about, sheltered by a collection of well-meaning centaurs and satyrs.
In ancient mythology, such children were heroes, and in 2015 they are still expected to accept quests that will prove their might or cunning, save the world, or just generally be helpful to those around them.
The first in the series, The Lightning Thief, is a great read (2006, on the Lennoxville Library’s Young Adult shelves, and in French at Ado-Jeune adulte, as are many of the sequels). Riordan’s demigods are real, troubled kids with learning disabilities or emotional problems, trying to find a way for themselves in this monstrous world.
Still, instead of jumping right into the books, you might want to start with Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, a gargantuan tome (2014, filed in C-168 and the Adopt-A-Book gift of Muriel Fitzsimmons).
In it, Jackson talks about his family tree: “I’ll start with the Greek story of creation, which, by the way, is seriously messed up. Wear your safety glasses and your raincoat. There will be blood.” (Recall that Kronos murdered his nasty father to become lord of the cosmos; in perfect payback mode, his son Zeus then did the same to become king in turn.) This rewrite of the old myths is funny and energetic.
Young people who have a hard time reading will especially appreciate Percy Jackson because of his unapologetic ADHD; this makes it hard for him to focus on reading and writing, but he’s learning to cope. (In fact, if you are seeking to help a child who’s having a hard time reading, please attend our free Saturday morning workshop; you’ll find more details further down.)
On the other hand, you might be more of a traditionalist. Homer is credited with writing the two epic poems which launched the Western literary tradition. The first is The Iliad.
The beautiful Helen is stolen away from her hubby by a prince of Troy. Hubby gathers up his soldiers and sails off to bring her back. There are gods, battles, death… it’s all rather bracing stuff. The war is won when the Greeks trick the Trojans into accepting a giant hollow horse as a gift – a horse filled with bloodthirsty soldiers…
A children’s retelling of the siege of Troy can be found by Marcia Williams (1998) in C-110. Or you’ll find a half dozen (free) different translations into English online at Gutenberg.org; some are a bit archaic, but try the version (for adults) translated by the trio of Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers.
At the end of the war, the Greek King Odysseus sails home. Or tries to — it takes him years, and along the way the way he finds beautiful women, horrific traps, monsters, and the occasional angry godling. Check out The Wanderings Of Odysseus: The Story Of The Odyssey (by Rosemary Sutcliff, 1995, in C-168). And that’s what happened to one of the winners.
The losers had a miserable time as well, of course. The Aeneid was written by another epic poet, the Roman we know as Vergil. The Trojan Aeneas flees the conquerors. His journey also lasts many years (though it ends with the triumphant founding of Rome). Here is loss, love, betrayal, heartbreak, violence – you name it, this story’s got it. Writer Penelope Lively does the honours in the book In Search Of A Homeland: The Story Of The Aeneid (2001, filed in C-168).
In that tale, the Gods are given their Roman names, such that Zeus is known as Jupiter, and Aphrodite is Venus. Bishop’s University Classics Professor Jenn Cianca was involved in a fabulous day-long reading of The Aeneid held during this month’s Homecoming celebrations. Cianca notes that “the Romans appropriated and absorbed the Greek pantheon into their own practice, sometimes adopting them wholesale and sometimes conflating them with other deities from their own past (combined with local tribal gods, Etruscan gods, etc.). Part of their conquering tactics were to allow people to keep worshipping their own gods, but to Romanize them; this would certainly have been the case with the Greek pantheon. That being said, the Romans always respected the Greeks in matters ritual, artistic, and cultural, because they were more ancient than they themselves were. But it would certainly be accurate to say that the Romans adopted the Greek gods, and adapted them for their own use.”
Author Rick Riordan has his amnesiac young hero, Jason, make the connection between the Greek and Roman pantheons this way:
“First order of business: Where did Jason’s memories go, and why is he so fond of the Gods’ Roman names?”
“What does that matter? Hera, Juno… same person, different name, right?”
“Not exactly. We call the Gods by their Greek names because that’s their original form. But saying their Roman aspects are exactly the same – that’s not true. .. In Rome, they were more warlike. They were harsher, more powerful. The Gods of an Empire.”
All in all, Riordan would have you choose to meet Hera over the nastier Juno.
That bit of dialog is from the graphic novel The Lost Hero: The Heroes Of Olympus Book 1, in which Percy Jackson has disappeared and we meet another demigod, Jason Grace. There are monsters to be fought. (The original Riordan text is adapted by Robert Venditti, with art by Nate Powell, 2014, filed in C-400A.)
You can find all the iconic Greek and Roman classics translated for adults at Gutenberg. But if you want a comedy that considers the sorry state of the ancient gods in 21st century London, England, try Marie Phillips’ Gods Behaving Badly (2007, an Adopt-A-Book gifted by Michelle Barker and filed in Adult Fiction).
The Greek gods live in a filthy house, desperate to bring in some cash to pay for water and electricity. Aphrodite works a phone sex job, Apollo is launching a clairvoyant TV show on the community access channel, Ares is plotting another minor war.
Into this mess wanders a human cleaning lady and her would-be Don Juan (a particularly drab but earnest guy). She gets hired to clean out decades of dirt… but the gods of old are not known for their kindness to mere humans.
This satirical novel is profane, so not for everyone. It is also funny, filthy, and frothy. A quick read.
It’s also proof that even now, the Ancient Greeks still speak to us.
KIDS AND READING
Is your child having a hard time with reading? Let Minna Trower help. On Saturday, October 17, at 10:30 a.m., the library offers a free workshop for anyone who’s looking to help kids who are struggling with reading. (Find Trower’s website at abcofreading.com.)
Register at 819-562-4949.
— Eleanor Brown, October 16, 2015