In Olden Times, when men still worshipped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greeve a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty. They did not worship dark idols like their neighbors, but created instead their own beautiful, radiant gods.” So began one of my most treasured books from childhood.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was my introduction to Greek Mythology, and the book that I must have checked out of the Library dozens of times. I’ve since purchased a copy of it. This picture book is still one of the best—and one of the most accessible—presentations of nearly every known Greek myth for children of all ages. Like a collection of fairy tales, each myth is narrated in storybook fashion along with colorful images. Written and illustrated by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, the book was first published in 1961. I would say it’s since become a classic of children’s literature.
The illustrations are particularly memorable. Here—early on—we see the hall of gods on Mount Olympus. From left to right: Demeter (with Peresphone upon her lap), Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Ares, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, and Dionysus. Tending the fire in the center is Hestia, goddess of the hearth.
Images like these ignited my imagination and passion for these stories, and by extension, an interest in the ancient world, astronomy, and literature. References to Greek mythology abound in the art, writing, and language of Western civilization, and this book was invaluable to me in giving me a solid foundation to recognize these allusions.
The book is roughly divided in three sections. There’s a short “prologue” about the begining of the world and the Titans. Then each of the Olympian gods are introduced. Section two is about the minor gods and creatures, and the last focuses on the heroes and events of Greek legend. And the stories are well-told as if we were listening to a blind orating them with all the skill of an accomplished actor.
I can’t even count how many times I read this book cover to cover, each time concluding with the words: “Everything must come to an end, and so did the rule of Zeus and the other Olympian gods. All that is left of their glory on earth are broken temples and noble statues. Also the Muses fell silent, but their songs live on to this very day, and the constellations put up by the gods still glitter on the dark blue vault of the sky.”
There’s something inherently sad about this ending, the passing of an era. Yet looking back, I see these myths live on in new forms. I would suggest the Muses are not silent, but sing on in the creative works of artists and authors who find new ways of presenting these classic tales and spin new ones.