This was the most precious book I owned as a child and my way into the Odyssey and the Iliad at a very early age. It is quite old-fashioned in tone but it’s not preachy. Padraic Colum was a poet and the way he uses language is wonderful. The illustrations too. They’re black-and-white, very art deco, very spare. It’s still how I imagine all those heroes, gods and goddesses to look.
Your last book is a children’s book about Troy again — The Children’s Homer, a retelling of the The Iliad and The Odyssey by Padraic Colum.
This was the most precious book I owned as a child, and it was my way into the Odyssey and the Iliad at a very early age. I’ve got the copy in my hand now – it was given to my father in April 1921 and he passed it on to me. It is quite old-fashioned in tone but it’s not preachy and the language is amazing. Like Ted Hughes, Padraic Colum was a poet. I think for me, the thing that links all these books, apart from the actual stories, is the way that language is used within them. In this one too, the way he uses language is wonderful. The illustrations too. They’re black-and-white, very art deco, very spare. It's still how I imagine all those heroes, gods and goddesses to look.
I just read it and thought it was quite a nice way of getting the stories of both the Iliad and the Odyssey into my head. I read the other books you recommended afterwards and it all made sense because I already knew the basic outlines from this children’s book.
Yes, I think as an adult you can still read it and get pleasure from it.
The thing about Greek myths and Homer is that there are so many references to them in daily life, but it wasn’t until I read these books that I felt confident that I was a bit more on top of who everyone was.
Yes, because it’s quite complicated isn’t it — who is related to who? The gods, for instance, are always either married to their sister or their daughter. I had to skate over that quite a lot in Atticus. You’re right about the Greek myths coming into our everyday lives. Everybody wears Nike shoes, she was the Greek goddess of victory. Did you ever read Ambrosia creamed rice? That’s the food of the gods. Advertisers are using Greek myth references all the time, and people don’t even think about it. Then there’s your Achilles heel, your Achilles tendon.
Speaking of which, I was intrigued that that story –- about Achilles being dipped in the River Styx by his mother -- didn’t appear in either The Children’s Homer or The Song of Achilles. Then I read Miller’s notes about it, and she said that it was a later myth, so she hadn’t included it.
I know. There are several different versions of that particular story. I chose to include it when I wrote about it. I quite liked it.
Yes, and I should mention for anyone who has small children, that your book, Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths, is absolutely wonderful. My own are 6, 5 and 4 and they can’t get enough of it. I now give it as a present whenever any of their friends has a birthday.
That’s wonderful. The thing is that if they have them in their heads now, it will actually serve them for life. There are meant to be only x number of stories in the world, and these are pretty much templates for all of them…
Do you have a favourite Greek myth?
Everybody always asks me this. Yes I do, but it’s quite a strange one. I like the story of Nyx, and the fates. Nyx was the goddess of the night and her cloak covered the night sky. She had three daughters who were the fates. I love the story of the fates: Klotho, Atropos, and Lakhesis, who weave the tapestry of life. They’re the ones who decide what your fate is going to be, so they snip the thread if you’re going to die. I just love the mystery of it.Read full interview