With the popularity of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series , kids’ books containing themes and allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and culture are perhaps more plentiful than ever. It may not seem immediately apparent why Christian families would be pleased about this development. Isn’t it just paganism, repackaged for modern kids? But classical education, prized by many Christians, of course values the rich literature and philosophy of the Greeks and Romans. By familiarizing my kids with Greek and Roman culture and mythology, I hope not to indoctrinate them into that belief system, but to prepare them for an adulthood of reading the great books of Western culture. Perhaps even more importantly, learning about Greek and Roman culture makes their appreciation of the Bible much richer as well. When we read of Paul standing in the Aereopagus in Acts, the “foolishness” and glory of his speech attempting to show Greek philosophers their need for Christ becomes much more sensible.
That’s not to say that this renaissance of Greek and Roman culture for kids is all good. In my opinion, in the wider culture, it’s largely driven by America’s desire to fill the spiritual void left after its rejection of Christianity. In the same way we may be seeing a renaissance of Bible stories in popular TV and movies (see this month’s History Channel presentation of The Bible), postmodern families may not believe Greek and Roman stories are True–but they lean on them for their beauty, their connection with the past, and their wisdom and emotional comfort.
Learning to read them from a Christian worldview is in many ways just the same as reading other genres of secular literature:
- You will find heroes, flawed but inspiring. Christians can use them to teach children that just as Moses and Abraham pointed to Christ, so Odysseus points us to the only flawless Hero who would save us on Calvary.
- With so many flawed gods, you will find failures and those who need mercy. Christians can use them to teach children that mercy isn’t a principle, it’s ultimately a Person. Mercy doesn’t come to us arbitrarily, nor in abrogation of justice, but in Christ, we find mercy that is just, paid for in full.
- Greek stories often illustrate profound truths about the nature of reality. When Icarus lets pride get the best of him, he suffers a terrible fall. Christians can use such stories to reaffirm the Biblical idea that we reap what we sow. (Thankfully, we aren’t the only ones sowing, since God is sowing above us!)
A Few Books to Try
- Greek Myths by Marcia Williams. Candlewick, 2011. Ages 5- up. This is a great introduction to Greek mythology. It includes a number of short story presentations, in comic book format, that allow kids to read a story and understand the plot arc in just a few minutes. Like storybook Bibles, the content is simplified so that kids get the main ideas, and the cartoon illustrations and thought bubbles add whimsy and humor to tales that might otherwise be depressing. Williams has done a number of books like this on classic subjects, including the Illiad and the Odyssey, Ancient Egypt and Shakespeare. I can’t personally vouch for all the content, but her Greek Myths are fantastic. Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 5.
- The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher by Bill Harley. Peachtree Publishers, 2006. Ages 6-12. Full disclosure: I helped edit this book, so I’m really partial to the story for personal reasons. But my 7 year old just read it for herself, and she couldn’t put it down. (Believe me, there are plenty of books I put in her hand that she does put down.) The allusions to Greek mythology aren’t overdone, and the story is equally informed by the writings of Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket. But the hero in this case is really sweet, and there is a moral center to the story that more modern stories don’t always have. Add in the Greek mythology references, and you’ve got a very enjoyable and educational read. Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 4.
- D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (audiobook version) by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. Doubleday, originally published 1962. Ages 8-12. If you aren’t already familiar with the d’Aulaire’s, they are a powerhouse couple in kids’ publishing from the early to mid twentieth century. Their biographies were cutting edge in terms of illustrations and biographical interest for the time, although today their books obviously look quite dated. I like them because while not idolizing their subjects, they aren’t weighed down with common politically correct obsessions of many contemporary kids’ books. For instance, in their book on Christopher Columbus, kids can just appreciate the man without having to hang on him the future destruction of native cultures. This particular book didn’t hold my children’s interest as well as the Williams book (probably because of the older illustrations), but we enjoyed reading it aloud. That’s why I think the audiobook version read by Paul Newman, Kathleen Turner, etc. would be the way to go. Worldview/Morality: 4 (out of 5), Literary Value: 4.
Do you guys have any favorites on Greek and Roman culture for kids? We’d love to check them out!
If you’re looking for more Greek and Roman resources, check back tomorrow for Janie’s post. For more similar-themed posts, check out our review of a book set in ancient Egypt, as well as our Growing Up Shakespearean post.