Greek Beasts and Heroes

I like hanging out with intelligent people. Like Lucy Coats, for instance. Thank Zeus & Co for educated writers who will make things available to me in a form I can digest.

Europa och tjuren, Halmstad, by Tina Håkansson

(Photo by Tina Håkansson)

Now, take Europa and the Bull. I should know their story intimately, back-to-front and always. But I don’t/didn’t. I’m sure I have heard the tale, but managed to forget it, which is strange seeing as every child who grew up in my hometown knows Europa and the Bull. The very magnificent statue of them stands in the town’s main square and we can probably all tell you the name of the sculptor. (Carl Milles) But I can’t be alone in not knowing the story. Can I?

So, I’m very grateful to Lucy, and now I’ll endeavour to remember.

Lucy’s first four books about the Greek Beasts and Heroes are fun. Lots of the stories are well known – even to me – but are well worth retelling again. The format is based on Atticus the Storyteller who travels around and tells people stories to keep them happy or calm, or to pass the time, or in return for food or a bed for the night.

The stories are beautifully short, which means they should work well to read to a young child, or have the child read themselves, with room for a second story if required. I’m sure I remember reading some of these tales in a much longer version, and I can’t praise Lucy enough for shrinking them down to what matters. Though Zeus could do with not being quite such a ladies’ man.

Keep them coming! (I think she will, as there are another eight to go.)

Illustrations by Anthony Lewis.

12 responses to “Greek Beasts and Heroes

  1. Bookwitch, you are a dear. Thank you so much. Shall treasure that ‘intelligent’ from someone who is no slouch in the intellect department herself. Oh–and that is one magnificent statue (I agree that Zeus should not philander so much–but what can he do? He has a godly reputation to uphold).

    Lucy Coats at

  2. Greek classic tales as book or stories for young childs ?
    No, that couldn´t work well.
    Dear bookwitch, you can´t know the original greek classic tales, you admit it yourself.
    They are beautiful, but crammed with murdering, inzest, sexual crimes and worst. These things you cannot be explained to young children, specialy when the hero is doing such deeds.
    Or you censor them, an then they are not at all beautiful, but like anythings.
    If I have to censor a tale, I would better try to write my own.
    I think censoring is the worst crime for true book lovers

  3. I MUST get this series for my kids. Anyway, I loved the Greek myths as a child, but I too have forgotten an awful lot, so I’ll be reading them myself as well. They sound wonderful!

  4. If kids don’t know the stories of the Greek myths, they can’t get half the references in much of Western civilisation’s art, music and literature. Kids can always go on and read more ‘grown-up’ versions later, if they want, and I’d bet they’re more likely to do so if they already feel familiar with the basic tales. These books look lovely, and I’ll be bearing them in mind for my nephews!

  5. Yes, Katherine, it’s that feeling of ‘oh so that’s where that came from’ which you sometimes get when something suddenly makes sense. I suspect that Swedish schools taught much less Greek myths or anything else like that, than British schools do/did.

  6. Gisela — do you mind if I ask which texts you’d recommend with the murder, incest, etc. etc. intact? I think I’ve spent much too much of my life reading the expurgated versions (though I know the relationship between Europa and the bull was not platonic).

  7. Meg–I know you asked Gisela for the information on unexpurgated stories, but as I wrote the books reviewed above and did the research, I thought I could usefully jump in here. If, like me, you are not a fluent reader of Ancient Greek, then the best place to start is with Robert Graves’ ‘The Greek Myths – Complete Edition’ which is published by Penguin. As well as the myths themselves, which are as close as you will get to the original versions, Graves has copious scholarly notes, and if so inclined you can usually find copies of his source material in the London Library or the Bodleian. You may also like Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ in the Mary M. Innes translation (also Penguin) which has all the key transformation stories and much else as it would have been read by the Romans.

    I have to say, Gisela, that I find your point of view hard to comprehend. These myths are central and crucial to our own culture and to the understanding of story itself. We use references to them all the time–a Herculean task, laconic (referring to the Spartan culture), a Titanic battle etc etc. If we do not teach them to our young children, then we are withholding a crucial tool for later decoding of both language and literature. When I wrote these books I did not set out to emasculate the stories, but rather to dig out the essence of them and put it across in a way which children would enjoy and want more of. The storyteller’s journey alone took months of research and journeying through parts of Greece and Turkey in order to see for myself where some of the important myths had their ‘home’. For me the link between place and story is key. Every myth has a geographical location if you dig deep enough. I want to get the passion I have for these stories across to children as early as possible–they can come to the ‘real’ versions with all the ‘murdering, inzest and sexual crimes’ when they are old enough and if they wish to, as Katherine L so rightly says, and be richer for knowing them in an already familiar form. To intimate, as you do, that these stories are somehow censored in some kind of prudish Victorian manner makes me more than a little annoyed. They are indeed beautiful, and they can perfectly well be explained to young children in an appropriate way–and I hope I have done just that. I would naturally be interested to see your own versions, Gisela, when you have written them.

  8. Thanks, Lucy. I’ve read Robert Graves…but may go back to Ovid on your recommendation. I love Ovid’s poems, though somehow having missed all ancient languages, I only read in translation….one of my favourite books as a child was Myths Every Child Should Know (Hamilton Wright Mabie), which I read over and over and over again….

  9. The old Greeks would be proud of you ladies! Keep fighting.

    Meg, you don’t want to read things like that. Do you?

  10. You think too intellectual for the likes of me? I suppose you’re right. Back to 100 Ways To Improve Your Horse Riding.

  11. No, too pure for inzest and stuff.

  12. Fiercesome defence of the rights of the young to be included, hoo-blooming-rah.

    When asked ‘where do babies come from’ we give a child what they need for that stage of their life and understanding. They can understand well enough the idea of sexual love without delving into rape and incest.

    Lucy could be opening the door for a whole generation of Greek scholars……

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