So, in the previous post about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I mentioned that the diversity of mythical creatures and beasts in Narnia was really inspirational to me. And I went looking for more information about these creatures. Today I have several books of myths on my shelves, from children’s editions to academic (and sometimes very dry) editions, and not all of them limited to the Greek. But D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths stands out among all of these because it was the first one I sought out on my own, and some of the illustrations have stuck with me throughout my life.
In hindsight, I realize that D’Aulaires is mild enough to be acceptable for the evangelical Christian school I was sent to. The layout mimics the biblical layout, and there are some notable artistic similarities in the illustrations of the Pandora myth/Deucalion flood and the Garden of Eden/ Noah’s Ark illustrations in the same library. All said, D’Aulaires isn’t a groundbreaking myth anthology, and sometimes reads like a severely diluted Edith Hamilton. But that is Adult Me talking. Child Me loved(s) it.
D’Aulaires was the first book of myths I looked for on my own, which made it more precious to me than the myth anthologies my family gave me because I liked to read. But it’s the illustrations that really stuck with me. Particularly this one:
That illustration and caption broke my heart. I remember I was inconsolable for weeks after I read that. Even into my teens, when I learned that there were other Pagans and Witches out there, just remembering that page would send me into a days-long depression.
As I grew and reread D’Aulaires, I developed my perceptions of what the gods are. The gods may seem flawed in their stories and myths. They may seem petty and venal and cruel, and many of them can be harsh masters. But. But, they haven’t always been treated well by incoming conquerors, so many times their myths should be read with a grain of salt and thoughtfulness. We have the time and resources to be thoughtful about our myths, so we should be.
I also came to another conclusion, the gods are more human than human. They are the purest distillation of what it means to be human, in all its messy glory. To run with the distillation metaphor, if the gods are the Heart, humans are the head and the tail: we are both the first to be separated at the beginning and part of which is attained at the end of desire. Not a bad set of conclusions from a children’s book.