The Early Myths: Children’s Books on Classical Myths

The Early Myths

By Simon Spence

atalantaThe Early Myths is a growing collection of digital children’s books aimed at 4 to 8 year olds. Already available are Perseus, Odysseus, and Jason and the Golden Fleece; coming in the next few weeks is Atalanta. Spence’s background is in Classics, and in fact his PhD examined the early portrayal of the Jason myth. Now, with his young daughter as his tester and critic his expertise and talent are being put to another good use, and for us all to enjoy.

early mythsEach title is around twenty pages long, very manageable. An audio option allows you to listen to the telling of either each page one at a time, or the whole tale in one. In both cases you view the page which is being read aloud to you, so that you can follow the words (right of page) if you choose, or enjoy the beautiful artwork on the scene (left of page). The digital art is impressive and engaging, clear, and well-related to the narrative on each page. The full telling of each story is around ten to twelve minutes. Further buttons placed near their relevant part of each drawing allow you to hear (in child’s voice) the pronunciation of some of the trickier words or names, such as kibisis or Polydektes (Hellenic spelling is essentially retained).

As far as possible the artwork uses original Greek vases for its inspiration, and some of those inspirations appear at the end of each book, within the ‘Some interesting notes for grown-ups’, where some guidance and explanation is offered as to the particular telling, alternative mythological versions, and suchlike. Since Spence’s interest is in the earlier versions of these myths there are a few features which some might find slightly surprising. He has also, no doubt, had to think of his audience’s sensitivities and experience. So, for example, and the most striking, at the end of Jason and the Golden Fleece Medea rejuvenates Jason (much as she had already pretended to do to Pelias) and they live happily ever after. In all three tales Athena is the god assisting each hero. Hera has no part in the Jason myth, and Athena is hailed (Perseus VIII) as ‘the guide to great heroes’. Amusingly, in Perseus, Polydektes is not portrayed as a villain. Perseus only vows to bring back the head of Medusa because other children tease him about his lack of bravery. Gorgon slain, Perseus returns, whereupon Polydektes only has to greet him with a ‘Hello, little boy’ for Perseus to blow a fuse and turn him to stone.

These are wonderful books, and children do and will love them. Though they take full advantage of the flexibility of the digital ebook market (via Kindle and iBooks), paperback versions of Jason and the Golden Fleece and Perseus are available, as is an audiobook of Odysseus via