This week I’ve been telling Homeric bedtime stories to my little boy, and the strain is starting to get to me.
Bedtime for us has always had a certain Homeric feel – and not just because it takes a very long time. My son has disapproved, ever since he was a baby, of people reading him bedtime stories, because those aren’t ‘proper’ stories. Storytelling in our house is an oral art, in the old epic tradition. All stories must come from memory: and any variation in a repeated story is not tolerated.
As you can imagine, I have quite a repertoire by now. I can recite from memory whole chunks of the Harry Potter books, The Hobbit and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not to mention such classics as The Tiger Who Came to Tea (disturbingly anarchic, but with a happy ending of ice cream) and Peace at Last (with the important moral that people who don’t go to sleep will end up spending the night in the car).
But this week my son has developed a fascination with the adventures of Odysseus – and I’m feeling the guilt. I can’t tell the stories in all their gory detail, because I’m telling them to a boy who breaks his heart every year at the ending of The Snowman. So I’m editing them, quite drastically, and apologising to Homer as I do so. My Odysseus is cunning but cuddly, a cheerful chap who always has a plan and who scares a bunch of rowdy Suitors away by pointing an arrow at them and shouting ‘Boo!’. In my head, I think of him as ODisneyus.
ODisneyus doesn’t let his men get eaten by monsters: he looks after them and keeps them going with inspirational speeches and pizza. ODisneyus doesn’t really hurt Polyphemus; he just frightens him away and then sails off in his ship (possibly humming a jaunty little tune). ODisneyus worries about his family, and gets the happy ending he deserves.
All of which got me thinking, of course, about Virgil, who created his own cuddly ODisneyus with the worry lines and the pizza and the inspirational speeches, suited to a jumpy post-civil-war audience. Virgil, I thought, will save me; he’s already done all the hard work of sanitising Odysseus. But no. I’m not allowed tell stories from the Aeneid to my son. He doesn’t like Aeneas, because Aeneas doesn’t have Odysseus’ clever plans or interesting monsters. And the whole second half of the Aeneid is almost impossible to edit for a soft-hearted six-year-old (believe me, I’ve tried). Furthermore, Virgil’s version of a happy ending, in which his ODisneyus snaps and slaughters everybody, does not fit into my world of uplifting bedtime stories.
Tonight I’m tackling the Laestrygonians. Wish me luck – I’m going to need it…!
This week’s classical links from around the internet
Roman homes at Colchester – BBC News
Antiquities at The Met – The Art Newspaper
Archaeology for kids in Bishop Auckland – The Northern Echo
How do you move a mosaic? – Dorset Echo
New developments at Herculaneum – Ansa
Comment and opinion
Orpheus, Eurydice and not trusting women – The Edithorial
Marvel meets Mesopotamia – The Ancient Near East Today
Baby Shark in Latin – Medium
Ancient doppelgangers – Medium
Classics and Alexandre Dumas – OU Classical Studies Blog
Changing interpretations of Greek warfare – Ancient World Magazine
Tips on being a Roman emperor – The History Girls
Teaching and the OU Classics MA – OU Classical Studies Blog
Teaching After Classics – Ars Longa
The history of milestones – Country Life
What did the Romans do for London? – The Spectator
Ancient socks – Atlas Obscura
Zeno on Brexit – The Sphinx
The Odyssey and female ambition – Forbes
Animals of ancient Greece – Greece Is
‘Trojan Barbie’ and female refugees – Elon News Network
Titles and geography – Larry Hurtado
Chanel and Ancient Egypt – Society for Classical Studies
Herodotus on Marathon – Historical Diaries
Racism, diversity and Classics – Classics at the Intersections
Homer, home and outer space – Eidolon
Podcasts, video and other media
Would you die for dignity? –Antiquitas
Agrippina the last woman standing – Ancient History Fangirl
Review of Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin – Jane Draycott
Episode 61: Books 1-5 of the Metamorphoses – Literature and History
Spartan Invincibility – The History Network
Russia, ballet and Spartacus – The Partial Historians
Lucretius, sheep and atoms – BBC Discovery
A Homer and Herodotus workshop – Newcastle University