Weekend Reading: Apologies to Homer

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 MetamorphosesLiterature 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 


2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Apologies to Homer

  1. Wow! I can’t imagine how you are going to do that, but I’m sure you will! Your son seems quite discerning! He might become a Homerian scholar one day……


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