The Blind Poet and the Trojan War

Around 750 B.C. there lived a blind poet named Homer, who lived among the Greek island colonies in the Aegean Sea. You might think that it would be hard for a blind man to be a poet, but at that time poems were not written down in Greece. Poets sang their poems aloud while people sat and listened.

Homer was the greatest of these poets, and kings and lords were always willing to pay to hear him sing. His poems were about the Greek gods and heroes, and although all the people knew the myths and legends which his poems were about, everyone agreed that he told the stories better than anyone else did. And so other poets learned to sing Homer's poems from him. They repeated them just as he had sung them and taught them to others, until almost two hundred years after Homer's death his poems were written down. People have been reading them ever since.

Homer's famous poems were very long. One of them is called the Iliad and it is about the Trojan War. The other poem is called the Odyssey and it tells about all of the adventures that Odysseus (one of the heroes of the Trojan War) had as he tried to get home to his family.

The story of the Trojan War is very long, and other poets also told stories about the Greek and Trojan heroes. The next six stories will tell you some of them.

Other re-tellings of Homer for children.

The Trojan War by Olivia Coolidge

Coolidge's retelling of the Trojan war myths runs about 250 pages. It tells nearly all of the myths surrounding Troy itself, and tells of the homecomings of the major heroes including Odysseus, though it does not retell his adventures on the way home. It's told in short chapters (4-10 pages) with each one retelling one of the events of the Trojan war cycle, including later additions such as Troilus and Cressida and the Queen of the Amazons. The prose style is probably at a level for reading aloud to a 5-7 year old, or being read independently by a 8-10 year old.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee
The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee

Rosemary Sutcliff is well known as the author of a number of historical and fantasy novels, many of them based on mythology. Here she retells the Iliad and Odyssey in about a hundred pages each, with plentiful illustrations by Alan Lee, whose work has become famous through his work on the art direction of the Lord of the Rings movies. (Those who are upset by occasional glances of skin and blood may object to Lee's illustrations -- though given the classical material there is very, very little.)

Sutcliff's prose is perhaps written for a slightly more mature ear than Coolidge's, but I don't think it's at all beyond the reach of most children. Both stories are told straight through in chronological order, and the narrative is strong and vivid with lots of good description, action, and dialog.

The Trojan War and the Adventures of Odysseus by Padraic Colum

Written in 1918, Colum's retelling has been read by several generations of children. The text shows its age. It's written in a semi-elevated diction which readers may or may not find fits the Greek story well. And the youngest children may find it slightly harder to follow than other versions. (Example: 'If thy heard, Achilles,' he said, 'is still hard against the Greeks, and if thou wilt not come to their aid, let me go into the fight and let me take with me thy company of Myrmidons.')

Also, the story is told in what may strike some reads as a somewhat awkward flashback format. It begins with Telemachus going in search of his father. In Sparta, Menelaus then tells Telemachus the entire story of the Trojan war (about fifty pages), and then the story of the Odyssey picks up again.

Go back to: Elementary Program: Volume One

Next Story: The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships

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