Tag Archives: Trojan Horse

The Wooden Horse: my show & tell item

trojanhorse1.jpgMy previous blog posts have shared the experience of attending the Our Mythical Childhood show and tell at the University of Roehampton, but whilst I talked about other people’s contributions I didn’t discuss mine.  The book I chose to share with everyone was The Wooden Horse retold by Russell Punter, and illustrated by Matteo Pincelli.  It is an Usborne Young Reading (series 1) book, and was first published in 2011.  Unlike some of the contributors to the event, this book was not one from my childhood, I had only come across it about about a year ago when I had started looking at Helen of Troy in comics, graphic novels, and children’s illustrated/picture books.

It is a very simplified version of the story, but what I like (in books like this one) is how the author has to make certain choices and decisions about which bits of myths to use, and how best to distil the essence of the story, and in doing so decide what aspect they are going to portray.

Although this book is about the Wooden Horse, to give context the narrative is framed by Helen’s story.  Within the book there are only five named characters – Helen, Menelaus, Paris, Odysseus and Sinon.  The book begins with Helen – her name is actually the first word in the story, and ends with her being taken back to Sparta.  She is a very passive character, and the only time she is given a voice it is internal, when she thinks about what will happen when Menelaus reclaims her.  Despite this being a very simple version we can see how she is portrayed very much as an object – Menelaus is ‘proud’ of having a ‘lovely wife’, and we see her as a possession of his.  Once Troy has been defeated Helen is taken back alongside Trojan treasure – the implication being that she too is a piece of ‘treasure’, an object to be shipped back.  Probably the most interesting sentence in the book (for me), occurs on the final page : “Helen may not have wanted to go back to Greece, but she had no choice.” (p. 47)  Which speaks volumes.

STKarenTrojanHorse2In the afternoon of the ‘show & tell’ we chose books from the University of Roehampton’s special collections and, as I told in a previous post, I picked a book called The Trojan Horse, by James Reeves and illustrated by Krystyna Turska as I thought it would prove to be an ideal counter part to the book I had brought with me.  The episode of the wooden horse is framed in quite a different way and is told through the character of Ilias, a grown man (at the time of telling) but who was aged ten when Troy fell.  He and his younger sister, Ida, escaped and now live far from their ruined former home.  In The Wooden Horse Paris and Helen fell in love, but in this version Ilias describes how Paris stole Helen and kept her prisoner in Troy.  Most of the war is glossed over, and it is really only the episode of how the horse appeared and was brought into Troy and the terrible consequences, that is told.  It is Ilias’ life that frames the episode rather than Helen’s and we are given an insider’s view on events.  As mentioned above I enjoy seeing how writers will encapsulate a particular myth, and particularly liked how these two books, which on the outside might lead one to thinking they would be similar, provide very different aspects of the story.  Incidentally neither of them include the episode related in The Odyssey (IV: 265-289) about Helen calling out to men within the horse using the voices of their wives.

Whilst many of the contributor’s shared books or items that they remembered being influences from their childhood, I realised that I don’t actually recall any particular book with a classical theme from when I was a child.  I feel a bit bereft!  I’m sure there must have been books on mythology, but I can’t pinpoint when my interest in the classical world began to emerge.  What I do remember well was in sixth form we were allowed to take Classical Studies (which we couldn’t do before then), so in the lower sixth we did the O level, and in the upper sixth the A level (only one year each).  We had the most wonderful teacher, Mrs Janet Cox, whom I found very inspiring.  I had obviously discovered the classical world before this point, but this was where I really started learning about it.  Having a teacher who loved her subject made it come alive for all of us.  She would also play music and bring in biscuits for us at break time, and there were classically themed posters on the walls of the classroom.

Incidentally, I also remember that she kept bees in her garden, and it is because of her that I joined The Green Party when still a teenager!

She taught Latin to a mere handful of students at lunchtimes (when I was doing O levels), sadly I never took this option!  It was probably not suggested to me as I wasn’t particularly good at French (the one language we all had to do), and at the time it never really occurred to me to request joining the class.  Grown up Karen is very sad that teenage Karen did not do this!!!!

I enjoyed the ‘show & tell’ and having the opportunity to hear about other people’s formative experiences and books, and have also relished having the opportunity to reflect on my own journey within Classics.  I am also keenly looking out for children’s books that retell Helen’s story, and also that of the Trojan Horse.


Leave a comment

Filed under Classics, Research

Finding classical treasure in the stacks: Our Mythical Childhood show and tell (part 3)

Here I will talk about the afternoon session of the ‘Show and Tell’ event at the University of Roehampton, held in association with the Our Mythical Childhood project, on 19th June 2018.

In the morning we had all brought along items to share, but in the afternoon we were given the chance to find new treasure from within the shelves of the University’s Archives and Special Collections.  The University archivist, Kornelia Cepok, showed us a variety of collections that had potential for us to find books with a classical theme or influence, including the Richmal Compton Collection. Richmal Crompton was a Classics teacher, and also daughter of a Classics master, and even though she is mainly remembered for the Just William books she also wrote a lot for adults too.

BenHurAs a librarian I was also impressed by the lovely electric rolling stacks, operated by a touch screen, and moving quietly and smoothly without the aid of human arm power! (and quite unlike the electric powered ones I used to have to use in the UWCM medical library which were quite monstrous in construction (think Frankensteinian levers), and so terrifying to use that most students didn’t dare!). But I digress…

It was difficult to know where to start, and how long to spend poring over various items in the stacks, however I was lucky and a few things leapt out at me.  The first item I chose was a copy of Ben Hur, and that really just for the cover. In the end I also chose two other books: The Trojan Horse by James Reeves, illustrated by Krystyna Turska (1968) and The story of the Odyssey by A. J. Church, with illustrations after Flaxman (1892).

stkarentrojanhorse2.jpgI picked The Trojan Horse as it had the same subject (and similar title) as the book I had brought to share, but was a very different interpretation of the story, being told from the viewpoint of a family within Troy, who were suffering due to the Greek attack.  Helen was not a focus at all.  But I also picked it because of the illustrations which I was really drawn to.  Krystyna Turska (1933-), was born in Poland; she spent time in a Russian concentration camp, before coming to England where she established her illustrating career.  Her style was perfect for myths and fairytales, and The Trojan Horse was not the only classical based work that she did.

stpmkaren1.jpgThe Story of the Odyssey was also illustrated but the pictures were done in the style of Greek vase paintings and were taken from John Flaxman’s designs. Flaxman (1755-1826) was a sculptor, draughtsman and ‘leading figure in British Neoclassicism’.  stpmkaren2.jpg

I didn’t take as many notes as in the morning, and didn’t quite catch what everyone’s choices were, but here is a selection of what the others pulled out of the stacks.

STpmRichard1Richard had found a copy of The Bronze Sword by Henry Treece (1965), part of a trilogy set in Roman Britian and centered on Boudicca. He had also found copies of Junior Bookshelf, a review periodical founded in 1936, and aimed at teachers and librarians. Richard pulled out the issue which reviewed The Bronze Sword, so we were able to hear how it was positively received.  He had also found a review for a Mary Renault book which wasn’t particularly well received, and the issue was raised about ‘gender’, and expectations from male and female authors.

STpmTony1Tony Keen (who joined us for the afternoon session) chose The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen, illustrated by Charles Keeping (1970), which turned out to be not about Poseidon as might be expected, but Hephaestus. We found the illustrations to be very interesting (although I didn’t take any photos of them), as even though a children’s book they appeared to feature nudity.  They are quite symbolic, and deliberately not based on Greek costume or vase paintings, and Keeping is quoted in Children’s Literature in Education 1(3):54 as saying that he used “a figurative art. There’s nothing else in it…except people, their emotions and their reactions to emotions.”  He aslso saw them as violent and cruel.

STpmNanciMinotaurNanci had picked The Hamish Hamilton book of Myths & Legends by Jacynth Hope-Simpson (1964), which turned out to also have illustrations by Krystyna Turska, and we all particularly liked the Minotaur who looked quite cuddly really! If I remember correctly we found that Theseus seemed to be exonerated for many actions in this version, in that deeds he is usually acribed – such as abandoning Ariadne – were here blamed on others, such as the fact that it was the sailors who sailed away forgetting her. He was very much being glorified as the hero.

STpmRobin1Robin had veered away from Greek myth and found The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Noel Streatfeild (1972).  This was a non-fiction book for children, and not something I had been aware of Streatfeild writing, being much more familier with her “shoes” books (e.g. Ballet Shoes).

Someone else (sorry can’t remember who) had chosen Richmal Crompton’s Narcissa (1941), it seemed only fitting for at least one of us to have chosen an item from Roehampton’s Crompton collection.  Although this book wasn’t based on a Greek myth, the main character Stella is portrayed as a narcissist, and the myth of Narcissus may indeed have been in Crompton’s mind.

In the morning many items brought to share had a direct emotional link to the person talking about them, often being their first introduction to the classical world when a child.  In the afternoon we were basing our choices on other responses; reactions to titles, covers, illustrations or recognition of an author.  We responded to different types of pictures, and found new connections to the classical world in books we had perhaps never heard of previously.  I have certainly taken note of several of the items that were discussed during the whole day, items I might want to add to my personal book collection.

The day itself proved to be extremely interesting and very rewarding.  I wish to thank Susan Deacy for organising it, for all the attendees for their contributions, and to Roehampton library and their Archives & Special Collections section for hosting.


Leave a comment

Filed under Classics, Research