Greek myths for 4-year-olds

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My daughter parks her head in my arm pit, gets under her covers and is ready. In German, I begin:

So Zeus told Prometheus to re-people the earth with human beings, because all the mortals had died in the big war that he, Zeus, had fought and won against the Titans. So Prometheus made people out of clay. But they were cold and dumb. So he asked Zeus for some fire from Mount Olympus.

‘Sorry, that’s just for gods,’ said Zeus.

‘Ok, sorry,’ said Prometheus. Then he stole the fire when Zeus wasn’t looking and gave it to the new human beings, who suddenly warmed up, started cooking, started thinking and building huts and tools.

Zeus noticed and got angry.

So the humans started sacrificing their animals to the gods to appease them. But Prometheus, who was on the humans’ side and saw how hungry they were, said ‘Hey, do it this way: Put the bones and crap on one side and wrap it in fat. Put the meat on the other side and throw some fur on it so that it looks like leftovers. Then let the gods choose one of the two piles.’

The gods chose, and gods can be dumb, so they chose the bones wrapped in fat, and for once the humans had enough to eat.

But Zeus again noticed and now got really, really mad. He had Prometheus chained to a rock where an eagle ate his liver which then grew back at night so that the eagle could rip it out again the next day, and the next and the next. Wonderful.

How a 4-year-old hears this

Too gruesome for a 4-year old? Oh, no.

My daughter loves the Greek myths and insists on a few every night as part of her bedtime ritual. And not only does she get these stories at some simple, deep, archetypal level, she extracts very interesting and quite sophisticated insights about life. Such as:

4-year old: But Prometheus only meant well. He did something good. Didn’t the gods know that?

Dad: Oh yes, they knew that. But they were still angry, because they were vain.

4-year old: Gods can do whatever they like.

Dad: That’s right. And they’re a silly as people, and that’s how the Greeks explained all the stuff that happens in the world.

She got it. And I felt great. A few days ago, I talked to a child psychologist about this, and she said that children connect to myths and folk tales such as Hansel and Gretel so well precisely because those stories are archetypal, even and especially when they strike us as gruesome. We don’t give kids enough credit. It’s a mistake to tell them only sweet nonsense that amounts to a lie about life and eventually bores them. All within reason, of course. The child shows the way.

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7 thoughts on “Greek myths for 4-year-olds

  1. What if Prometheus were a brave and cute puppy chained to a rock? You might have trouble saying good night. Prometheus was an old guy. After his liver gets eaten for the third time, it’s like, what else is on? I’m reading aloud a kids’ book called ‘The Underneath.’ It’s a Newbury winner. Very artistic. Utterly sad. I’m sure it’s archetypal, but it makes me think that framing the archetypal story for children is important. I mean, if you want to give a small kid bad dreams, think Old Yeller or Bambi.

  2. THE KINDLY JUDGE AND LITTLE EFFIE

    A Kindly Judge (of the Chancery Division) Found himself Confronted by a Difficult Problem. Was Little Effie (a Ward of Court) to go to School, or Not?

    Counsel Representing Little Effie’s Grandmother Contended that Little Effie, by Reason of her Nervous temperament, was not Fitted for Contact with the Rough Companions whom she would Doubtless Encounter at the Proposed Educational Establishment.

    The Advocate Voicing the Opinions of the Maiden Aunt Took the Line that Little Effie was a perfectly Normal and Healthy Child who would Derive Immense Benefit from the Gaiety of School Life.

    The Kindly Judge Wisely Suggested that Before Reading the Affidavits he should Interview Little Effie in his Private Room.

    When Little Effie Presented herself the Kindly Judge (who was a Family Man) Found himself Attracted by her Cropped Head and her large Blue Eyes. To Put Little Effie Completely at her Ease the Kindly Judge Invited her to Try on his Wig and to Observe the Effect in his Looking-Glass. After a Pleasant Little Chat the Kindly Judge Resumed his Wig and Returned to court. Counsel Thereupon Set to Work.

    “A Month Ago,” ran Paragraph One of the Grandmother’s Affidavit, “Effie Suffered from a bad Attack of Ring-Worm and her Head had to be Shaved.” The Kindly Judge forthwith Adjourned the Proceedings sine die, and Sent his Clerk Out for a Bottle (Large Size) of Condy’s Fluid.
    MORAL. – Read the Affidavits First

    (“Forensic Fables” by “O” , 1926)

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