Greek myths for 4-year-olds


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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