The Children's Homer
Homer was a staple of the schoolroom in antiquity, used to teach reading, grammar, and rhetoric. Despite concerns on the part of early Christians about teaching the works of pagan authors, allegorical interpretations made it possible to extract moral and ethical lessons from Homeric myth and assured survival of the texts into the modern era.
As attitudes toward childhood began to change, a new genre of books written for children began to emerge. Designed to entertain and delight – as well as instruct – these often drew on folktales and mythology, The Iliadand the Odyssey became popular sources of stories that would appeal to children's love of adventure, heroic characters, and myths: the Abbé Fénelon's Les Avantures de Télémaque fils d'Ulysse (1699) was so successful that it was translated into English the following year.
Children's book publishing expanded rapidly in eighteenth-century England, stimulated by changes in the book trade and a growing middle class. Writers of moral tales – many of them women – emphasized religious and didactic principles including patience, perseverance, reason and prudence, hard work, and self-improvement, while Romantic authors encouraged stories – folk legends, myths, and ballads -- that stimulated a child's imaginative faculties. Charles Lamb's Adventures of Ulysses, published in 1808, is typical of the liberties taken to condense and self-censor such tales to eliminate descriptions and behaviors unsuitable for children.
Retellings and adaptations of classic literature for children remain a staple of the industry. Versions of the Iliadand the Odyssey have been produced in handsome editions, comic books, and pop-up books, by noted authors for both children and adults. Illustrations -- always an essential element of the overall design and conception in children's books -- plot abridgement, and character simplification all help focus attention on the action, ensure the enduring appeal of the stories to children of all ages and all eras.