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How Ancient Greece and Rome influence today’s kids’ books

September 11, 2015

percy jackson greek heroesThe recent release of Rick Riordan’s new book Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes is a reminder of the appeal of the rich stories, images and ideas of the classical world.

In fact, many children’s books are inspired in some way by Ancient Greece and Rome.

Just think of all the wise owl characters in children’s stories: the owl was a symbol for Athena, the Greek god of wisdom.

“If anyone knows anything about anything,” said Bear to himself,

“it’s Owl who knows something about something.”


Artemis Fowl

Artemis FowlThe Artemis Fowl books were influenced by Greek and Roman names and concepts as well as myths and folklore from author Eoin Colfer’s native Ireland.

Colfer told the Reading is Fundamental website that “In Ireland myths and legends are a big part of the culture. We are taught them in school. I developed an interest in fantasy stories as early as five—when my mom and dad would tell us stories of great heroes, dragons and fairies. So my parents are to blame…or to thank.”

And of the inspiration for Artemis’ name, he says “When I came up with the character, I wove him into a story I was already writing about fairies. The name Artemis comes from the Greek goddess of the hunt and means ‘the hunter’ when it is given to a boy. I thought this was quite apt.”

You’ll find classical references in various other character’s names, such as Julius Root which recalls Julius Caesar.



Harry Potter

Harry Potter Philosopher's StoneJ.K. Rowling studied Classics at university (in a commencement address to students at Harvard University she revealed ‘I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all the subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.’)

Her Harry Potter books have too many classical references to count, for example:

The spells throughout the books have Latin roots, from ‘crucio’ (I torture) to ‘accio’ (I summon).

There are classical references in character names: the word draco means “serpent” or “dragon”, and in ancient Athens the lawmaker Draco was responsible for encoding a range of laws which were known to be particularly strict: the theft of a piece of fruit or sleeping in a public place were punishable by death, and other minor offences could see a person turned from a free citizen to a slave. Hence the term “draconian”.

And Fluffy, Hagrid’s 3-headed dog, is modelled on Cerberus, the dog which guards the Underworld. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Professor Quirrel plays a song to send Fluffy to sleep, just as Orpheus played a harp to Cerberus.


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