Illuminated by the old Greek lightning

I’m sorry to read mostly tepid reviews for Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief this morning. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was rooting for it because I like the central conceit of the kids’ book series on which it’s based: that Mount Olympus is presently hidden on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building.

The idea is that the Olympian gods follow the centre of Western Civilization wherever it might migrate. Legions of young readers of author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels have thus been introduced to the intoxicating notion of a mythic continuity linking their culture to the ancient Greek world.

Anyone who has been exposed to a university campus in the past couple of decades knows how hard many professors have worked to erase the conviction that the democratic West of today is rooted in Greek and Roman antiquity. But, as the popularity of the Percy Jackson series suggests, that’s never going to work.

The movies might fail to fully capture the magic. No matter. For kids, there’s always going to be the timeless D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and newer offerings like Hugh Lupton’s excellent 2006 retelling for children of The Adventures of Odysseus. Grown-ups need not feel neglected with Robin Lane Fox’s 2006 The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian waiting to take you back to the source of so much of what matters to us.

The old Greek lightning just keeps striking.

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