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Children of the Dawn Old Tales of Greece: The Classics Book
by Elsie Finnimore Buckley



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The aim of this volume is to present, in a form suitable for young readers, a small selection from the almost inexhaustible treasure-house of the ancient Greek tales, which abound (it is needless to say) in all Greek poetry, and are constantly referred to by the prose-writers. These stories are found, whether narrated at length, or sometimes only mentioned in a cursory and tantalising reference, from the earliest poets, Homer and Hesiod, through the lyric age, and the Attic renaissance of the fifth century, when they form the material of the tragic drama, down to the second century b.c., when Apollodorus, the Athenian grammarian, made a prose collection of them, which is invaluable. They reappear at Rome in the Augustan age (and later), in the poems of Vergil, Ovid, and Statius—particularly in Ovid's "Metamorphoses." Many more are supplied by Greek or Roman travellers, scholars, geographers, or historians, of the first three centuries of our era, such as Strabo, Pausanias, Athenæus, Apuleius and Ælian. The tales are various—stories of love, adventure, heroism, skill, endurance, achievement or defeat. The gods take active part, often in conflict with each other. The heroes or victims are men and women; and behind all, inscrutable and inexorable, sits the dark figure of Fate. The Greeks had a rare genius for storytelling of all sorts. Whether the tales were of native growth, or imported from the East or elsewhere—and both sources are doubtless represented—once they had passed through the Greek hands, the Greek spirit, "finely touched to fine issues," marked them for its own with the beauty, vivacity, dramatic interest, and imaginative outline and detail, which were never absent from the best Greek work, least of all during the centuries that lie between Homer and Plato. The eleven tales here presented from this vast store are (as will be seen) very various both in date, character, and detail; and they seem well chosen for their purpose. The writer of these English versions of ancient stories has clearly aimed at a terse simplicity of style, while giving full details, with occasional descriptive passages where required to make the scene more vivid; and, for the same end, she has rightly made free use of dialogue or soliloquy wherever the story could thus be more pointedly or dramatically told. The first story, called "The Riddle of the Sphinx," gives us in brief the whole Theban tale, from King Laius and the magical building of the city, to the incomparable scene from Sophocles' last play, describing the "Passing of Œdipus." It even includes the heroic action of Antigone, in burying with due rites her dead brother, in spite of the tyrant's threats, and at the cost of her own life. No tale was more often treated in ancient poetry than this tragedy of Thebes. Homer and Hesiod both refer to it, Æschylus wrote a whole trilogy, and Sophocles three separate dramas, on this theme. Euripides dealt with it in his "Phœnissæ," which survives, and in his "Œdipus and Antigone," of which a few fragments remain. And several other poets whose works are lost are known by the titles of their plays to have dealt with the same subject. One other tale in this selection rests in large measure on the Attic drama—namely, the story of Alcestis, the fourth in this series. As far as we know, Euripides alone of the ancients treated this theme, in his beautiful and interesting play "Alcestis," which is here closely followed by our author. The past history of Admetus, the king, which Euripides briefly summarises in the prologue, is here dramatized, and adds much interest to the story, including as it does the Argonauts' visit to Pelias, and the romantic imaginary scene of the king's first meeting with Alcestis.







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