Greek Myths by Olvia Coolidge is an excellent retelling of many stories from Greek mythology, including some famous classics like the twelve labors of Heracles, as well as other, lesser-known stories, such as the story of Admetus, the “Fortunate King.” I have read a number of volumes of Greek mythology for young people; however, this one has so many favorite stories and others that are unbelievably captivating. Olivia Coolidge herself makes this book be so addictive by her writing style.
I have rewritten a Greek Myth from the book as follows.
In the days when Greece was first being settled, Cecrops was king in Attica—a rugged, triangular little country surrounded by the sea on two sides, good mainly for goat farming and the culture of honeybees. Cecrops planned a great city here, around a steep rock that jutted from the plain a few miles inland. Down on the adjoining shore, there were two fine harbors, while around it spread great fertile country watered by two streams. The gods, always interested in the affairs of men, approved Cecrops’ idea and gave the new city their blessings, foreseeing that it would, in time, become one of the greatest cities of the world.
When the god Poseidon saw this, he declared at once, “This city will be a great naval power. As it relies on the sea, it must be under my care. I am the one who should rightfully be the patron god of the city.”
However, many other gods objected, especially the goddess Athene. “Great wars will surely be won by this city. It shall be a city of wisdom, as well as of the arts. These qualities come from me only, therefore I must take care of it,” decided the wise Athene.
Much time passed, and many claims were put forward in this fashion by many different gods, but at last, after much bickering, it was clear that the award must lie between grey-eyed Athene, goddess of wisdom, and the majestic emperor of the seas, Poseidon. Between these two gods, the other gods decided to have a contest. Each should produce some marvel in the Attic land, and each should promise some gift to the city that was to come. The greater gift would win the city.
The appointed day came, and the judges ranged themselves on the rock, as the two gods came before them. The twelve appointed judges were, some say, spirits of the Attic hills and rivers, while others maintain that they were the twelve Olympian gods. Be as it may, on one side stood Poseidon, with his flowing dark-blue beard and majestic stature, carrying in his hand the three-pronged trident with which he rules the waves. On the other side stood Athene, grey-eyed and serene, helmet on her golden head and spear and shield in her hands.
None made a noise; then the signal was given for Poseidon to begin. He raised his trident and struck the ground. Beneath the feet of the judges the earth was terribly shaken, and it split apart with a mighty rumbling sound before them. Then appeared a salt spring four miles inland where no water had ever appeared before—the marvel. The judges and spectators erupted in approval.
“This was my marvel,” proclaimed Poseidon in his booming voice, “and now hear my gift: I give you my power of supremacy over the seas—I shall bestow upon you a great empire, a mighty navy, famed shipwrights, and trading vessels which should make this town’s name known in every corner of the sea.”
One of the judges called out in Poseidon’s praise, “He must be the winner! What finer gift could we receive than this?”
“I fully agree—the salt spring and the earthquake are fine symbols of his power. What more powerful god could this city have as its protector?” exclaimed another.
“But wait!” interrupted a third. “Wait, and watch. Athene has not even started, and already you are jumping to conclusions!”
So Athene was given permission to start. She said nothing, but smiled gently to herself as she laid aside her spear and shield and, quietly kneeling down, appeared to plant something in the earth. Between her hands, as she worked, there gradually unfolded a little tree—a bush, rather—small and unimpressive, with grey-green leaves and grey-green berries about an inch in length. When it had grown to its full size, Athene stood up and looked at the judges. That was all.
The judges were silent. Was this all the power Athene would display? That would mean a unanimous declaration of Poseidon as the winner.
Poseidon himself glanced at the dusty-looking bush that had grown so quietly. He looked at the gaping hole in the earth that he had created with the thunder of earthquake, and he threw back his head and laughed. “This is all you will do?” he asked, laughing harder yet. Around the bay rumbled and re-echoed the laughter of the god like distant waves thundering on the rocks, while far out to sea in their deep, green caverns, the old sea gods, his subjects, sent a muffled answering roar. “A small shrub, something that grows ordinarily everywhere!” Poseidon laughed.
Presently, silence fell, and the quiet, serene voice of Athene spoke up to the assembled judges: “This little shrub will be known from now on as the olive. It is both my marvel and my gift to the city, at the same time. With these berries the poor man will flavor his coarse bread and goat’s-milk cheese. With scented oil that will come from these berries, the rich man will deck himself for the feast. Oil poured to the gods shall be among their favorite offerings. With the olive’s oil, the housewife will light her lamp and do her cooking, and the athlete will cleanse himself from dust and sweat. This is the ware merchants shall carry in the ships Poseidon spoke of. Moreover, I will make the people of this city skilled in pottery, so that the jars in which the oil is carried shall themselves be a marvel, and the city shall flourish and be famous, not only in trade but in the arts. And I shall protect the people of this city with my helmet, spear, and shield—the helmet shall protect their minds, the spear shall kill all ignorance, and the shield shall protect their souls.”
So finished the great goddess, and the judges cried out in surprise at the richness of her dull-looking gift.
“Why, the humble olive has much more use and value than the god Poseidon’s gift of naval power,” cried the first judge.
“We must make Athene our goddess!” cried the second.
“Yes, yes, we will,” exclaimed the others.
And so the prize was unanimously awarded to the wise goddess Athene, who called the city Athens. Poseidon’s words came true—Athens gained great naval power—but the olive, Athene’s gift, was the greatest possession of Athene’s city.