d’aulairie’s book of greek myths

taking a break from getting my paintings scanned in & printed for my etsy store. yes, it’s driving me crazy. painting i love, the digital fiddling to color correct them for print i don’t.

now that I have a child I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that shaped my life. “D’Aulairie’s Book of Greek Myths” is one of these. a large heavily illustrated book full of adventure, it captured my imagination & retains it to this day.
growing up in southern California, to say that the dominant aesthetic was blonde & tan is an understatement. to be anything else was to be outside, an alien. the D’Aulairie’s illustrations appealed to me precisely bc they were alien. mediterranean culture was world’s away from the homogeneous suburbia surrounding me. they opened a door into dreams of cobalt seas, fields of golden grain, & monsters lurking in the hills… click on pictures to make bigger.

Iris, the rainbow messenger in her dress of dew. Her bright black eyes caught my attention. Finally, i had seen someone like myself represented in a book.

Aphrodite, goddess of love. This picture was one of my favorites. I held this page up to our living room window & placing paper over it traced her outline. Her pose was perfect. In my world she became Cinderella coming down the stairs in her ball gown, her black eyes shining.
The D’Aulaire’s created their images using acetate sheets to approximate the look of stone lithography. Look closely & you can see where the colors overlap to create their beautiful color harmonies.

Artemis, goddess of the hunt. 1 of my 2 favorite childhood goddesses. There’s so much going on in this picture to delight. The night creatures abound~ the owl, the squirrels, the tree nymphs, the dancing circle of mosquitoes. The idea that everything is alive & sentient spoke to me & seemed self-evident. The moon lies reflected in the still pool while Artemis walks away, completely unconcerned, after punishing the hunter Actaeon. The text reads, “Artemis was a cold & pitiless goddess.” Those words thrilled me as a child. I loved & aspired to her self-possession.

Persephone, goddess of the spring & queen of the dead. My other favorite goddess & the one psychologically I was most like. As a shy child I dreamed of being swept away by a dark handsome man. My 2 favorite movies at this time of my life were: “Wuthering heights” & “Rebecca”. I proudly proclaimed that I was going to marry Lawrence Olivier when I grew up. I was 6.

Persephone in the underworld. The poplars, the roots growing through the sky, & the silence of the land of the dead.
persephone was originally named “kore” {koree or koreh} which means, maiden, young girl, & bride. she became “persephone” when she fulfilled her destiny as the queen of the dead. persephone means, “bringer of destruction, bringer of holy sacrifice, & ineffable maiden. she, along with her mother, presided over the eleusinian mysteries.

Surreal in its details. Demeter & Persephone reunite amid giant flowers. Again the owl of the night appears as well as a moth. I had already decided that Persephone had deliberately eaten 6 pomegranate seeds in order to spend part of the year with Hades bc she had fallen in love with him. I loathed undeserved unhappy endings.

Selene, goddess of the moon. The night as a curtain from behind which Selene watches the beautiful shepherd Endymion sleep. She petitions Zeus to grant him eternal sleep so that he may stay young forever. Again, it’s the tiny details like the satyr chasing the nymph in the background that add to the story.

The great god pan. A beautiful 2 page spread showing the Grecian countryside at night. The text reads, “In Selene’s magic light, river-gods rose from silvery streams to inspect their river beds, & hills trembled under the hoofs of wild centaurs. Laughing nymphs & bleating satyrs danced to the music of Pan, god of nature, master of them all.” Even now these words fill me with secret delight.

Ariadne asleep on Naxos. She wears a Cretan gown (slightly modified for modesty). Dionysus presents her with a crown he will later place in the sky as the constellation, “corona borealis”.

Orpheus. Again, everything is alive & capable of feeling. The bluebells cry, carrots rise from the earth to weep, & rocks roll closer, tears streaming down their faces. Not that any of that will save poor doomed Orpheus.

Helen. The most arresting image in the book. As troy burns & heroes die, witless Helen combs her hair & gazes inward.

All things must pass~

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Betty, this is amazing! I need to buy this book immediately. Would you be interested in doing a write up about it for our children's book blog?

  2. Adele says:

    This was one of my favorites too as a child. Funny thing is… I found your blog because I remembered so clearly the picture of Iris being in color, and when I went to purchase it for my own children I was shocked to see so many pages (including Iris) in that bichrome style. I am sure my memory colored the pages, but I had to do a search to see if there was another edition of the book with more color!
    Thanks for showing so many of the pictures here.

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