Monday, November 2, 2015

George O'Connor's Olympians: Poseidon and the horse

G. O'Connor, Olympians: Poseidon, earth shaker
Neal Porter Books: New York, 2013
George O'Connor's graphic-novel treatments of Greek mythology caught my eye this weekend. I wish I had come to know them earlier! O'Connor attempts to work rather sophisticated questions about standard mythologies into a series he aims at a 9-to-14 year old audience. Though pitched at kids, grown-ups can probably enjoy The Olympians as well. This quick assessment of the series' fifth book Poseidon: earth shaker is supposed to convince the reader to look into the series as a whole.

A website created by the publisher promotes sales of the books. See

Horses are sacred to Poseidon. This puzzles O'Connor, and rightly so. The ancient Greeks prayed to Poseidon as "Pelagios, Asphaleios, and Hippios" (i.e. god of the sea, god of protection from earth-quake, and god of horses), according to Pausanias (Description of Greece 7.21.7). Poseidon's affiliation with horses in myth and in cult is ubiquitous. Poseidon is regarded as the direct progenitor of the horse in cults at Thessaly and Athens, where his semen spilt upon the rock engendered the first horse. The winged horse Pegasus is the direct offspring of Poseidon's mating with Medusa, born at the gorgon's decapitation. Pegasus lighted upon the earth with a prodigious hoofbeat and opened a fresh-water spring, Hippocrene, from which the Muses draw inspiration and fresh water. Appeasement of the gods at the end of the Trojan siege was effected by means of a horse. The human-voiced horse Arion is the offspring of Poseidon, sometimes in union with an earthborn Erinys and sometimes with the earth-goddess Demeter Erinys. It is Poseidon's essential characteristic as the god of the earth, the Earth Shaker, that associates him most naturally with chthonic entities such as the
earth-born horse.  (For more on this, see W. Burkert, Greek Religion (Harvard, 1985), 138 - 39.)
O'Connor, Poseidon p. 9, frm. 2

O'Connor's coverage of a broad set of Poseidon myths is impressive. Polyphemus and Odysseus, the
drawing of the Lots after the Titanomachy, Athena's contest for primacy in Athens, Arion's birth from Demeter, the Trojan Horse, how Theseus was both the son of Aegeas and of Poseidon, and so forth.

The audience of 9-to-14 year olds will not be too scandalized by naughtiness. No sexual nudity is explicitly drawn, though Poseidon throughout wears nothing more than a flowing loincloth. Ariadne is shown wearing one of those crazy topless
Poseidon's salt-water spring on
Acropolis, Poseidon p. 49 frm. 2
dresses that you might remember the "Minoan Snake Goddess" of Heracleion wearing in art history books; but O'Connor places captions and speaking-bubbles strategically throughout. If you are looking for such things, you'll notice them. Kids won't. Likewise, only very close scrutiny of some frames that depict naked youths running in a footrace reveals the depicted runners to be naked, and only then if you know what to look for.  The narrative of Aethra's unions with Theseus' two fathers is drawn (in the Poseidon part) as captionless silhouettes in a moonlight swim, unlikely to spark too many questions from youngsters. Still, O'Connor remains culturally correct in these moments.

Poseidon offers plenty of material for young geeks. I imagine my nephew poring over the genealogical tree inside the front cover. You can view it on the OLYMPIANSRULE site, also. The author's propensity to includes lots of myths in a linear narrative is appealing; plus it keeps them short. The amusing "Greek Notes" (note the strike-thru!) at the back of the book explain sometimes nuanced graphics within the narratives. I won't be surprised when so tired of seeing there!] It will be a welcome day when my students in the Myth class know their stuff from O'Connor and not from Rick Riordan's adaptations.
O'Connor, Poseidon p. 14 frm. 1
O'Connor starts showing up in footnotes of my college students' papers. [If only!... I'm

O'Connor's questions about the connection between Poseidon and the horse arise several times within his Poseidon book. He is clearly amused, but also intrigued. Several references to horses, visual and stated, recur in Poseidon. A discussion question (p. 74) asks "Why do you think the God of the Sea was also the God of Earthquakes? How about horses?" Several of the "Greek Notes" mention horses, e.g. "Page 9, Panel 2 [see panel at right, above]: Stallions. Poseidon really likes horses. More on this later."

According to O'Connor's "Bibliography" (p. 76), "without doubt, the single most valuable resource" for classical mythology is I heartily wish this clever purveyor of classical mythology were inclined to pursue more authoritative source materials than what is available on the internet. The author himself notes that is limited, in that "it's not quite complete, and it doesn't seem to be updated anymore." Still, it is delightful to see what results from O'Connor's  encounters. He does The Orphic Hymns (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2013)! ISBN 9781421408828] I'd like to see future volumes derive authority from authoritative source materials such as Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts.
George O'Connor from
admit that he has struggled to find the Orphic Hymn to Poseidon, even though it "was very hard to find in an actual book". [Next time use A.N. Athanassakis and B.M. Molkow, transs.

O'Connor's recommendations for further reading range very very broadly, from good recommendations "for younger readers" like D'Aulaires' Books of Greek Myths to (under Odysseus' blurb on the facing page) a recommendation for Joyce's Ulysses as "widely consider to be one of the greatest books in the English language." OK. That's a broad range!

If I were recommending Greek mythological books for young readers — and in fact I was asked just this weekend by a family member — I would be really comfortable watching George O'Connor's Olympians continue to fly off the shelves. I ordered the set for myself this morning!

—  RTM

By the way... Horses and plate-techtonics came up on Saturday's Weekend Morning Edition: click here.

George O'Connor's Olympian pantheon, from