Didactic heroes
Masculinity, sexuality and exploration in the Argonaut story of Kingsley’s The Heroes
in Pasts at play
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Charles Kingsley's The Heroes: Greek Fairy Tales (1857) was dedicated to his own children for Christmas. A third of the book comprises a lengthy retelling of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. The prominence of Kingsley as didactic children’s author makes this an especially important adaptation. However, his religious, social and political concerns raise problematic questions for understanding his adaptation of the Argonauts.

Although ostensibly written to his young audience, significant details suggest extensive overlap with adult versions: arcane, scholarly editions as well as popular poetry, such as William Morris’s The Life and Death of Jason (1867), his first popular literary work. This novel-length narrative poem domesticated the return of the Argo with reference to the English Channel’s white cliffs, but also drew on classical and reference sources: empriere’s Classical Dictionary, Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica and Caxton’s translation of LeFèvre’s History of Jason.

This chapter grapples with analysing what is distinctively Victorian about these engagements with Greek myth and epic heroism, which self-consciously adopt classical traditions of storytelling, while promoting heroes as masculine role models. In the context of Kingsley’s preface, which explicitly claims Greek mythology as a universal childhood, this case study sheds new light on why Greek myth was considered so appealing to, and suitable for, children.

Pasts at play

Childhood encounters with history in British culture, 1750–1914


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