When I was seven years old, in 1951, this is what I was reading. There wasn't much of anything else around at the time. I didn't come to Enid Blyton properly till I was about eight, in North Borneo. While I lived in Nigeria, from 1950 - 1952 or early 1953, I mostly read OUR ISLAND STORY (and I've written about this experience on this blog in the past. Here is the link: http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/blog-post.html) and a book called TALES OF TROY by Andrew Lang. It's not the kind of thing you'd think of giving a seven-year-old to read nowadays but I adored it and could recite long passages from the book off by heart. I read it all the time, eagerly, avidly, and I fell in love from that moment with the story of the Trojan War.
On every single recto page are the words: ULYSSES, SACKER OF CITIES, almost as though this were a kind of subtitle to the legend on the verso pages: TALES OF TROY. This obviously planted something in my mind because I've always taken the side of the Trojans in the war that lasted so many years and that ended with the most famous city destruction of them all, though there have been a few contenders more recently for this dubious honour.
One of the chief attractions of this book is the illustrations. I'm putting up two examples. This one because I used to love declaiming the words that accompany the drawing of the mortally-wounded Paris, throwing himself on Oenone's mercy. I'm going to quote the words I loved so much, just because I still love them. "Lady, despise me not and hate me not, for my pain is more than I can bear. Truly it was by no will of mine that I left you lonely here, for the Fates that no man may escape led me to Helen. Would that I had died in your arms before I saw her face! But now I beseech you in the name of the Gods, and for the memory of our love, that you will have pity on me and heal my hurt and not refuse your grace and let me die here at your feet."
Oenone's expression conveys perfectly what she's feeling: a mixture of still-burning love, pity for a wounded man and a good bit of "I'm not going to be tricked into listening to your blandishments, you bastard!"
The picture of Helen on the walls of Troy, pointing something out to Priam, was my favourite drawing of all. I think it's the dress. I just longed to own one precisely like that and it's still my benchmark for all 'classical' garments.
So this is where my interest in all things classical began. I went on to read Virgil's Aenied Book 2 and then Book 4 while at school. I didn't study Ancient Greek but read translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I read, as student of French, LA GUERRE DE TROIE N'AURA PAS LIEU by Jean Anouilh. And in the fullness of time I wrote my own novel, TROY, which is the story of five normal teenagers who just happened to have grown up during the time that their city was besieged by Ulysses. And we know who he was, do we not? The Sacker of Cities. It's a story that's endured for thousands of years and every time someone retells it, it lives again. I am proud to have taken my place in a long line of writers who've been inspired by this tale.
P.S. TROY is out of print, but probably findable in a library near you.