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Homer: The Iliad & The Odyssey by Gillian Cross

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It must have been one of those times when we realised we did not want our wee lad growing up thinking that all heroes and legends came from the Marvel universe… especially as I myself never really liked the super hero trope when I was a kid. So thinking he might enjoy some classic tales, read some really epics stories, in my infinite wisdom I thought I’d go grab Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for some light bedtime reading!

Now if you’ve ever given the Penguin Classics versions a go, neither is easy bed time reading, especially for what was at the time a five year old! What’s more, the books do not come with pictures… definitely not a winner if you’re five, so after a lot of looking online for versions that’d be suitable for both him and us, I came across Gillian Cross’ set Homer: The Iliad & The Odyssey, with illustrations by Neil Packer. The reviews seemed good and being fully illustrated, it seemed even if the retelling was not that great, at least there were the pictures to talk about.

When the boxed set arrived I was more than impressed. At first glance the hardcover books were beautifully illustrated and Packer’s modern interpretation of the ancient Greek style both bold and graphic, rests on a restrained colour palette that delivers a true feeling of antiquity. What’s more, my fears of them maybe being a bit too mature in style for the boy were put to rest when he became enthralled with them from the get go – the illustrations having enough detail and interest to capture and hold his, and my, attention.

The retelling by Cross of what can be long winded and involved stories, as one would expect from such great epics, is skilful – she seemingly has managed to recapture the simplicity and interest inherent to what were verbal narratives. With careful and thoughtful analysis, Cross has distilled both books to their bare essentials, keeping enough depth so that to even an adult reader they make for a good read, yet are simple enough that a five year old can happily follow along. All the characters and gods are there, all the Greek names, but it’s all presented in such a way that, other that the pronunciation of some of the names, one does not think that they are reading tales that originated well over two thousand years ago.

I often think that the quality of something lies in how it stands the test of time. And while Cross and Packer present stories that have done more than that, it may not hold for their own interpretation…

It’s now been two years since I bought this set and I can’t think of a month gone by where they boy has not at very least glanced through one or both of the books. They have been read to him numerous times, with no embellishments required to make the retelling more interesting, and his (and my) fascination with Packer’s illustrations has only grown; something that can not be said for most of the books we have bought over the years. If anything, it could be said he’s growing into the books and as they have been designed with a younger audience in mind, as his reading becomes more confident, he has begun to read them for himself.

Homer: The Iliad & The Odyssey, as presented by Cross and Packer can not be recommended enough. While they are intended for a younger audience I can thoroughly recommend them to young and old – their purchase are worth it for Neil packer’s illustrations alone.


Originally published over at Gerard Thomas illustration

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