Leadership in Children’s Books about Classical History and Myth (Part 3) by Katerina Volioti

This blog post, of which this is the third of three parts, emerges from my talk for the workshop “Mythology and Education 2020” at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, on 18 February. This work falls within my research for the OMC project. I draw inspiration from my current job as Classical Art Historian at the University of Roehampton, but also from my previous studies at the Saïd Business School and employment in the IT and oil industries. In the first part, I introduce the books about the Classical past and my argument about connective leadership. In the second part, I discuss leadership styles borrowing models from management, especially those of business guru Charles Handy. In this third part, I examine more books and how their mythic and historic leaders lead through teamwork.


I am hugely grateful, first and foremost, to Professor Amy C. Smith, as well as to Professors Susan Deacy, Nathan Harter and Katarzyna Marciniak for reading and commenting on earlier versions. My thanks extend to Eirini Dermitzaki of Papadopoulos Publishing for permission to publish images of front covers and of the head offices, as well as to Olga Strycharczyk for putting together the web version so wonderfully.

Part 3: Connecting Leaders in Preschool Education

In the first part of this blog post, I highlighted the need for connective leadership to face global challenges in today’s world. In the second part, I discussed three personality types (tough battler, logical thinker, and friendly helper) and Charles Handy’s four organizational cultures – Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysos – each of which utilizes different personality types. Here, I argue that Philippos Mandilaras’ and Natalia Kapatsoulia’s books for young children present mythic and historic leaders that act like friendly helpers within teamwork environments. These connecting leaders seem to recall Handy’s Athena culture.

Fig. 1: Απόλλωνας και Άρτεμη [Apollo and Artemis], from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

In Apollo and Artemis, the two gods are independent spirits, but they also make a team (Fig. 1). Mandilaras writes the two join forces to win over the Giant (Tityos) [my translation, «τον γίγαντα νικούν οι δυο τους ενωμένοι» in Greek]. It appears that we have an Athena-type project here.

In the books Theseus and Herakles, the two heroes stand out for their physical strength, strong determination and high intelligence (Figs. 2 and 3). Yet, they do not exemplify Zeus and Dionysos leadership styles.

Fig. 2: Ο Θησέας [Theseus], from the series Greek Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

Theseus, in particular, makes a perfect friendly helper. He kills the robbers, the Marathon bull, and the Minotaur. He takes risks because he is a friendly helper, rather than a logical thinker. The people of Athens consider it illogical for Theseus to sail to Crete, but he goes. And when in Crete, he listens to Ariadne carefully, as if he operates within an Athena context that respects gender equality.

Fig. 3: Ο Ηρακλής [Herakles], from the series Greek Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

Herakles has an Apollo-type sense of duty, as he fights beasts and monsters. He is strong and determined, but also compassionate. The book closes with Herakles being immortalised. Up on Mount Olympos, Mandilaras writes that Herakles listens carefully to people’s troubles [my translation, «των ανθρώπων ακούει τα βάσανα με προσοχή» in Greek].

Fig. 4: Ο Δούρειος Ίππος [The Trojan Horse], from the series Greek Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

The Trojan Horse is a tale that epitomises the value of connective leadership. Odysseus comes up with an ingenious idea, but he does not operate in a Dionysos-type manner. Rather, he consults Agamemnon, as if they are working in an Athena-type organization. What matters in the rest of the book is the discipline of the Achaeans inside the horse and more Achaeans from the boats. All these soldiers come together as a team to burn Troy.

Fig. 5: The Battle of Marathon, from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

The Battle of Marathon emphasizes group action by the Athenian soldiers, rather than Miltiades’ leadership. This is not surprising given the context of the book. The Persian King exemplifies Zeus-type authoritarian leadership, while the Greek city states with their assemblies and bottom-up decision-making processes resemble Athena-type organizations.

Fig. 6: Leonidas and the Battle at Thermopylae, from the series My First Mythology, ©Papadopoulos Publishing [source].

In Leonidas and the Battle at Thermopylae, we learn that Leonidas was born to be a great king, that is, a born leader. Yet, as the narrative progresses, he is portrayed as a leader who consults his soldiers, in an Athena-type manner. The Greek soldiers want Leonidas to be their leader. Leonidas clearly leads through his team and it makes sense that his loyal soldiers are ready to die for him.

The portrayal of gods, heroes and mortals by Mandilaras and Kapatsoulia in each of these children’s books emphasizes connecting leaders. The mythical characters are unique in different ways, super-intelligent in the case of Odysseus and super-strong in the case of Herakles. Yet, they wish to relate well to others, not to lead by standing out from the crowd. The historical characters do not possess super-natural powers but seek rather to build consensus that is conducive to the success of great military and political plans.

Preschoolers are offered behavioural models that inspire them to work well within a team, to lead through the team, and to be problem-solvers, in a way that is close to Charles Handy’s Athena organizational culture. The story of Classical myth and history is retold in a manner that is aligned with contemporary agendas about gender equality and collaboration, highlighting that there is scope in preschool education to shape tomorrow’s connecting leaders.

Adults who read these books to young children are also made to rethink about the relevance of Classics, and of the Humanities more broadly, as a resource of wisdom for building leadership qualities. Such qualities will always be of use in many instances in one’s personal and professional life. It is under crisis though that connecting leaders can make a difference. In the current coronavirus pandemic several political leaders, including the female premiers of New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, and Norway, have been praised nationally and internationally for their effective leadership, as highlighted in an opinion piece by the New York Times. Their leadership has been both decisive and compassionate. The combination of these two unique qualities make an even stronger call for connective leadership now and in the future.

Post by Katerina Volioti, placed by Olga Strycharczyk in coll. with Dorota Rejter.

You can read Katerina’s other posts here.