What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? That’s one of the most frequently-asked questions about my instrument, and the answer is: not much, and a whole lot. Once upon a time, the instruments differed slightly in form. But nowadays, the difference lies in the sound and the culture, as Jem Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, knew well, and as I’ve discovered:
It is not hard to sympathize with Simone Weil’s famous claim that “the true hero . . . of the Iliad is force.” The Prologue announces the action of the poem to be Achilles’s “wrath” and its repercussions, which include myriad d’algea—a “myriad of pains”—heaped on the heroes. And there are, indeed, a myriad of ways to die in the Iliad. You can be eviscerated, brained, decapitated, or crushed. You can get stabbed, sliced, shot, or rock-pounded from any angle.
With 2016 behind us, now is a good time to reflect. So we asked several of our staff members and contributing writers to share their favorite book that they read for the first time last year. Here are choices from Josh Gibbs, Brian Phillips, Lindsey Brigham, Matt Bianco, Brian Phillips, and David Kern.
It is nearly Christmas. Has any drama of history stirred as much music and poetry, art and imagination, as the stable-birth we celebrate this day? The ancient world could never stop chanting of the battles of Troy; but it is the Incarnation that has filled the mouths and hands of artists ever since Christ’s birth. Of all this abundance, Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe” occupies a mere minute-and-a-half. Yet in that breath of time, it offers musical and poetic metaphors of the Nativity that press listeners to wonder and worship at the paradoxes of the Incarnation.
So your students can give the right answers with deference and aplomb. They can promote with articulate clarity the correct worldview. And when they graduate, top of the class, their erudition will no doubt attract the most selective colleges.
But what about their habits and tastes?
Caught in the school year’s relentless current, and bracing against the looming rapids of holidays and vacation, teachers at this time of the year can drift so easily into the eddy of covering curriculum and marching through plans. But we must remember that it’s students, not books, we are really teaching, and that the most treasured classroom moments often come when we defer the question or assignment we’ve set before them to draw out the confusions and complaints they are whispering among them.
A maze of mismatched tables and chairs hosts a dozen simultaneous conversations. Some folks hunch forward, both elbows on the table, in fervent discussion; others lean back in the chairs, the better to illustrate their talk with expansive gesturing. On the tabletops, in hands, and (every now and again) spilled out onto the floor are cups of strong brown brew, wafting their steam and scent throughout the coffeehouse. And wedged in the corner, content and well-caffeinated, some musicians are plucking and strumming and crooning away.
Until the time Plato began teaching, it is likely that the art associated with persuasive speaking in law courts and legislative assemblies had no technical name. Those who taught the skills of persuasion called themselves sophists, wise ones, and purported to teach wisdom in the form of powerful words. In Plato’s Gorgias, for example, Gorgias, sophist extraordinaire, not only boasts of being able to answer any question to his inquirer’s satisfaction, but to do so in as many or as few words as the inquirer would wish.
In the world of classical education, we talk about “Great Books.” However, other than a handful of obvious works (those by Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and a few others in particular) there is much debate about which books should actually fall in the category of “Great Book”. Which raises the question: what does it mean for a book to be great - is it an actual measurable category of assessment? To find out, I asked a couple of people who have thoughts on the matter, ostensibly anyway. What’s their conclusion? Well, I’ll let you decide. Here is their conversation.