As classical Christian educators, we know why our students should read Homer. But that doesn’t tell us what exactly they should take away from these profound myths, these stories both classical and pagan. What caveats, frameworks, and hermeneutical habits should we model for them? In particular, how should they be guided in assessing the character of pagan heroes? Odysseus as Christ-figure offers a useful context for pondering these questions.
New sounds rang through the old cathedrals: Lutheran chorales and Reformed Psalm-singing proclaimed the Protestants’ conviction that congregations should participate in worship as fully as possible. Yet simultaneously, composers faithful to Rome labored to craft gloriously intricate music through which they hoped to offer praise worthy of a God of infinite majesty. Of these latter, none was more famous, nor perhaps more masterful, than Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
The idea of an interconnected and structured universe finds its root in the creative order of an Almighty God who made the heavens and the earth.
When I met the soundtrack of Hamilton, the massively popular Broadway musical that has taken the world by storm, I was astonished. I listened to borrowed CD’s on my commute to work at Messiah College where I teach academic writing, poetry, and creative writing. Never mind what the day held, I hungrily attended to these songs about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, waiting to hear what would happen next in the story and often having to force myself out of the car after the quarter hour.
Angelina Stanford and Tim McIntosh are two of our best friends here at CiRCE - and two of our favorite people to discuss books with. That's why when we were discussing who should co-host our Close Reads podcast they quickly jumped to the top of the list. One year later we've spent hours and hours discussing shorts stories and novels and laughing uproariously at our own terrible jokes. But then we got to thinking about what it actually means to read something closely. The show is called Close Reads but what do we mean when we use those words.
Dating to sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries, Beowulf is the oldest surviving old English long poem. It corresponds to a period in English history where Anglo-Danish people made up a large portion of the British Isles’—a multiethnic makeup which is reflected in the story itself—and its style and theme are planted in the Germanic heroic tradition. However, and despite its use of some Norse pagan symbolism, it has some explicitly Christian components.
Children today (and perhaps adults in the general populace as well) are often not drawn to what they need, but to what is right in front of them. Truth, goodness, and beauty are available and can be found in nature, great literature, works of art, music, and such, but amusement and frivolity are available as well—and are even more easily accessible. Our parents’ generation had the T.V. We have streaming services, and Facebook, and YouTube, and Instagram plus 500 cable channels we don’t need.
We classical Christian educators have little trouble giving reasons for reading the Iliad. Despite its pervasive violence and darkness, it gave birth to much of the Greco-Roman and English literary traditions. Homer established the Western canons of storytelling, and his epic poems make us grapple with ideas and problems central to the human condition. As C. S. Lewis would say, reading Homer “enlarges our being,” and “old books” like the Iliad “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.”
As the school year comes to a close many of us are faced with sending high school graduates off into the wide world. The young people in whom we have invested so much time and energy will soon be on their own, more or less. Most of these young people will head off to college. Still others are in the midst of college searches and SATs and planning for the future. In both cases, the process can seem never-ending, like filling out paperwork for an insurance company or paying taxes. And, in the end, who knows if the right decision was made. Did these students choose the right college?
We’ve all experienced that “problem” student, the one who just pushes our buttons, who drives us crazy and makes us want to go home and curl up on the couch with a good book and abandon all hope. Who makes us feel like a terrible teacher. Sometimes this student is the child who lives in our home and shares that same couch. Certainly this varies from student to student and situation to situation, but when you run into a student like this, how do you avoid throwing your hands up in the air and throwing in the towel?