Coming from Northern California, where my beloved Pacific Ocean is often a murky green or fathomless purple-gray, I always found the “wine-dark” seas of Homer resonant, fitting; until I remembered that Homer was writing about the sparkling blue gemstone that is the Mediterranean, set within its circlet of land. Wine-dark? Simple scansion cannot account for this description, as it does for so many Homeric epithets. Rather, it appears that Homer called the ocean “wine-dark” not only because of scansion, but because the very word “blue” did not exist yet in Greek.
My husband and I have spent more time walking in our neighborhood together since March of 2020, when much of our city shut down. Rooting ourselves more deeply to home and place has been an unexpected blessing.
I am reading Homer. Each day, I pick up the book and think of a beautiful thing I share with all people who read Homer: time to read Homer.
Several things are needful for a contemplative life, and all of them plague me with guilt. For a quiet place, a quiet mind, and a worthy subject, all three, I am deeply thankful. Of their fragility I am sorely aware.
A common theme I encounter in conversations with other home educators each spring, and often into the summer months, concerns preparation for the upcoming year. I’ve been classically homeschooling for over twenty-five years, and the liturgy of this assessing and planning season is an integral part of my own life, too—as fundamental to it as preparing for both daily needs and important yearly celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
We often get asked about the best books on education. So I asked around the office a bit. Here's what some of the folks on our team had to say.
In the first portion of our excursion through the sticky saying that we discover in Homer’s Achilles I explored the idea that we’re not as different from Achilles as we think. Hearkening back to Bespaloff (On the Iliad), we might at this point be able to recognize that while in spirit we admire Hektor, more often than not in action we emulate Achilles. For confirmation, we only need to survey our society in which appearances, wealth, fame, brash self-assertion, and power are our golden calves.
The marriage bed of Odysseus and Penelope gives us one of the most powerful images in Homer’s Odyssey. Carved from a living olive tree still rooted in the ground, it symbolizes the centrality of marriage to the health and preservation of a good society. Odysseus’s struggle to return to this bed and his slaughter of the usurpers who would take his place there form a satisfying climax to one of history’s greatest stories.
Many literary images have taken up residence in my life: laughing Lucy tossed into the air, safely caught by Aslan’s velvety paws; a gaunt Hamlet confronting a weird, haunting specter; the lovely Scheherazade, spinning a thousand tales for the Persian Šāhe Šāhān (King of Kings); a slave boy, answering questions posed by a curious man drawing figures in the sand; Margaret’s tears gently falling upon a golden carpet of leaves . . .
In response to a student petition, the Yale University English faculty recently voted to “decolonize the English department” by rearranging their course requirements to minimize exposure to, among others, Shakespeare and Chaucer. New course requirements mandate that undergraduate students choose three out of four core courses, in which only one includes Chaucer and Shakespeare, while another includes Milton.
The best literature teachers rely on classic books, but how can you tell a classic from a non-classic? One popular answer to this question is that you have to wait because it takes time to identify one. You must wait and see which books manage to transcend the concerns of their own time and place and speak to the hearts of people from other times and places; which books, in other words, address universal themes in universally compelling ways.