Herodotus tells us of the story of Croesus, who is bound on a pyre about to be burned alive. Right as the fire is lit, Croesus remembers the words of Solon, and calls out loud, “oh, Solon, Solon – you were right!”. Watch the video to find out what happens next!
Ready, set, Scribenda!
Put your thinking cap on, and write an essay in answer to the question below! The winning essay answering the question will be featured in the first issue of our magazine, Aristeia, and receive hardback, bilingual, Loeb Editions of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, as well as a $50 Amazon gift card!
“DO WE EVER OUTGROW FAIRYTALES?”
How to enter:
- Share this post on your own Facebook or Twitter account.
- Get out your quills, typewriters, or iPads, and write away!
- Submit your essay by email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Essay Entry” no later than
August 31at 11:59 pm (PST). EXTENSION: September 7th deadline!
- Open to all high school age students.
- Length of essay must be between 750-1,000 words.
- Essay must be in Microsoft Word. Entries on wax tablets or papyrus will be disqualified.
- Winning essay will be selected by judges based on persuasiveness and quality of argument, writing style, adherence to contest parameters, and the Oracle at Delphi.
We look forward to reading your essays!
How is Old Western Culture “Literature done right”?
—It is a CHRISTIAN approach to Literature; it integrates the story of History, Theology, and Philosophy, into THE GREAT STORY.
—It is a CLASSICAL approach to Literature, spanning the literary and ideological traditions that have shaped the fabric of our cultural heritage.
—It is a HOMESCHOOL approach to Literature: cost effective, structured, flexible, and just as much for parents as for students!
Learn the story of Western Civilization from a master storyteller!
Old Western Culture: A Christian Approach to the Great Books! Find out MORE.
We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace
“Who are you?” a university student once asked me.
Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared.
“Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly.
“No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?”
His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?”
I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market.
That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one.
The answer that changes everything
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…. – Romans 8:16-17a
As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles. [Read more…]
In Plato’s Meno, Socrates and Meno were conversing about the meaning of virtue and how one obtained it. Meno believed that virtue was relative to a person’s age, sex, and station in life (e.g. slave or free). He, then, posited that virtue was the ability to govern humanity, believing that justice was a virtue. As the conversation progressed, the meaning changed several times, but the turn came when the talk of obtaining virtue began to revolve around if one could learn virtue. Socrates asked
But if the good are not by nature good, are they made good by instruction?
Based on this question, we can see why education became a hallmark of Plato in the Republic. From here, though, Meno and Socrates opined over whether virtue could be taught, but Socrates didn’t believe it could be taught. He reasoned thus
And did those gentlemen [teachers of virtue] grow of themselves; and without having been taught by any one, were they nevertheless able to teach others that which they had never learned themselves? (92)
As soon as I read this line, Jesus immediately popped in my head. Christ grew from himself through the incarnation, and he was taught by no one, but Himself, God (cf. Heb. 5.8). Socrates concluded
…if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous….Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of God.
My mind began spinning. I actually like Socrates’ definition of virtue and how it’s obtained. We who are Christians know that there is nothing inherently good in us save for the image that we bear of God in our persons. Nevertheless, as a sin-ridden, fallen human being, we become good because of what Jesus has done for us. He, however, and contrary to what Socrates posited, is the Teacher of virtue (cf. Matt. 23.8). As a matter of fact, Clement of Alexandria’s work Paedagogus is an early Christian treatise on ethics that presents the Logos (Christ) as the real instructor.
Paul put’s it this way
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5.14-19)
Socrates didn’t believe a man could be a teacher of virtue, but Christ was. Virtue originated and emanated from Christ, and, yes, we are made virtuous (righteous) because of Christ.
Originally published on Steven’s Blog, Veritas Venator. Republished with permission.
Vergil’s Aeneid, the epic poem which tells the story of the wanderings of Aeneas on his way to becoming the founder of Rome, is propaganda. But such a statement would not have bothered Vergil a bit. “Propaganda” in Latin simply means “things which ought to be propagated,” and Vergil certainly believed that the values espoused in his story needed to be spread about a bit.
All this he accomplished, and his poem became the benchmark of literature for nearly a millennia and a half. He did not keep Rome from falling into the quagmire of corruption that he and Augustus foresaw, but his work endured like no other.
The Aeneid “propagates” other things besides Roman ethics. It carries embedded in it presuppositions about the nature of history and man’s response to it that are radically different from those of the Greeks and especially Homer, whose works so influenced the Aeneid’s form. Behind Achilleus’ glory-seeking, Hektor’s devotion to his city and people, and Odysseus’s drive to return home is the pervasive assumption that the passage of time is essentially meaningless. At the end of the Iliad , when old king Priam has come to Achilleus to plead for the return of Hektor’s body,Achilleus commiserates with his suffering, reminding him that Zeus hands out good and evil mixed, or sometimes just evil, and men can but endure what he deals out, while only the gods live happily. For men like these, lives are lived for the short-term, and what will happen has happened before. All things change, but the change is fundamentally meaningless, and consequently all things stay the same. History is but “meaningless flux.” Fate is what the gods do to a man, and his response therefore is simply to do what he pleases and suffer his fate. Fate will happen, no matter what he does; there is no question of obedience.
On the other hand, Aeneas’ drive to fulfill his destiny implies at least two changes in the way we are asked to view history. First, man must respond to his destiny, when the gods reveal it, by obeying. His fate may not be fulfilled, it seems, if he simply does what he pleases, and so he must subordinate his immediate desires to the higher duty to the future, a future he may never see himself. At one point in his wanderings over the Mediterranean, Aeneas finds himself falling in love with Queen Dido of Carthage and is tempted to stay with her rather than continue seeking for the land where he is destined to found the nation of Rome. The gods remind him not only of his destiny, but of the necessity of his obedience, and he goes. Odysseus, who also got sidetracked with women, would not have understood this response to fate. Odysseus moved on simply because he could, not because he had any idea of helping fate.
Second, history is teleological. It has a purpose, a goal; time has meaning. It is not cyclical, but it progresses upward, and things become greater and higher. The gods drive man onward, and as he obeys, he becomes a great people. Achilleus did not fight, nor Hektor defend, because of any potential progress in the future; Achilleus fought because he had always fought and because that was how men gained glory. Hektor fought because he had a wife and child whom he loved. But Aeneas struggled on against the obstacles Juno constantly threw in his way because the gods had told him that, if he succeeded, a great nation would come from him, with countless descendants and glorious ones. He subordinated himself to the greater glory of future Rome, knowing he would never see it, and so Rome was founded.
Because Vergil’s poem was so important during the rest of the Empire’s history and throughout the Middle Ages, the structure of his poem standardized the epic form embodied in Homer. Vergil was the vehicle by which Homer’s peculiarities became literary conventions. After Vergil, everyone who wrote an epic began it with an invocation to the muse of epic poetry, launched the story in medias res , included epic similes, had his hero journey to the underworld, had a catalog of nations or men, had funeral games, and so on. These elements exist because Homer did them, but they are characteristics of epic poetry because Vergil carried them on.
Vergil was called the Magus by medievals because he was so learned and they were so ignorant; by comparison he seemed to them to be a man of supernatural wisdom and power. It has been some time since anyone felt that way about him; nevertheless, he is still deservedly recognized as one of the four or five greatest poets in our western tradition.
This article originally appeared in Credenda Agenda, Volume 7, Issue 6: Poetics. Republished with permission.
St. John Chrysostom talks about the temptations to both rich and poor. He points out that while the sins of the rich tend to be obvious, the sins of the poor are just as egregious, and are not as evident. Chrysostom was the archbishop of Constantinople in the late 300s AD, and is a very influential Church Father, often quoted by Reformers like John Calvin who appreciated his pastoral teaching. This is from a collection of his homilies called On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer in the 5th century B.C. Because Rome was in dire need of a leader to fight off invaders, the Roman Senate asked Cincinnatus to be “Dictator” for a term of six months. The Roman Senate was worried that the person they chose as dictator might not return the power to the Senate when the time was up. But the reason they chose Cincinnatus was that he was known to be a man of virtue, who had proven himself as a consul. After two weeks, he had taken care of the situation with their enemies, leading the charge himself, and immediately handed power back to the Senate.
George Washington was compared to Cincinnatus on many occasions. This comparison inspired many works of art. In the paintings and sculptures you see a George Washington dressed like an ancient Roman, toga and all! The anachronism in the art shows just how closely the American Founders wanted to connect themselves to the Roman Republican ideals.
Carl Richard, in his book The Founders and the Classics, points out how this affected the interaction between George the III during the American War for Independence:
“An astonished western world agreed with the judgement of George III. Unable to believe that any military leader would voluntarily surrender such power, the kind scoffed that if Washington resigned his commission, “He will be the greatest man in the world.” The king’s confusion epitomized his inability, throughout the Revolutionary conflict , to comprehend the enormous emotional power which classical republican ideals wielded over American minds” (p. 71).
He goes on to say that Washington did not want to declare defeat at the worst moments of the war because he did not want to lose the privilege of laying down his arms in imitation of Cincinatus. And that is precisely what George Washington did. He resigned from public life after the war, when he could have used his influence to become very powerful, and moved to his “villa” in the country, a term Washington used only after his retirement, most probably making an allusion to Cincinatus in doing so.
Hear Wes Callihan tell the fascinating story in this excerpt from The Historians.
YouTube version HERE.
I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians. – Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36
Does secular literature have any value for a Christian? There are so many good books by Christians – why should we waste our time with anything else? For many Christians, this is a genuine question, and deserves a considered answer. Here it is.
First, the apostle Paul himself sets an example of being familiar with pagan literature and using it for the glory of God in the spread of the gospel. In Acts 17:28, he quotes to the Athenians from two pagan Greek poets. “In Him we live and move and have our being” is from De Oraculis, a work by the 7th century B.C. Cretan poet/philosopher Epimenides, and the following line, “we are also His offspring,” is from The Phenomena, written in the 3rd century B.C. by Aratus. The same line is found in the Hymn of Zeus by Cleanthes. Notice that Paul is clear about what he is doing – “as also some of your own poets have said.” In Titus 1:12, he again quotes the De Oraculis, in making a point about the wickedness of certain deceivers, and says in the next verse, “this testimony is true.” Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil is a quotation from a Greek philosopher – Diogenes the Cynic. Some may remember him as the one who went around in broad daylight with a lantern – looking for an honest man.
It is important to note that the quotations above were not made by Paul for the purposes of refutation. They were all cited with approval – not of the author, but of the statement.
In Acts 26:14, Paul tells Agrippa that Christ’s words to him on the Damascus road were, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” The educated Agrippa would have recognized the allusion to the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, one of the greatest playwrights. The line in the play refers to an old man fighting a losing battle against forces more powerful than he. Paul takes that which was familiar to his culture and uses it for the spread of the true gospel.
If we jump ahead to the Reformers, we find them following Paul’s example. They were thoroughly versed in secular literature and used it to their great advantage. In Calvin’s Institutes, we observe how willingly he quotes secular authors – Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Cato, Cicero, Horace, Josephus, Juvenal, Lucretius, Ovid, Plautus, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, Suetonius, Virgil.
Later, the Puritans were just as thoroughly versed in classical literature. John Rainolds was recognized in his lifetime as one of the most learned men in Elizabethan England. He was one of the instigators of the Hampton Court Conference which led to the King James Version of the Bible, and became one of the principal translators. He was president of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, was Greek Reader in the same college, and lectured on classical authors, notably Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric. He was renowned for his erudition in the classical languages and authors, and for his formidable opposition to the heresies of his day.
Augustine’s metaphor, in On Christian Doctrine, for using pagan literature was perhaps the best. Commenting on Exodus 3 (quoted above), he had this to say:
“If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it . . . all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them… These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel.”
But of course, if we are to join Paul, Augustine, and the Reformers in the work of plundering the Egyptians, we must know where the gold is kept.
My invitation to you this new year is to dive in yourself! Old Western Culture is for parents too! While it may be daunting to pick up the Great Books and start reading, make 2015 the year you do it YOURSELF, and earn some FREE curriculum in the process!
So here is my NEW YEARS CHALLENGE TO PARENTS:
As a parent, use our newly released unit of Old Western Culture, The Aeneid, YOURSELF (with your kids if they’re the right age) before May 15th, 2015 UPDATE: EXTENDING DATE TO WELCOME NEWCOMERS: NEW END-DATE: December 31st2015! Then email us to let us know you did, and we’ll give you the next unit (or any unit of Old Western Culture of your choice) for FREE! ($56 value).
In order to qualify for a free unit, you must:
- Be a parent.
- Watch all 12 lectures of The Aeneid (if your kids are the right age, watch with them if possible).
- Read the assigned reading.
- Complete the above by May 15th December 31st, 2015!
“Why are you giving away free curriculum?”
We are convinced that parents who use Old Western Culture will LOVE it. And when a parent loves a curriculum, they tell their friends. And word-of-mouth is the BEST way to let people know about this curriculum. We’re spending most of our time making this the best literature curriculum available, and we need help spreading the word. So help us by USING it, and telling your friends!