Thank you to those of you that registered for the Literature Seminar last week. Sadly, some folks that didn’t register showed up at the door. Somehow they didn’t get the memo, and I apologize for that. I had posted on Facebook, the BFB website and here that the seminar was postponed, so I do regret the inconvenience for any who may have traveled.
This literature training session will focus on the best children’s literature covering the historic period from the fall of Rome to the Early Renaissance. Topics to be covered will include: what makes a good book, tools of literary analysis, knowing the best children’s authors, benefits of reading aloud and much more. An hour of practicum will allow participants to get involved using the tools presented with some classic children’s picture books. Wrap up will include how children’s books have inspired great men and women to do great things! All in all, I expect it to be inspiring, challenging and lots of fun too! Hope you can join me. For more information call 800.889.1978 or you can register here. Happy Reading!
I promised I would continue to address the importance of classical literature at the high school level for those doing ancient studies and in particular how these could be added into a current study using the Ancient History Through Literature Study Guide. While The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton is currently used in the above study, another treasure we found recently was the author’s work on ancient Rome in The Roman Way. In validating for a high school student the importance of classical knowledge I appreciate Albert Einstein’s perspective. His notions of the modern tendency to cultural myopia—seeing the world only through the narrow constraints of our own contemporary lens—seem particularly apropos at this juncture:
Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist’s snobbishness.
A contemporary author who has made the classical works more accessible to this generation is Edith Hamilton. Both her The Greek Way and The Roman Way can act as primers for those of us not well-versed in the ancient classics. In The Greek Way Hamilton introduces students to the great minds of ancient Greece, shot through with a clear Judeo-Christian perspective. Lavish seminal quotations portray the ancient’s continual pursuit of truth and beauty, exposing the young scholar to an appreciation for the birth of philosophy—the love of wisdom. For Hamilton, an understanding of the Greek way is essential to true education. She shows deftly how ancient Greece established the Western foundations of art, literature, architecture, sculpture, drama, tragedy, comedy, philosophy, and science, and overarching all is the relentless and intractable pursuit of truth. As Hamilton notes, these Athenians, “being free from masters they used their freedom to think. For the first time in the world the mind was free, free as it hardly is today.”We moderns would do well to sit with Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Their wisdom can inform and enlighten our understanding of God and the transcendent truth to which we ascribe as Christians in a postmodern world.
In The Roman Way, students will have the opportunity to see how Greek philosophy carried over to Rome and enabled Rome for a time to establish an empire built upon republican principles of law and civil order. Reading the letters of Cicero is instructive in light of the apathy and indifference that allowed Rome’s noble system of government to fall victim to usurpation and abuse of power. The poetry of Horace, his love of simplicity and gentle virtue, the love poems of Cattallus, and the war diaries of Caesar all form the foundations of modern history and literature. While this cursory overview is hardly reflective of the riches to be mined in studying this period, those that are fortunate enough to discover the treasures here will likely form a lifetime curiosity that will lead them into still greater discoveries. A high school student (and his or her home schooling parent!) given the opportunity to sit with the greatest minds of all time will have an amazing lens through which to understand, judge, and discern, the universal issues of life, politics, and the human heart.
The Biblical story of Noah has its counterpart in nearly every culture around the world and has been interpreted in a variety of forms. But only the Old Testament version has the complete scope of elements that make it such a literary classic and one which has been interpreted again and again by some of the best children’s book authors and illustrators. Peter Spier’s nearly wordless edition won the Caldecott Medal in 1978 and remains one of my favorites. It begins with a lovely lyrical poem by Jacobus Revius (1586-1658) that would make a wonderful work for bright young minds to memorize. It begins like this:
High and long,
Thick and strong
Wide and stark,
Was the ark.
Said the Lord.
Other editions that capture the wonder and magnificence of this story are Arthur Geisert’s The Ark and Lisbeth Zwerger’s Noah’s Ark. Geisert is a master in pen and ink and his detailed drawings capture the grand scope of this drama. In Zwerger’s edition she adds surrealistic elements (unicorns and centaurs make an appearance) that allow the story to transcend a concrete world of time and space. Noah’s family at times look as though they could be contemporary Jews escaping the holocaust (except for an anachronistic hat or other article of clothing) which of course lends the tale a deeper and broader impact for pondering. Zwerger’s use of space transcends the concrete material world and lends a mystery and delight to a beloved tale.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.