Crossing the Educational Rubicon: Charlotte Mason Through High School
- Thursday, September 16, 2010
In the establishment of law, students will read from the Code of Hammurabi—the first Babylonian lawgiver. Progressing from ancient Sumer, students will discover the works of Ancient Egypt and explore Egypt's obsession with death in the Book of the Dead. Herein are copious rules, albeit many of them highly moral, written sixteen centuries before Christ was born. The complexity of these injunctions will be contrasted with the simple yet transcendent Decalogue given by God to Moses just three centuries later, which prescribed the righteous life of a God-fearing Hebrew. Students will compare and contrast the origin story of Creation in Genesis with the creation stories of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians.
Moving on to ancient Greece, students will naturally read both the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. As the French writer Charles Péguy noted, "Homer is ever new: nothing is as old as the morning paper."2 For life lessons in courage, sacrifice, and tender familial affection, Homer continues to inspire over three thousand years of history. In the Iliad, Hector stands as the embodiment of the faithful husband, father, and son. The understated pathos of his final farewell to his beloved wife Andromache and his baby son is rarely equaled in world literature. In the Odyssey, the long journey home of the battle-weary Odysseus after the Trojan War represents the soul's longing for home, both temporally and eternally. The truly blessed home is that place where we are fully known and fully loved.
Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way will introduce 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."3 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 ancient Greece, the three Tragedians—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—established the very foundation of tragic drama in all its marvelous complexity. Indeed, it is unlikely there would have been a Shakespeare had he not drunk at the spring of these ancient Greeks. Isaac Asimov calls the three Tragedians "the most important literary figures, perhaps, between the time of Homer and Shakespeare."4 Students who have read Shakespeare in grammar school will have little trouble following the magnificence of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound—where the noble Prometheus as a messianic archetype suffers interminable and inexorable pain for his love and service to mankind. As Hamilton notes, this play explores the "mystery of undeserved suffering" and the great conundrum of divine justice and fallen humanity.
In Oedipus Rex, the great tragedy penned by Sophocles, the noble Oedipus stands as a metaphor of how goodness and evil can be resident within an individual. Only through a painful and exacting process of anagnorisis—self-revelation—can we see ourselves as we truly are. In the following passage, the tragic Oedipus realizes too late his true history and finds his pride has brought his ruin. In much the same way, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus contemplates Caesar's meteoric rise to power through his prideful ambition. The literary influence of the ancient Greek poet upon Shakespeare is clear in this comparison. Both texts present marvels of metaphor, alliteration, and lyric beauty.
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