Mom School… or Mom’s Cool? Reconquering the Classics.

Either one works for me!

He he!

Some of you who have been with me for a while know that I am on a mission. It’s kind of an odd mission and definitely counts as one of those roads less traveled things. I am a strong believer in teaching logic, reasoning, actual critical thinking (not just thinking critically about what your parents or religion has taught you) and being well educated, intelligent, and capable of being wise and responsible. (We can talk about the compassionate and merciful side of this coin another time, because that truly is the other half of the purpose of education and no less important.)

To me, this equates to a classical education – although I readily admit there is more than one way to reach this goal. But, seeing as I didn’t receive much in the way of the classics but had a more “21st century global education,” I have a lot to do to prepare myself to guide my children through these waters once they hit the high school years. I have four years, in fact. I figure that gives me enough time to go through all the courses and syllabi myself, read the books, find the documentaries, collect other resources, generate thought provoking questions and discussion topics, and work out all the kinks (ok, some of the kinks) before I get to be the teacher again and present it to my children.

The teacher has become the student.

But really, aren’t we all students anyway, regardless of title or label?

(That would be all that Socrates poking through 😉 )

I was kind of taught to think all those old Greeks and Romans were boring, horribly complicated, and just impossible to comprehend unless you were boring, dry, and old yourself.

But I am LOVING this!

(Which hopefully is less of an indication about my own potential boring and dry character and more a testament to the universality and timelessness of the classics.)

(Mom’s still cool, right? Right guys?)

I started out with The Illiad, and I just have to say, wow! This stuff is amazing!! I had no idea I would actually enjoy reading it. And I just finished The Histories by Herodotus. Incredibly fascinating! Has someone made a movie yet about the Persian Wars? Because honestly, that is some really good stuff.

I am just so relieved that I don’t have to be some old, boring university professor and can still really enjoy these books!

A lot.

*Phew*

I am so exciting to start The Aeneid, and Plutarch’s Lives after that, and then there is Thucydides and the Peloponnesian wars, a little Julius Caesar and some Cato. But after that I have to run back to the library to pick up what wasn’t in stock last time I was there, because apparently I’m not the only one who has figured out about these hidden gems. (That is sarcasm. Everyone used to know about these gems. But they just aren’t taught anymore. Which is why I have a mission. And why it is one of those roads less traveled.)

Below I have included the discussion questions I’ve come up with on my own (now probably my ignorance will be showing – I’m not a university professor after all) that I thought would be interesting to have students investigate and be able to argue one way or the other with examples from the text.  These are just from the books I have read so far. Hopefully you’ll get the itch and pick up a few of these great books on your next trip to the library.

The Illiad

How do you think women were valued and treated? Think specifically about Brisies, Helen, Thetis, Hera, Athena. Is there a difference in the way the mortal men see the goddesses and the mortal women?

What is the importance of the physical in Greek culture– being an athlete, a warrior, and even the importance of the body after it is dead. Think of the struggle for Patroclus’ body, Hector’s body.

Is there a belief that no one can be held accountable for their own actions because, in essence, “the gods made me do it?” what examples – from Agamemnon, Paris, etc.

What is the role of prophecy? How much do the people rely on prophecy?

What are the differences between the gods and the mortals?

How do you think actual people in Greece relied on the gods during this time of history? What was their relationship with their religion?

What role do you think all the trash talking plays? Why is it important to the people? Why do they keep making boasts and promises that they have no idea whether they will keep or not (like I’m gonna kill you and sack Troy.)

Who is the hero in this story?

Why can’t they just give Helen back? Why isn’t Helen allowed to just go back herself?

Why does Homer keep using metaphors of daily peaceful life (fishing, plowing fields) to describe killing people? Why does he so often use metaphors of animals hunting when talking about the battles?

Consistency and inconsistency of the gods’ favor – how do people know if they are in god’s graces? How about Hector and Achilles? When Hector was winning, was he really the one Zeus was favoring, even though Zeus never meant to let Hector win in the end? How would inconsistent gods help explain ancient Greek life? How might it be an example of their world view?

What is the role or value of passion? Is moderation and temperance a value?

Oedipus Rex – Sophocles

Is Oedipus a hero or a villain? Is he the victim or the criminal?

What is the importance of prophecy in this play? How might that reflect the religious mood of the time the play was written? How is this different or similar to the role of the gods and prophecy in The Iliad?

Who is to blame for what happened? Is it Oedipus? Is it Laius’ Man? Is it the gods’ fault? Does Tiresius share any of the blame?

What does this play indicate about personal responsibility and self-determination as opposed to fate?

The Republic – Plato

Define “justice.” Does the definition change through the discussions? Are they always talking about the same type of justice?

On the topic of adding law upon law vs teaching correct principle and letting people govern themselves – relate in your own words the analogy of the sick man taking medication after medication to keep himself barely alive and what that has to do with the society with laws upon laws. What would be the cure? For the man? For society?

Do you see a conflict in how Socrates wants to educate the children – by censorship? Only good things? How does this compare with your education? Is there merit to only teaching what is good?

What are the “dangers” of being a philosopher – a weakness or tendency toward a weakness? How does a philosopher protect against that?

In book 4 – is there value in literature even if it is not “true?” Or Art? What about really impressionist and the kind of “out there” modern art? Is there more than one way to communicate “truth?”

Who “rules” our society today? Philosophers or philodoxers? Can you give examples of both? How about in history? Is there an example of a philosopher becoming president in the US? What’s another name we might call them (principled.) Thomas Jefferson, George Washington. What leaders have been closer to the philosopher like Socrates describes? What opposites of this idea have we had?

Socrates argues a lot that a person can only be one thing at a time – either good OR bad, just OR unjust, a baker OR a carpenter. How is that true? How is it not true? Is there any truth to dualities and pluralities? (Justice/Mercy, other examples.)

Antigone – Sophocles

What is the main argument Sophocles is making? Is it about state supremacy over individuals? Is it about the majesty of man over the majesty of the gods and their laws? Does he argue in favor of family loyalty or religious faithfulness over the rule of the state? Is Antigone the hero? Is she ever praised for doing what is right? Did she really even do what was right? What might Sophocles’ personal views on these subjects be, based on what he has written in this play?

Was Creon wrong to deny Polynices’ burial?

Why does Creon eventually change his mind? Is it for familial love? Or love of the state? Or something else?

In both Antigone and Oedipus Rex, Sophocles paints an image of the king as a ruthless, proud, unyielding tyrant. But how do both of the kings end up in the play? What are the similarities and differences between King Creon and King Oedipus?

Creon continually disparages the weakness of women. But who was weaker, Creon or Antigone? Is it a strength to be proud and unchanging, to be brave and fearless no matter what? Is it a strength to think twice and change your ways if you change your mind?

Antigone says she would not have broken the law to bury a husband or children because she could always get more of those, but since her parents were dead, she would never have another brother, so she was willing to break the law for him. Does this explanation pan out with her other arguments about the laws of the dead given from the gods and her devotion to the gods? About how she must always obey gods over men? Why do you think her reasoning or explanations evolve or change a bit?

What might Haemon be thinking when he goes to speak to his father? How does he try to convince his father to change his mind? How does Haemon play a role in how his father actually did change his mind?

The Histories – Herodotus

Who in their right mind thinks this book is appropriate for high school kids??Really, I have no discussion questions about this book, but just a little warning instead. First off, this book is incredibly interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed it just like all the others, maybe even more than a lot of the others so far. HOWEVER – and this is a big one – there is so much promiscuity and sex and graphic detail of a similar nature, mostly concentrated in the first half of the book, that I just don’t think it is appropriate for people whose hormones are a little unbalanced, a.k.a teenagers.

My suggestion would be to find a great documentary about the Persian Wars and watch that along with perhaps books (i.e. chapters) 6, 7, 8, and the first half of 9 of the actual book. (The war doesn’t really start until book 6 anyway and is mostly over half way through book 9 so the students don’t really miss any of the battles of the actual war. What they would miss – but really should read later – is the cultural descriptions and histories of the surrounding peoples known to Herodotus, like the Egyptians, Thracians, Scythians, Ethiopians, and a lot of others. It is definitely worth reading – and after you read it you may think me a prude – but I’m just going to go with better safe than sorry on this one. Being a teenager with raging hormones is bad enough. I figure why stir the pot even more.

But YOU should read it. It really is a great story.

Next up on my mission to conquer the classics: The Aeneid.

“Of Arms and the Man I sing.”