Friday, December 9, 2011

To the Gates of Troy

Assignments for the Last Weeks of the Semester: 
 In the Tenth Year of the Trojan War

To Book 24 of Homer's Iliad

Finish the Iliad

First to finish was brilliant Mr. House, wielder of books read and students broken under his ashen spear.
Finished on Thursday at 11:00 a.m.

The Paper:

Write a 3 to 5 paragraph paper comparing the situations, personalities, and connections between two of the characters of the Iliad.

Achilles and  Agamemnon
Achilles and Thetis
Achilles and Patroklos
Achilles and Priam
Achilles and Hektor
Or whatever combination you prefer.

The paper will be read in class as part of your semester test.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To The Ships, O Achaians

Week of November 28--December 2

Poised to Press to the End of the Iliad

Monday:  The Goal This Week is to Complete Our Reading Through Book 18

Discussion up through Book 11 (The Book of Wounds)
Overview or Preview of Book 12
Discussion of the PAPER--The Aristeia of Humanities Students in their Kleos

***Tonight:  Read Books 13 and 14***

Tuesday:  Book 12 Hektor smashes through the gates

Book 13  The Greeks rally and Poseidon encourages the Achaians
Book 14  Nestor meets wit the wounded Heroes; meanwhile, Zeus is distracted from the Trojan War

THE PAPER:  ideas, thoughts, initial plans...the brainstorming of the gates of lethargy.

***Tonight:  Read Books 15-16***

Wednesday:  Book 15  Hektor's Aristeia continues as he breaks through to the ships

What can Dr. Leithart show us?  Will he help us with our papers?

***Tonight:  With fires blazing at the very black ships, read Book 17  (or get caught up).***

Thursday:  Book 17 The Fight for the Body of Patroklos

Writing about The Iliad--Students rush in where epic poets fear to tread.

***Tonight:  With tears shed for Patroklos, read Book 18***

Friday:  Book 18      THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES

Read it, discuss it, explain it, and draw it.

We Will Finish The Iliad Next Week.


Write a brief journal entry after reading each book.  At home, on your own, to have and hold in class, for a possible grade.

"When modern readers ask what makes men and women keep reading the Iliad....Surely the answer lies in the unsparing beauty of the heroic vision that the poem perennially renews: it inspires heroic enterprises, whether the conquest of nations, explorations of consciousness or massive literary undertakings. To make the poem one's own is to enter the dimension of the heroic imagination, and the Iliad is able to issue the liberating call to such heroic possibility with less cultural or historical static than any other work one could name."
Glenn Arbery, "Soul and Image: The Single Honor of Achilles" 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Of Arms and Armaments--Battling with Spears and Rhetoric

Assignments for the week of November 14-18

This vase paints shows Diomedes (left), being aided by Athena, attacking Aeneas (right), being protected by Aprhodite.
Monday:  Discussion of The Iliad

Tuesday:  Visiting Teacher Dave Richardson:  The Greek Language--From Homer to the New Testament

Wednesday:  A wily surprise test on unsuspecting Trojans.

                     Discussion of The Iliad,

                      including the fine poetry ending Book 8

Thursday:    Words of Wisdom from Glenn Arbery concerning the Iliad, of course, and the topic of honor.

                     A pleasant retake of unpleasant tests on Book 3 and 4
Friday:  A Discussion of the Exemplary Rhetorical Discourses of Book 9

A Note from Agamemnon to the Achaians:
As a lion that stalks a hapless deer for days without obtaining a meal,
So we have lingered too long by the ships and have not pressed against the gates
of far-reaching Ilion, on the plains beyond the river Skamandros.
With times of feasting and respite before us in the days ahead, yet we must be armed
for dark days loom ahead and the mist of illiteracy unless we take up the ashen spear.
Meaning, folks, we will need to be on Book 18 by the end of the next week of school.

Notable Quotables:

"My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog....

"But in reading great literature, I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do."
C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Premiering on Friday, December 16

Western Christmas Corral

Ben House

As Written for the Humanities Class of Veritas Academy

With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, in hope that his heirs will not find out about this literary rustling.

Aresteia and Honor and the Bronze Ashen Spear

Assignments for the Week of November 7-11

Waging War Outside the Gates of Troy:  All in a Day's Work for Achaians

According to Homer, the Trojan War lasted ten years....It was the greatest war in history, involving at least 100,000 men in each army as well as 1,184 Greek ships....Ironically, the Iliad focuses on a pitched battle on the Trjan Plain, although most of the war was fought elsewhere and consisted of raids.  And the Iliad concentrates on only two months in the ninth year of the long conflict.
Barry Strauss, The Trojan War: A New History

Discussion of Books 4 through 6:  The Wounding of Menelaus and the Aristeia of Diomedes.

Handout:  Key Issues from Books 3-5and Outline of Books 5 through 7

 Opening Question:  What does it mean (or what might it have meant) for a mortal, like Diomedes, to wage war against not just the Trojan Army, but the Olympian gods themselves?
(How might it relate to the greater theme of the book?)

Book 6:  Key Achaian Victories and Hektor's Visit with Family

History from Spielvogel:  Survey Chapter 2, pages 30-48.  Write a one page synopsis of either Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, or Persians.

For Tonight:  Read Book 7 of the Iliad

Synopses of Synopses:  The Ancient Near East: Peoples and Empires in Brief

Discussion of Book 7 of the Iliad. 

For Tonight:  Read Book 8 of the Iliad
& Read Leithart's Discussion of Books 1--8 from Heros.

Role Playing:  The Class as Peter Leithart, discussing Books 1--8.

Into the History of Greece:  A Race Across Spielvogel, Chapter 3, "The Civilization of the Greeks."

A Chart:  10 Defining Statements About Greek Civilization

For Tonight:  Read Book 9 of the Iliad

The Epitome of Rhetoric:  The Envoy to Achilleus

More About Greek Civilization

Warning:  All Readers of The Iliad of Homer are subject to being given a test over the more recent readings, themes, ideas, notes, or discussions.  Read, think, listen, take notes, reflect, remember.

Agamemnon, Leader of Men, forward into battle

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Best and the Bravest Fighting Men

Assignments for October 31--November 4

"Homer is the poet of all ages, all races, and all moods. To the Greeks, the epics were not only the best romances, the richest poetry; not only their oldest documents about their own history--they were also their Bible, their treasury of religious traditions and moral teaching.   With the Bible and Shakespeare, the Homeric poems are the best training for life."
from Andrew Lang's essay, "Homeric and the Study of Greek"

Thoughts taken from Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners by Clyde Pharr
Characteristics of Epic Poetry
Questions and Discussion Points about Book 2
Discussion of Thersites

Continuation of the Discussion of Book 2
Discussion of Book 3
By Now, You Should Know Nearly All the Main Characters
Characteristics of Epic Poetry Quiz

Book 4

Book 5

Book 6


Friday, October 21, 2011

When First There Stood in Division of Conflict...Achilles and Agamemnon

Assignments for the Week of October 24-28

And the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood in division of conflict Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

 Painting above is by William Page, 1811-1885

"By the general consent of criticks, the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epick poem, as it reqireds an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions."
Dr. Samuel Johnson

Monday:  Scholarly insights from an insightful scholar.
The Trojan War as a Whole--As Told by Edith Hamilton and Others
Glenn Arbery on The Iliad

Close Reading of Book One

Tuesday:  Scholarly insights from an insightful scholar.
Continue with the Trojan War

Finish with Book One and yet....

Wednesday:  Scholarly insights from an insightful scholar.
Test over Book One

Begin Discussion and Close Reading of Book Two

Thursday:  Scholarly insights from an insightful scholar.
Further exploration of Book Two

Preview of Book Three

Friday:  Scholarly insights from an insightful scholar.
Short, but formal and brilliant, paper containing a character sketch from Book One.

Readings for the Week:
Homer's Iliad--Books 2--3
Edith Hamilton's Mythology--Part Four--The Trojan War
Peter Leithart--Heroes of the City of Man--Ancient Epic, pages 43--51

How to Experience Poetic Beauty
Flee techno-gimickry and distraction.
Find a setting both aesthetic and comfortable.
Find a beverage that is robust and caffeinated.
Read with a desire to find what Allen Tate called "Knowledge carried to the heart."
Read aloud, re-read.
Supplement the assignments with other readings.

Notable and Quotable
The French poet and novelist Raymond Queneau (1903-1978) opined, "Every great work of literature is either The Iliad, that is, a story of conflict, strife, battle and war,  or The Odyssey, that is, a story of a journey or exile and, after much wandering, a homecoming."

The extraordinary power of The Iliad, Alberto Manguel says, comes from the fact that it holds in tension two truths: our fascination with war and our abhorrence of its cruelty: "Homer fully understood our ambiguous relationship to violence, our desire for it and our hatred of it, the beauty we ascribe to it and the horror it makes us feel."
From an Amazon reviewer on Alberto Manguel's Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography.

Robert Fagels' translations of Homer's epics.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meet Homer...and Tremble

Assignments for the Week of October 17-21

The Father of Epic Poetry
Seven cities warred for Homer, being dead,
Who, living, had no roof to shroud his head.
Thomas Heywood in The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels, 1635.

Book Reviews and Updates
Leitharts and Heavy Thoughts on Hesiod's Theogony
The Search for the Trojan War
A Visitor from our extension campus--Wheaton College

Student's Guide and Hesiod are now past due.
Get Leithart's introduction finished tonight.
Background materials for The Iliad

Guest Lecturer:  Martin Rizley
Genesis 10 and Background to the Nations
Read Book 1 of The Iliad for Thursday

No School Today in Honor of Veritas 2000 Graduate Zachary Ramsey
"Mr. House, how are you going to teach literature after we graduate?"
I have been trying to answer that question since 2000.

Book One of The Iliad


Further efforts to unpack Book One of The Iliad
Trojan War Heroes
Read Books Two and Three by Tuesday of Next Week

But how did you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about Hesiod or the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his great argument? and does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world below, and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer sings?
Socrates, quoted in The Dialoges of Plato

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Works and Days--Past and Present

Digging into the archeology of Books

Monday:  Columbus discovered what the Ancient Phoenicians already knew quite well: The Huge Continents between Europe and Asia.

Tuesday:  Brief discussion of Hesiod and Bruce Thornton

Read from Spielvogel, Chapter 1, regarding Egypt; write 10 facts or questions about Egypt.

Wednesday:  Test over Egypt

Discussion of readings.

Helpful Overview of the Writings from Antiquity

A Poet Who Preceded Homer

Thursday:  Journal Entry:  What I realized after reading...Hesiod or Thornton.

Looking closer at Hesiod. 

Prepare for a test over Mesopotamia and Egypt

Friday:  A Test over Mesopotamia and Egypt

Gleaning from Peter Leithart.

With ideas and literature, the confrontation between the Bible and paganism will be more intense, but with great care and wisdom, we can plunder even pagan literature and make it work for us.  As Proverbs says, the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous  (Proverbs 13:22). 
From Heroes in the City of Man, pages 19-20.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Evaluating Jerusalem and Athens

Assignments for the Week of 3-7

How Should Christians View Ancient Literature?

Monday:  The Historical Context of the Ancient World

A Survey of Mesopotamia and Egypt
Jackson Spielvogel, Western Civilization,  pages 6-29

Literature of the Ancient World
Peter Leithart, Heroes of the City of Man

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the World of Mesopotamia

Tuesday: The Historical Context of the Ancient World

A Survey of Mesopotamia and Egypt
Jackson Spielvogel, Western Civilization,  pages 6-29

Literature of the Ancient World
Peter Leithart, Heroes of the City of Man

Joseph and the World of Ancient Egypt

In-class Writing Assignment on Primeval Saints by James Jordan

Literature of the Ancient World
Peter Leithart, Heroes of the City of Man

Thursday:  Classwork on Western Civilization, 6--29

Continue with Leithart.

Friday:  Read Papers in Class on Greek Mythological Figures and Biblical Characters

"Here were two races, each very conscious of being different from its neighbors, living not very far apart, yet for the most part in complete ignorance of each other and influenceing each other not at all until the period follwoing Alexander's conquests....Yet it was the fusion of what was most characteristic in these two cultures--the religious earnestness of the Hebrews with the reason and humanity of the Greeks--which was to form the basis of later European culture, the Christian religion."
H.D.F. Kitto, The Greeks, page 8

Monday, September 26, 2011

Covenant Heroes and Lesser Known Greek Myths

Assignments for the Week of September 26-30

Isaac Blesses Jacob
          Test Over Mythological Figures 
          Work on The Paper:  Characters to Contrast
           Discuss the Paper

          Second Attempts at Test Over Mythological Figures
          Work on The Paper:  Writing an Introductory Paragraph

            Discuss the Royal Houses of Thebes and Athens
            Discuss Isaac and Jacob

             Work on The Paper:  The Thesis Sentence, Concrete Particulars, and Commentary
              Grade Roundup:  Check Tests and Check Readings

               Discuss Shorter Myths
                The Story of Joseph
                In-class Writing Time
               Continue Discussing Shorter Myths
                 Continue with the Story of Joseph and Pharoah

                 Peer Reviews of Papers

                  Wrap up discussions of Greek figures and Biblical characters.

Reading Assignments for the Week:

From Edith Hamilton, Mythology:  Read Part 6--The Less Important Myths

From James Jordan, Primeval Saints:  Finish the Book!

"Several times Paul quotes from pagan poets, just as he quotes from the Old Testament to prove a theological point....Since Paul did not have a Bartlett's Familiar Quotations to aid him, we would have to conclude that he had a firsthand acquaintance with Greek literature, including its fiction, and knew parts of it by heart.  The principle that emerges is that the Bible affirms, in a variety of ways, the value of reading literature, since it tells us things that are true and worth knowing."
Leland Ryken, Culture in Christian Perspective

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Rise of Fall of Greek Houses and Biblical Patriarchs

Assignments for the Week of September 19-23

Poseidon with his trident
Monday:  Discussion of Great Adventures and of Four Great Heroes Before the Trojan War

Class Presentations

Tuesday:  What was Hercules' problem?

Handouts on Mythology.

Wednesday:  From Cain to Nimrod--Biblical Patterns of Faith and Rebellion

Work on handouts.

Thursday:  William Faulkner and the Fall of Greek Mythological Families

Work on handouts.

Friday:  A More Extensive Test over .....

Comparisons between Greeks and Jews

Be mentally preparing for a paper next week comparing one Greek figure with a person from Genesis.

Readings for the Week:
From Mythology:  Part Five--the Great Families of Mythology

From Primeval Saints:  Chapters 2-5

Genesis:  Scan and review.

A Quote to Note: 
"We have all been programmed by our Creator with a desire to seek and yearn after the God who is truth. If it is true, as Paul teaches in Acts 17:26-28, that we are all made in His image, that He is not far from us, that in Him we live and move and have our being, then it must also be true that those timeless works of ancient Greece and Rome that record the musings of humanity's greatest seekers and yearners will contain traces, remnants and intimations of that widsom which made us."
Louis Markos, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics
Coming Soon:  Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, Leithart's Heroes in the City of Man, and Thornton's Student's Guide to the Classics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Heroes Mythological and Mosaic

Assignments for the Week of September 12-16

Perseus triumphant over Medusa

Abraham's faith:  Preparing to Offer Isaac in obedience to God
 Monday:  Gods and Goddesses

The Story of Dionysus:  The God-Man of Greek Mythology, the God of Wine (freedom and brutality), and the hope of Eternal Life

Tuesday:   Tales of Love and Adventure

Looking for the Contrasts

Wednesday:  Test Over the 12 Olympians

The Quest for the Golden Fleece

Thursday:  Four Great Adventures

Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis by James Jordan

Friday:  Four Great Heroes Before the Trojan War

Perseus                Theseus               Hercules                  Atalanta

Readings for the Week Include:

Edith Hamilton, Mythology, Parts 2 and 3

James Jordan, Primeval Saints, Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2

Monday, September 5, 2011

September 5-9 In the Lurky Realms of Origins and Myths

Assignments and Plans for the Week of September 5--9

Without a knowledge of mythology much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood and appreciated.
Thomas Bulfinch 

Classic Work on the Greek Myths--a Love Affair Between a Teacher and Her Subject
Monday:  Labor Day:  "Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day, I've got a wonder feeling about Humanities on Tuesday...."

Tuesday:  Omnibus Ancient World handout on Edith Hamilton's Mythology.

This Week, read Part One:  The Gods, The Creation, and the Earliest Heroes

Wednesday:  Surveying how the Historians Approach Origins:

Comparing Carleton J.H. Hayes and Jackson Spielvogel

Thursday:  Gods and Heroes

Friday:  Archeological Labors:  Gathering Artifacts of Civilization--a.k.a. Cleaning Up Downtown

We read Greek and Norse mythology until it came out of our ears. And the Bible.
Penelope Lively

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Humanities in the Summer--The Teacher's Work Never Ends

Workshop Outline for the ACCS Conference on June 16

Anticipated audience interaction with my talk

Here is the outline for my upcoming talk at the Conference for the Association of Classical Christian Schools in Atlanta, Georgia this coming Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Continue Reading....


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finished With Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky's Study where Brothers Karamazov was written
These members of the Veritas Modern World Humanities Class have now finished
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

1.  Liz Woll (Weekend)

2.  Wesley Daniel  (Monday night)

3.  Mr. House  (at 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night)

4.  Nicholas House (Thursday afternoon)

5.  George Hornok (Memorial Day)

6.  Eric Auel (June 30)

7.  Leah Duncan (the morning of June 30)

8.  Asher Wagnon (June 30)

And a most amazing student of Russian heritage is still plodding along, one paragraph at a time.

There is much gold to be mined in some of Dostoevsky's other great works:

What if Christ had merely been a man?

Good cannot result from evil actions

Read by the teacher in college many years ago.

Started, but never finished.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Last Week of School

Monday, May 23--Thursday, May 26

So Many Books, So Little Time

Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.
     - George Iles

Monday:  Racing toward the finish line of The Brothers Dostoevsky.

If I am not in class, begin watching "Nicholas and Alexandra."

Tuesday:  A frightening test over The Brothers Karamazov.

Wednesday:  Semester Test, Part 1:

Bring a two page writing to class on this topic:  The Books That Made the Most Impact on My Thinking This Year.

Be prepared to write out a list of all the books we have read or read portions from.

Thursday: Semester Test, Part 2:  Questions and Answers Over Everything.

Friday:  Graduation

***Bonus Question for the Week:  Who Was Abraham Kuyper?***

You and Your Book and the Lake

Friday, May 20, 2011

What We Are Missing--Two Great Books and Two Great Historians

Yes, I am tired. Yes, I am ready for the summer break. However, I hate to see my Modern World Humanities class come to an end.  Just this morning I was thinking of two great books written about early 20th century events that my students need to read and that I need to read again.  Both were written when I was a very young child in the early 1960s.  I did not disover them until years later.  Both authors are great narrative historians.  Both books are written with the page-turning draw of an action novel.  Both are panaramic coverages of great events in history.  Both are relevant to understand the world we live in.

Alas, we do not even have the time to watch the fine historical documentary of The Guns of August, nor the well done movie account of Nicholas and Alexandra.

Barbara Tuchman was one of the best historical writers of recent times.  The Guns of August won her a Pulitizer Prize and many readers.  The book has remained in print from 1962 to the present.  It should be on any history teacher's short list of vital books about the 20th century and World War I. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Descent into Modernity: The 20th Century

Assignments for the Week of May 16-20

World War I--1914-1918

Monday:  Mr. House will duly report to court for jury duty today.  Your trial is a different one:  Read extensively from The Brothers Karamazov.  Prepare a report that includes your starting and stopping pages on today's reading.  Be prepared to write a short (one or more pages) account tomorrow of the reading you do today.

The official assignment:  Book Seven: Alyosha

Tuesday:  The Twentieth Century Foretold and Told in Poetry:  "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold

An Outline of the 20th Century

Discussion of The Brothers Karamazov

Reading Assignment:  Book Eight: Mitya 

Wednesday:  The Twentieth Century Foretold and Told in Poetry:   "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy

Events Leading Up to World War I

Brothers Karamazov Discussion Points

Reading Assignment:  Book Nine: The Preliminary Investigation

Thursday:  The Twentieth Century Foretold and Told in Poetry:  "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

World War I--In Brief

Brothers Karamazov Discussion

Reading Assignment:  Continue Book Nine

Friday:  The Twentieth Century Foretold and Told in Poetry:  "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen

The Russian Revolution

Simon Schama Video--"The Two Winstons"

Quotes from Paul Johnson:

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Western elites were confident that men and progress were governed by reason. A prime discovery of modern times is that reason plays little part in our affairs.
- from Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties

My grandfather used to say, "Learn to like art, music and literature deeply and passionately. They will be your friends when things are bad". It is true: at this time of year, when days are short and dark, and one hardly dares to open the newspapers, I turn, not vainly either, to the great creators of the past for distraction, solace and help.
        - from a Spectator column in January 2005

Just a Few of Paul Johnson's Great Books

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Notes and Thoughts on The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky and The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1

Russian Author Fyodor Dostoevsky
It's May, the end of school is nearing all too fast, and I have assigned my students a journey into the literary and theological labyrinth of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.  This is a book for high schoolers.  It is not for them in the sense of being easy, being a "page turner," or identifying with high schoolish fads and foibles.  It is a high schooler's book because it is about the battle in the human heart.  As the character Dmitri says, "Here is the devil struggling with God, and the battlefield is the human heart."  The devil and all his recruiting agents are all camped outside the heart and mind of us, constantly seeking to lure us into hellish wiles.  Students may not understand all of Dostoevsky, may not be able to follow all the dialog and discussions, may not grasp every issue, may not perceive the theological subtleties of the book, but they understand something of the battle for the human heart.  That is why this book is so important for them.
Continue reading.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Brothers Karamazov and the Race Against Time

Assignments for May 9 to May 13

Finish Simon Schama's "Empire of Good Intentions"
Follow-up readings and discussions of Empires, British and Otherwise

Dostoevsky Discussion and Helps
Reading from Dostoevsky--Part II, Book Four: Strains

Darwin Reports
Wrap up of Notes and Discussion on Marx's Communist Manifesto

Dostoevsky Discussion and Helps
Reading from Dostoevsky--Part III, Book Five: Pros and Cons

Overview of the 19th Century:  Timelines, Key Figures, Key Events

Reading from Dostoevsky--Part IV, Book Six:  The Russian Monk
(This reading should carry you through the week.)

Overview of the 20th Century

Dostoevksy and the 20th Century

From that fortress of knowledge--Wikipedia:

Dostoyevsky and the other giant of late 19th century Russian literature, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, never met in person, even though each praised, criticized, and influenced the other (Dostoyevsky remarked of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that it was a "flawless work of art"; Henri Troyat reports that Tolstoy once remarked of Crime and Punishment that, "Once you read the first few chapters you know pretty much how the novel will end up"). There was a meeting arranged, but there was a confusion about where the meeting place was to take place and they never rescheduled. Tolstoy reportedly burst into tears when he learned of Dostoyevsky's death. A copy of The Brothers Karamazov was found on the nightstand next to Tolstoy's deathbed at the Astapovo railway station.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Marx and Darwin versus Dostoevsky...and God

Assignments for the Week of May 2--6
"So great is the worth of Dostoevsky that to have produced him is by itself sufficient justification for the existence of the Russian people in the world: and he will bear witness for
his country-men at the last judgement of the nations."
- Nikolay Berdyaev (1923)


Fyodor Dostoevsky
 Monday:  Discussion of "The Death of Ivan Ilych."

Reading Assignment:  The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 1

Tuesday:  Terms and Background to The Communist Manifesto. 

Reading Assignment:  The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 2, Chapters 1-6

Wednesday:  Detour to the British Empire--Simon Schama

Reading updates and quiz

Reading Assignment:  The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 2, Chs. 7-8, Book 3, Chs. 1-3
Thursday:  Reports on Darwin's Origin of Species.  Handouts must be prepared before class starts.

Reading Assignment:  The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 3, Chs.  4-11 (due by the end of the week)
Friday: Track and Field Day. No regular classes.

Reading Assignment:  The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1--to be finished

"I think the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky's Grave in St. Petersburg

  • Keep Up With the Reading of Brothers Karamazov
  • Write Down Questions You Have in Your Journals
  • Be Prepared to Make Journal Entries Each Day
  • Be Ready for Quizes over the Reading
  • Don't Come to Class Without Your Book

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Russian Literature, Part 2

Dostoevsky's The Idiot

One of the Great Novels by One Greatest Novelists

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses are sisters.  In our world, the arts are related, often reflecting each other and reinforcing the same themes.  In each art, the images, the leitmotifs, the common shades and hues are found in each sister art.  So symphonies and operas build off of literary themes.  Paintings and sculptures portray heroes and scenes of poetry and fiction.  Philosophy is portrayed in music and art, and likewise, it grows out of music and art.  Literature, it has been said, is history without footnotes, and it can even be said that literature is theology without Bible verse references.
The idea of creating the plot of a novel around the message of a painting is quite profound.  In art, a part of reality is enlarged and distorted to give a greater sense of a transcendent truth.  Thus The Iliad, in one sense a story of the Trojan War, cuts into the 10th year of that war and highlights Achilles’ inner and outward struggle over honor and mortality, with few details about the events of the war.  Even photography can achieve this effect.  Think for example of the picture of young John Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s coffin in November of 1963.  That picture conveyed the pain, the loss of innocence, and the rebounding courage of the whole nation at that moment.
Each work of art has a theme, a greater message, or if you wish, a code.  The idea of a code or deeper meaning behind the surface is always fascinating.  For this reason, spy novels and movies are fun, conspiracy theories are attractive, and apocalyptic Bible studies and novel series attract even the most impious of souls. When locusts are really Soviet helicopters, the imaginative possibilities are endless.  Surface messages can be quite dull or uninspiring, but a secret code changes the landscape.
There is a great work of literature that is based on a theme or code contained in a work of art, that is, a painting.  This literary work has had an incredible attraction for its readers.  The implications of the story are incredible and world changing.  The painting in the novel is of the most important religious figure in all of history—the Lord Jesus Christ.  And while the painting itself is brilliantly done, exhibiting great talent in the Renaissance artist who conceived it, its deeper message exceeds the visual work of art.
This message has been interpreted in a way that would change the world by changing the whole central message of Christianity. 
Enough of this curtain raising one inch at a time to tantalize the audience.  The painting is “The Dead Christ” or “Christ’s Body in the Tomb” by Hans Holbein the Younger.  The novel that is built around this painting is The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in 1868.
Dostoevsky had read about the painting in a book called Letters of a Russian Traveler by Nikolai Karamzin.  Karamzin said that in the painting “one does not see anything of God.  As a dead man he is portrayed quite naturally.”[1]   
Wanting to see the painting, Dostoevsky and his wife went to the museum where it was on display.  Dostoevsky stood on a chair to see the painting, which is about six feet long and ten inches high.  His wife, Anna Grigorievna, left this account of the experience:

On the way to Geneva we stopped for a day in Basel, with the purpose of seeing a painting in the museum there that my husband had heard about from someone.  This painting, from the brush of Hans Holbein, portrays Jesus Christ, who has suffered inhuman torture, has been taken down from the cross and given over to corruption.  His swollen face is covered with bloody wounds, and he looks terrible. The painting made an overwhelming impression on my husband, and he stood before it as if dumbstruck…When I returned some fifteen or twenty minutes later, I found my husband still standing in front of the painting as if riveted to it.  There was in his agitated face that expression as of fright which I had seen more than once in the first moments of an epileptic fit.  I quietly took him under the arm, brought him to another room, and sat him down on a bench, expecting a fit to come at any moment.[2]
            This painting provides the central message of Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot.  In the novel, one of the characters owns a copy of the painting, which leads to a discussion of it in the novel.  This painting captures the central theme of that novel.  Richard Pevear writes, “The question it (the painting) poses over the whole novel:  what if Christ was only a man? What if he suffered, died, and was left a bruised, lifeless corpse, as Holbein shows?  It is, in other words, the question of the Resurrection.”[3]
            In the late 19th century, liberal theologians in Europe and American began coming to the same conclusion about Christ as the Unitarians and Deists of the earlier part of the century.  The great pronouncements of the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon were buried under the new Enlightenment of the German higher critics. The secular, Science-appeasing, Darwinian, naturalistic world-view readjusted theological studies so as to exclude the deity and resurrection of Christ.  The good man and great teacher Jesus was dead and buried, and on the third day, his disciples, having psychologically worked through their grief, resurrected the spirit of Jesus.  Or at least, that is what the new theologians thought they discovered.
            The sunny optimistic theological suicide of the West was not quite so palatable to one whose spiritual journey was like that of Dostoevsky.  In his personal life, he had faced death, standing before a firing squad awaiting execution where he was suddenly pardoned and exiled to Siberia.  The political and social landscape of Russia and its climate with its harshness upon the body and soul left one to choose either Nihilism—with heavy vodka drinking for sacraments—or Christianity.  Spared the idealism of the Enlightenment, the materialistic successes of the Industrial Revolution, and even the sunny clime of both Europe and America, the Russian intelligentsia were more prone to see the spiritual dimensions of the issues of the day.  (In America, the experience of living in the defeated South enabled Robert Louis Dabney to see issues with a similar prophetic clarity.)  With this background it mind, one can see why a vivid image of the horribly broken and bruised body of Jesus Christ brought Dostoevsky to a greater realization of Christ’s death and to a greater sense of the necessity of the resurrection.   For Dostoevsky, the reality of Christ’s manhood and very real death brought on his near epileptic reaction. His experience must have been similar to that of the disciples.
            In this novel, the main character, the Idiot, is Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin.  Prince Myshkin returns from a mental asylum and seeks to find a place in St. Petersburg society.  A wide-ranging host of characters—males and females, young and old, the weak and the strong, the well born and the more common, people of society and people of baser reputation—come to know Prince Myshkin.  Dostoevsky’s characters, like those of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrimage, represent a wide and universal range of human predicaments.  For various reasons, all are strangely drawn to Prince Myshkin, and they desire his advice, his company, and his approval.  But all regard him with amused detachment, with cynicism, and with disbelief.  He is, in short, in all of their opinions and pronouncements, an idiot.  His naïve answers to their questions, his gullibility, his lack of social inhibitions, and his all-too-frank honesty all confirm their conviction that Prince Myshkin still belongs in the asylum.
            By the end of the novel, most of the characters’ lives are just as hollow or warped as at the beginning.  Those whose lives are changed are actually worse off.  Ippolit, a terminally ill atheist, is neither healed of his disease or his cynical hatred of life.  The beautiful, but tragically flawed Nastaya is not lifted up from scandal, but is killed by her emotionally unstable lover Rogozhin.  No acquaintance of Prince Myshkin is redeemed; no one in his circle of friends is lifted up from their petty and empty lives.  The idiot is removed from the supposedly sane world and taken back to the asylum.
            Just like the Prince of Peace, Prince Myshkin has a royal title that is questioned.  Just like Jesus, he came among his own and they knew him not.  Just like the Master Teacher, he instructed them in a better way, but they rejected it.  But unlike Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Prince Myshkin was a good man and nothing more.  He could not redeem or rescue anyone.  As a truly good man, he was better off in an asylum for the insane than in the sane world.  Likewise, Jesus Christ as a truly good man and nothing more would have done this insane world no good.
            The powerful image of Holbein’s painting, like the powerful presentation of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, reveal the true code of reality of this world.  (Mel Gibson’s subsequent moral and theological breakdown do not discount the worth of his earlier works.) As Paul stated it in I Corinthians 15, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith and our lives are futile.  If Jesus Christ were nothing more than a good man, then we are better off having Him in an insane asylum or in a tomb than having Him deceive us about this hopeless plight.
            A few years back, lots of readers pored over the best selling The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.  Like Dostoevsky’s classic, this piece of fiction revolves around a greater message contained in a piece of art, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”  The secret code of the painting supposedly revealed that Jesus was married and had a child, and hence 2000 years of Christology is flawed.  These “truths” were suppressed to allow for an evil agenda fomented upon a naïve world by the Church.  The truth of this fiction, as claimed by the author, will supposedly set us free.  While The Da Vinci Code captured the attention of Athenian readers (who are always interested in something new), the book is rapidly becoming lost in the boundless sea of forgotten and forgettable fiction.  Meanwhile, Dostoevsky’s masterpiece will remain.

[1] Richard Pevear, “Introduction” to The Idiot.
[2] Account quoted in Pevear’s introduction, xiii.
[3] Ibid, xiii.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25--29 The Battlefield for the Heart of Man

 God and devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, April 25
Finish Reading Tolstoy Selections This Week:  "Master and Man" and "The Death of Ivan Ilych."  If you wish, you can read "Family Happiness."
Read the Humanities Blog essay on Russian Literature.
Finish Reading and discussing the introductory material to Darwin's Origin of the Species.
Receive Marx and Engel's Communist Manifesto.  Humanity students of the world unite; we have nothing to lost but faith and freedom if we do not seek for Godly Reformation.

Tuesday, April 26
Discuss Readings--Tolstoy, Darwin, and Marx
Begin Assignment from Western Civilization:  Either write four pages of Notes about the 19th Century or write a two page (typed) report on either Socialism, Communism, or Nationalism. (Due Wednesday of Next Week.)
Finish watching "Victoria and Her Sisters."

Wednesday, April 27
Continue Discussing the Readings.
Continue Working on the writing assignment.
Discuss and work on the Darwin Chapter Assignments:  Due on Thursday, Friday, or Monday.

Thursday, April 28
Updates on Darwin Works and Readings.
Continue working on Writing Assignment.
Exchange Tolstoy for Dostoevsky

Friday, April 29
Updates and Presentations on Darwin
An Antidote to the Communist Manifesto:  "The Christian Manifesto of 1984" by Francis Nigel Lee
Edging into Dostoevsky

“If God does not exist, then everything is permitted”

In her essay The Russian Point of View, Virginia Woolf said:
The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Out of  Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.

 The fonts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation is camped in the desert, passing stories, pictures, tunes, texts back and forth, living off the thrill of peer attention. Meanwhile their intellects refuse the cultural and civic inheritance that has made us what we are up to now."

Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, 2007

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Russian Literature, Part 1--A Post from the Past

Russian Literature, part 1

God's grace is beyond our comprehension, both personally and culturally. No doubt but that 20th century Russia was a land that suffered heavily. World War I was a disaster for Russia, and it was followed by two revolutions, and then by a brutal civil war of the Whites against the Reds. That war saw the emergence of the Bolsheviks (Communists). In time, the brutality and ruthlessness of Lenin spawned the maniacal murderous dictator Josef Stalin. For several decades, Stalin brutalized and exterminated the various subject peoples within the Soviet Union. These atrocities did not cease even when Stalin was forced to pay for his mistake of trusting Adolf Hitler by pulling the total might of the USSR into a war for survival against Nazism. The Russian people emerged victorious in that war, but were still under the reign of Stalin until the early 1950s. Stalin's several successors were improvements over him only by comparison.

Added to wars, revolutions, Communism, and atrocities, Russia suffers from a harsh climate, cultural pessimism, and an oftentimes theologically deficient Christian church. Yet God has granted certain blessings to the Russians, and through them, to the world.

One of those blessings is the writer Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy penned two of the greatest novels of all times: War and Peace and Anna Karenina .
There are several obstacles to getting into these novels. Primarily, they are both quite long. And being Russian, the names (and Russian uses of patrynomics along with nicknames and last names)creates difficulties in getting the characters straight. War and Peace, for example, has more characters than Russia had population at the time of the book's setting (the Napoleonic Wars).

It might be easier to read Anna Karenina before reading War and Peace. But there is still a better way to begin trekking across the vast steppes of Russian literature. Tolstoy's shorter writings appear in numerous collections. He wrote quite a few novellas, which can be defined as either really long short stories or really short novels. I introduced my Modern World Humanities class to Tolstoy through the book shown above, titled The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. Quite a few variations of this book exist. This particular one has four selections: "The Death of Ivan Ilych," "Family Happiness," "The Kreutzer Sonata," and "Master and Man."

Here is what I recommend: Begin with "Master and Man." I first read it years ago in high school and never forgot it. It is a purely Russian story, including cold, snow, a sled, a peasant, a rich landowner, and vodka. The story concerns Vasili, a money-hungry land baron, and his faithful servant Nikita. A trip to a neighboring village to conclude a profitable land deal results in their getting lost in the snow. I will stop here and let you find out what happens. In short, the story will endear you to Tolstoy and enable you to see the power of his vision.

"The Death of Ivan Ilych" is perhaps the most famous of Tolstoy's shorter works. The slow demise of Ivan, his agonies and despair, and his re-evaluation of the world around him make this a powerful parable-like picture of our plight in this world.

"Family Happiness" appears at points to be an ironic title. Marya, the first person narrator of the story, seeks romantic happiness though both proper and improper means. She is young, full of life, and hopelessly romantic in her vision of life. Like Anna Karenina, her quest for love leads her toward destruction, but unlike Anna, she sees the error of her ways.

"The Kreutzer Sonata" is an unusual story where a bitter, wicked man tells of his failed marriage. I have no in-depth comment on it; I did not like the story and will keep the jury out concerning a judgment of that work.

In the first three works cited, Tolstoy repeats a major theme: There is a superficial side of life. It is all surface. It may include romantic idealism or economic success or social standing. Whatever the case, this glittering surface lures us unto it to the point that we miss reality. In each story, the major character is brought to a change of mind in the closing scenes. Tolstoy's concluding revelations are not great and profound occurences. The change occurs not within a series of actions, but from within. Tolstoy's characters receive revelations, but revelations such as those we know from the Holy Spirit. At one point then, the character is chasing after something false, illusive, and empty. Then they see a greater, a spiritual, a true reality. The subtlety of the change is the surprising point. It is like an atheist who becomes a believer: He suddenly sees and interprets all reality from a radically different starting point.

Tolstoy is one of our great Christian writers. But let us understand what it means when an artist is a Christian. First of all, a Christian writer is writing fiction, not submitting himself to an ordination board of a Reformed presbytery. Fiction is not systematic theology. It is art. Art distorts; it is fabric and is a fabrication; it is an untruth. But it is cast in this distorted fabricated form in order to better deliver a message. Jesus' parable of the lost sheep tells us nothing about the economics of agriculture and stock management. A 1% loss of a flock is negligible. One lost sheep is simply the cost of doing business. But Jesus gives this story to show a greater truth: God's sovereign love for the lost sheep. As William Faulkner said about himself, he wrote fiction because he was interested in truth.

Second, Tolstoy's being a Christian writer does not tell us whether or not he went to heaven when he died. Tolstoy's theology is a hodgepodge of Biblical snippets, sentimental mush, contrariness, contradictions, and humanistic reasonings. You would not want him to teach your Sunday school class, but don't worry: Tolstoy was in much opposition to the organized church. Perhaps the state of Russian Orthodoxy commends his opposition. But he was not a Luther. He was a mystic at points, however. By Christian writer, I mean that Tolstoy self-consciously borrows from and builds upon Christian truths. "Master and Man" shows the Christian message of redemption and sacrifice for others. "The Death of Ivan Ilych" shows the vanity of this world and the need for repentance. "Family Happiness" illustrates the nature of true family and marital love. War and Peace carries a host of characters through stages of weakness and failure to spiritual insight. Anna Karenina, my favorite Tolstoy novel, contrasts one who grows in grace in the midst of family life with one whose life is wrecked by sin.

Yes, Russia has suffered much, but God has still blessed that land.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Darwin, Marx, and a Russian Antidote

Assignments for the week of April 18--22

The Maelstrom of the 19th Century:  The Positivism of Comte, the Uniformitarian Geology of Lyell, the Nationalism of Bismarck, the Imperialism of Victorian England, the unbelief of Schopenhauer,  the Naturalism of Darwin, the Communism of Marx, the Social Darwinism of Huxley,  and a world losing its soul.

How can we grasp the major ideas of a century? 

"Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it."
Leo Tolstoy
Darwin and Marx

Monday:  Survey of Ideas, Ideologies, and Events

Discussion of the introduction to Darwin's Origin of Species
Reading Assignments from Origin of Species

The Antidote:  Tolstoy's "Master and Man"

Tuesday:  More Ideas, Ideologies, and Events
Work on Readings and Reports

The Antidote:  "Master and Man" and "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"

Wednesday:  The spectre of Communism
Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto

The Antidote:  More about Tolstoy

Thursday:  Connections between the Darwinian Worldview and Other Idealogies, including Marxism

Friday:  Good Friday

More Quotes from Tolstoy:

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
"Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women." (from War and Peace)
"rest, nature, books, music…such is my idea of happiness…"
"Every lie is a poison; there are no harmless lies. Only the truth is safe. Only the truth gives me consolation - it is the one unbreakable diamond."

"Music is the shorthand of emotion."
"All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town."