Greek to Me
I did not receive a well-rounded education in the classic works of Western literature. In an effort to resolve that problem, I decided last November to put together a list of the great works (prose and poetry) from Homer to the present day, and starting with The Iliad read the ones I had never read and re-read the ones I had.
With the assistance and input of numerous friends, I ended up with a list of almost 600 titles. I have no idea whether I will live long enough to finish that many works of literature, given the amount of reading I already do as part of my regular teaching job. I am chipping away at it, however. I have already completed the works in the “Ancient Classics” section of my list – titles that were written up to about AD 600.
Had I been blogging when I started reading through these works, I would have posted reflections on each individual work as I finished it. I intend to do that from this point forward, but I don’t want to leave the ancient classics without some comment.
The ancient Greek and Latin classics reflect a view of the world that offers little in the way of hope. There is vengeful rage, betrayal, murder, adultery, petty gods and goddesses, merciless fatalism, and those are things found in the least depressing books. In some cases, authors seem to be attempting to outdo one another in the levels of depravity they can describe.
Aeschylus: In my play, a son kills his own mother because she murdered his father.
Sophocles: Hold my beer.
There are many of these works I would not re-read unless I had to. Those I would re-read are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; Virgil’s Aeneid; and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
All of these works, even those I did not particularly enjoy, are helpful if for no other reason than that they give us a glimpse into the darkness of the world before the coming of Christ. This effect can be felt very clearly if one concludes his reading of ancient classic works with Augustine’s Confessions. It’s a breath of fresh air. In the Confessions, Augustine writes:
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
The restlessness and darkness of a human heart devoted to the gods but without God is manifested over and over again in the great works of the ancient world.
Thankfully, into that world came a great Light.