Homer “The Odyssey”

Judging by the freshmen at my university (hereafter “Mall U”), I’d guess that high schools now assign the Odyssey more often than the Iliad. I suppose the Odyssey is more a yarn, with daring do, exotic locations, high adventure and true love. It’s more accessible and the Iliad is, by contrast, intense, violent, and a…

Hesiod “Theogony”

Now we come to Theogony, Hesiod’s account of the old gods and the coming of the Olympians. It’s rougher going than Works and Days. Some sections feature interminable lists as hard to keep straight as the Biblical begetting, while others draw out episodes with varying degrees of intrinsic interest. All the same, the Theogony is…

Notes on Populism

Note: I’d like to stick my toe in the political waters a bit here, but do not intend to stray far from old books and art: my virtual bread and butter. However, E.D. Kain’s recent posts about populism have raised some historical questions for me. Never fear, canon fans! This won’t become a habit.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Mesopotamians lived in a world that, at first glance, reminds one of the Ancient Greeks. There is the same interaction with a plethora of gods who guide men, but often remain indifferent to them. There is the same acceptance of hierarchy, kingship, and the priestly class as the natural social order and analogues to…

Bhagavad Gita

Continuing in the theme of the soldier’s dilemma, we have the Bhagavad-Gita, an excerpt from the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. It is often read alone however; partly because the Mahabharata is so long (about one hundred thousand verses, or thirty times the length of Paradise Lost by one count), and partly because the Bhagavad-Gita…

Hesiod “Works and Days”

Perhaps inappropriately, Mister Kain’s recent post about populist conservatism comes to mind because I’m reading Hesiod, who I’ve heard called a “conservative” more than a few times now. It’s a cringe-inducing term and terribly anachronistic; not only is Hesiod not a conservative politically, but he doesn’t really hope to “conserve” much of his society. He…

Homer “The Iliad” (2 of 2)

Long before they were recorded, the Homeric legends were the material of traveling oral bards who composed as they chanted, making use of certain stock formulas: the battle, the speech, the ritual, proper descriptions for the goods, etc, and reciting stories that lasted hours, or even days. In a time of regional decline and stagnation,…

Bach BWV 82 (for Sunday)

I’m always amazed to read essays on classical music from the 18th and 19th centuries. The writers, often with no more musical training than I have (i.e. none), also would have necessarily had to listen to the pieces performed live, maybe only once. And yet, their attention was such that they picked up on nuances…

Homer “The Iliad” (1 of 2)

Western literature begins with The Iliad and, until recently, it was assumed that no educated person in the west could have skipped it. Set during a few days in the tenth year of the Greek assault on the Trojan city of Ilion, the epic perhaps refers to an actual war, but remembered dimly and filtered…

Aeschylus “The Suppliants”

“Hateful, and fain of love more hateful still, Foul is the bird that rends another bird, And foul the men who hale unwilling maids, From sire unwilling, to the bridal bed. Never on earth, nor in the lower world, Shall lewdness such as theirs escape the ban: There too, if men say right, a God…

Allow Me to Introduce Myself…

A professor in my History department, known colloquially as “the department anarchist”, and I spent an afternoon discussing my problems getting undergraduates to read Homer, Saint Augustine, and Dante in the same month. “Don’t let them skip the readings,” he insisted. “It’s worth it. These books are good for you!” I smiled and said, “We’re…