Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Heroes or, Greek Fairy Tales

(BOOK 4 of the 52 week Challenge)

As I am guiding my children through a neo-classical education, I am enjoying reading books that I never encountered in all my years of high school, college, and graduate school. This week's selection is a retelling of three Greek fairy tales: Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts, and Theseus. It was written for young adults by Charles Kingsley (an English historian, professor, and writer) and was first published in 1856.

A full online version of this book is available here.

I'll be writing more about our family's decision to pursue a classical education in future weeks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Scarlet Letter

(BOOK 3 of the 52 week Challenge)

Last week I said that I was reading Climbing Parnassus for this week, but I picked up The Scarlet Letter instead. So Parnassus has to wait.

Don't read any further unless you want to know the plot of the book.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th century American novelist and short story writer, and a transcendentalist. The Scarlet Letter is considered to be a part of the Dark Romanticism movement of his time period.

The novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, a married woman who is sent ahead of her husband from England to live in Puritan Boston. While her husband is still across the ocean, Hester gives birth to a child who was conceived after Hester reached the New World, and she is placed in prison for her *crime*. When she is released from her incarceration, she is forced to wear a scarlet *A* on her clothing as a continuation of her punishment.

Even though the daily wearing of the letter brings Hester the scorn of the townspeople, she refuses to reveal the identity of the father of her child, and the man refuses to reveal his identity as well. Hester, and her daughter, must bear the shame alone. Not until the end of the novel do the townspeople learn that Hester's partner in crime was the young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who they have ardently worshipped. Hawthorne describes the parishioners adoration for their minister in this passage:

Never, on New England soil, had stood the man so honored by his mortal brethren as the preacher! How fared it with him then? Were there not the brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head? So etherealized by spirit as he was, and so apotheosized by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps in the procession really tread upon the dust of earth?
The Reverend Dimmesdale describes to Hester his agony at carrying his secret in this passage:

"Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am! Had I one friend, -or were it my worst enemy!- to whom, when sickened with the praises of all other men, I could daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest of all sinners, methinks my sould might keep itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me! But, now, it is all falsehood! -all emptiness!- all death!"

Hmmm, Reverend, maybe you should have confessed years ago and not paraded around town like you were above mere mortal men. That might have made you feel better. Can you tell I didn't appreciate his obnoxious piety?

Also on the scene is Hester's husband who has arrived from England, but he swears Hester to secrecy and changes his last name so as not to be associated with Hester and her child. Roger (Prynne) *Chillingworth* then spends the remainder of his life consumed with seeking revenge against the man who impregnated his wife.

This encounter between Roger and Hester later in the novel made me wish that the two had never met. How different each of their lives could have been!

"Woman, I could wellnigh pity thee!" said Roger Chillingworth . . . , "Thou hadst great elements. Peradventure, hadst thou met earlier with a better love than mine, this evil had not been. I pity thee, for the good that has been wasted in thy nature!"

"And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, "for the hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee, and be once for human? If not for his sake, then doubly for thine own! . . . "

All in all, I found The Scarlet Letter to be a very sad tale.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writer of the Week

Here is a full Maxim essay that Zachary wrote for Diogenes. For this assignment, each student chose a Maxim to amplify. (Previous weeks had the Maxim assigned.)

Wisdom vs. Folly

“A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.” ~ Solomon

by Zachary (age 13)

All wise writers deserve admiration, but none so much as Solomon, the third king of ancient Israel. When God told Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted God to give him, Solomon chose wisdom over personal wealth, a long life, or any other selfish desire. He ruled with great diplomacy and never used much military force. Of all the maxims and proverbs he wrote, his teaching on how wise sons please their parents must be one of the finest.

This maxim speaks of how children who live with respect towards the knowledge and fear of God and who are devoted to obedience to His commands will please their parents. In contrast, children acting without regard to the laws of God will cause their parents grief. The wisdom of this maxim will be observed in the sections below.

The person who heeds this maxim will discover what is right, or true, according to Scripture. He will also learn what is upright in God’s eyes, understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. He will have favor with God and man, and his reward will be eternal life.

In contrast, if someone disregards this maxim and chooses foolishness over wisdom, then he will not know what is right according to God’s will. He will not have knowledge of God or a fear of the Lord. This kind of man is what Scripture warns us against imitating; he is a perfect example of what not to emulate. He will reap destruction in the end.

Such is also the situation with students. The student who pays attention in class and studies hard will bring joy to his teacher by displaying appreciation of the teacher’s time. But the student who does not pay attention in class and entertains himself rather than studying will discover that his teacher will not be pleased with him, since the teacher wasted his time teaching a student who does not appreciate his time and effort.

An example of this maxim is the Parable of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus. The son asked his father for his inheritance early, and when he received it, he moved away to the city. There he wasted his money on his own pleasure, and quickly exhausted his resources. He decided to return to his father’s house, but planned to ask to be a slave since he had sinned against his father. When he returned, his father, having been worried about him, welcomed him with excitement and refused to let his son be his slave. His father had the fattest cow slaughtered and a feast was held to celebrate his son’s return to living wisely.

Cicero, the great Roman philosopher and orator, testified to the wisdom of this maxim when he said, “The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.”

When all of this is considered, can Solomon possibly be admired and praised enough for his wise saying on wisdom and folly?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


(BOOK 2 of the 52 week Challenge)

Moses had died and the Lord had declared that Joshua would be the next leader of His people. The Israelites were camped just east of the Jordan River. Thus begins the Old Testament book of Joshua.

Joshua declares how the Lord led his chosen people into Canaan, and how He guided them as they established their dominion over the land that had been promised to their fathers. The book imparts the stories of Rahab and the spies, the crossing of the Jordan River, the taking of Jericho, and the day the sun stood still. It describes the wars waged as the Israelites took possession of cities in the central, southern, and northern parts of the Promised Land. And it tells how the land was divided among the tribes.

I very much enjoyed reading again how God was faithful to keep His promises to the Israelites. He is the God of truth, and we can believe what He says. Always.

My pastor is preaching through the book of Joshua right now, and reading through the entire book this week motivated me to get back to my chapter-by-chapter summarization that I began, oh, a few months back. :-)

I learned a couple of new things this week in relation to Joshua.

Did you know that the name Joshua tree was given to this plant by a group of Mormon settlers as they moved westward across the Mohave Desert in the mid-1840's? The tree's unique shape reminded them of Joshua stretching his hands up to the heavens in prayer

In modern times, the flow of the Jordan River has been much reduced from that of biblical times due primarily to three occurences: in the 1960's, the country of Israel began operating a dam that diverts water from the Sea of Galilee, a major provider of water for the river; also in the 1960's, Israel constructed a channel that diverts water from the Yarmouk River, another main tributary of the river; and Syria has also built reservoirs that catch the Yarmouk's waters. It is estimated that the flow of the river has been reduced from 70 to 90 percent.

NEXT UP: Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin by Tracy Lee Simmons.

UPDATED: I've changed my mind. I'll read The Scarlet Letter this next week.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Writer of the Week

This is Ryan's first full essay based on the Maxim progymnasmata as taught in the Diogenes material.

(I described the Classical Writing program here.)

Responsible Living

“Would you live with ease? Do what you ought, and not what you please.”

by Ryan (age 13)

It is proper to praise every writer, but especially Benjamin Franklin, the famous printer, publisher, diplomat, scientist, and statesman of 18th century America. He was a wise and very active man who published a successful paper and Poor Richard’s Almanac, wrote letters to the local newspaper as a boy, patented numerous inventions, proved that lighting is indeed electricity, and signed many of the key founding documents in American history. It has been said Benjamin Franklin was a “jack of all trades, master of many.” His wise sayings were widely known throughout all of the American colonies, and were normally associated with a common sense viewpoint which made him and his almanac very popular. None of his observations were so wise as those he made on doing your duty.

What does the maxim say? If one desires to be trouble-free in this world he should carry out his duties rather than simply doing whatever he wishes. One should make it a habit to live everyday with this attitude if he wishes to live with ease. We shall praise the author in what follows.

The consequence of this maxim is that he who completes the tasks required of him will have a more comfortable life. He will save money, and he can provide for the future with it; he will be sought after as an employee, as well as an employer. People are more likely to appreciate the man who can be counted on to complete his obligations, which will result in smoother lives for those around him as well.

On the contrary, if one were to only do what he wished rather than the necessary everyday tasks, he would not be sought after as an employee or employer, since others would not appreciate him because he would be considered very unreliable.

Such is also the way with farmers who plant their crops; those who are willing to keep their plants healthy throughout the season by watering and taking care of them will have a harvest of food for himself as well as his family.

This maxim is illustrated in Aesop’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, in which the ant labors and builds up a supply of food all year long while the grasshopper merely ridicules him for wasting his time working instead of enjoying life. When winter comes the diligent ant has enough food for the whole season, but the lazy grasshopper dies from starvation.

Solomon, the Old Testament king who chose wisdom over all his other desires, said, “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”

It is easy to see the wisdom of the author, Benjamin Franklin, when he wrote such things about living problem-free by simply doing our duty.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Timeless Comic Strip

A friend sent me this old comic strip this morning. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I'd say it is just as applicable today as it was 15 or 20 years ago.

Click on the image to enlarge it for reading.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Princess and the Goblin

(BOOK 1 of the 52 week Challenge)

The Princess and the Goblin is a classic fairy tale written by George MacDonald, a Scottish novelist and clergyman. It was first published in 1872. MacDonald is known as the father of modern fantasy, and this novel includes elements of Christian biblical allegories and symbolism.

It tells a story of Princess Irene, her friend Curdie who is the son of a miner, and Irene's great-great-grandmother who lives in a room at the top of the castle stairs and can be seen by only a handful of people. These characters battle against the evil goblins who live in the nearby mine where Curdie's father works.

Throughout his tale, MacDonald give the reader a clear mental image of the characters and events by providing excellent descriptions. The book is filled with long, well-crafted sentences that are a delight to read.

Zachary, Ryan, and Catherine have all joined me in reading this first week's pick as it is a literature selection in Tapestry of Grace. I had never read this book before, and I highly recommend it as appropriate for all members of the family. Over the next couple of weeks, our family will discuss different aspects of the book as they come up in their assignments.

MacDonald wrote a follow-up tale to this one entitled The Princess and Curdie. I'll likely include it at a later date in this year's reading list.

NEXT UP: Our pastor is preaching through the Old Testament book of Joshua, and it is time for me to read the book from beginning to end once again.