Great Books Challenge Lessons 1-4

I have had the honor of being friends with Wes Callihan for nearly thirty years. I actually studied Classical Rhetoric under him in 1989 at the fledgling New St. Andrews, when that now thriving liberal arts college was just a night school meeting in a neighbor’s attic.  I have admired his teaching ability from that day to this: his rich knowledge of history, his infectious love for the classics (especially Homer), and his skill in transmitting some of that knowledge and love to his pupils. Consequently, it is a true delight to be once again his student as I work through this Old Western Culture
video course on the Aeneid.

This is my third time through the Aeneid. I first read it in the James Rhoades translation (from the Great Books) when I began teaching at Logos School, following my goal to read all the books that my students were required to read. While I was able to pick up the main plot, I must admit that on my own I was occasionally — okay, often lost in the details. But I gleaned enough to know that it was well worth a second read.

My second time through Aeneas’ adventures was three years ago, reading the Allen Mandelbaum translation with a weekly reading group of fellow teachers called Classics & Coffee (we still meet in Bucer’s coffeehouse in Moscow). I picked up much more that second time, for two reasons. First, as I read I summarized each page in a sentence or two on the bottom of the page, and each completed chapter in a paragraph. Second, talking about it with others helped me to re-envision the events in the story, and sometimes see it in a new way through their eyes.

This third time through promises to be the best. Wes knows his stuff so well and communicates it so effectively, I feel as if I am sitting across from him as we relax in the soft leather chairs in his study. He starts with a review of what we have learned so far, then introduces the lesson for the day. He reads large excerpts (which he clearly enjoys doing), summarizes main points, draws insightful connections with history and biblical truth, and makes practical applications. As I watch the lesson, I occasionally pause to answer the brief questions in the workbook, which helps to cement important concepts in my memory.

Let me briefly state one thing I learned from each of the first four lessons.

Lesson 1: Overview of Roman History. One benefit of learning Roman History (besides as a background for the Aeneid) is to discover what the founding fathers of the U.S. believed to be so valuable there. They sought examples of stable forms of government, and though they did not find one in Greek democracy, they did find it in the Roman republic.

Lesson 2: Introduction to the AeneidVergil would have admitted that his book was propaganda for Augustus, but that the works of Augustus should be propagated; namely, bringing peace and stability to Rome after a century of civil war.

Lesson 3: Rome is an Idea. In this book, as in other pagan literature, there were fore-shadowings of truth that made men long for those things that were ultimately fulfilled in Christ: an eternal Kingdom, ruled by a Prince of Peace.

Lesson 4: The Fall of Troy and Wanderings of Aeneas. In order to receive the wooden horse into their city in the false belief that it would bring them protection, the Trojans destroy their own walls, which offered their only true protection.

I hope that I have given you a feel for this Roman Roads video course, and that you will decide to join me as we learn the Aeneid from a master teacher.

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