Great Books Challenge Lessons 5-6

Books four through six of the Aeneid are some of the most fascinating and memorable of this epic tale! In these chapters we read of the tragedy of Dido, the funeral games of Achises, and the journey of Aeneas into the underworld. Wes Callihan once again brings to light many practical lessons and interesting insights from these stories, and I look forward to each new lesson from Old Western Culture, wondering what I will learn next.

One practical lesson is from book 4, regarding the evil effect of pursuing an improper relationship. Aeneas and Dido fall in love under the influence of Venus, and what is the result of this foolish and sinful dalliance? Aeneas forgets his divinely-ordained purpose to found Rome, and Dido neglects her duties toward Carthage. The citizens become idle, and the city comes to a standstill. This is seen as a tragic failing, and is a much more valuable lesson about “love” that what Disney delivers. It shows the folly of those who lie to themselves by claiming that they are at least married “in the eyes of God.” Aeneas is finally brought to his senses. He humbles himself and leaves this sinful path to follow his duty and the divine will, but Dido is devastated and gives in to despair. Wes wisely notes that repentance sometimes requires us to hurt others involved in the same sin.

But the most interesting insights are seen as we follow Aeneas and the Sibyl into the realm of Hades. Having crossed the river Styx, Aeneas sees the adamantine gates of Hades and hears of the torments of the damned. He then enters the Elysian fields, the paradise of the blessed, a land of peaceful refreshment of the soul. This is a gripping story in itself, but Wes draws out of it several biblical connections. Let me mention the most intriguing.

We read in 2 Peter 2:4 that angels who sinned were cast into hell to be kept for judgement. The word translated “hell” is the Greek word Tartarus, which being used without further explanation would have recalled to the original readers the descriptions of the underworld in the Aeneid, written just a generation before. This gives us insights into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, as well as helping to explain how, having died on the cross, Jesus could be both in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40) preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19), and with the forgiven thief in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

Wes Callihan is truly a master teacher, and I eagerly anticipate learning more from him as we move into the second half of this grand adventure!

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