Great Books Challenge Lesson 10-11

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an encyclopedia of about 250 Greek and Roman myths from Creation to Julius Caesar, including Pyramus and Thisbe, Arachne, the Minotaur’s labyrinth, Icarus, Hercules, Pygmalion, Orpheus and Eurydice, King Midas, and more you will probably recognize. These otherwise independent stories are united by Ovid’s theme of change, along with other interesting interweavings, such as Daedalus being both the architect hired by Minos to hide the Minotaur and the engineer who designed the wings of wax and feathers that he and his son Icarus use to escape Crete.

Wes Callihan brings to light dozens of fascinating insights, finds connections with biblical events, and demonstrates the value to Christian students of understanding this ancient epic, among others. For example, in Ovid, man is made in the image of God to rule over the earth. Ovid’s version of the great Flood, following the ages of gold, silver, and bronze, and the violent age of iron, has surprising parallels and differences with scriptures story of Noah. The only survivors, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, survive on a small boat, land on a mountain, but repopulate the world by throwing rocks behind them, which then grow into people. This demonstrates both the historicity and superiority of the biblical account.

As someone who enjoys science, I was particularly intrigued by three further associations made by Wes Callihan. First, the myth that the lyre of Orpheus (the singer who lost his wife Eurydice at the last moment while leading her out of Hades) became at his death the constellation Lyra, which Wes shows how to locate in the summer sky. Second, the stories of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who believed that everything is flux, that nothing is permanent: elements, heavens, seasons, our bodies, features of the earth, and kingdoms of men all show continual change. Mr. Callihan waxes fluent with this theme, making many connections to later literature and philosophy. Third, the fact that the year the Julius Caesar died, 44 BC, a great comet appeared that was so bright it was visible even during the day, an event taken by the Romans to signify that Caesar had been deified.

I continue to enjoy this challenge from Roman Roads, and look forward to the final lesson on Lucretius, Statius, and Lucan.


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