Category Archives: Old Western Culture

Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Rhetoric

81Few4FQ9cL[1]In her invaluable book Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language, Sister Miriam Joseph tells us that, according to Shakespeare scholar T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare “was trained in the heroic age of grammar school rhetoric in England, and he shows knowledge of the complete system, in its most heroic proportions. He shows a grasp of the theory as presented by the various texts through Quintilian.” In fact, a contemporary reported that Shakespeare was a country schoolmaster before he came to London, and at that time the grammar school would have significantly familiarized him with the arts of language.  Many passages in Shakespeare’s plays show such a familiarity with the technical vocabulary of rhetoric. Continue reading Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Rhetoric

Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Logic

81Few4FQ9cL[1]The classical Christian school movement is seeking to revive a form of education that helped shape some the greatest minds of western civilization. But how do we know that our father’s were trained according to the Trivium? One delightful demonstration of this is William Shakespeare’s frequent and detailed use of the liberal arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric in his plays and poems,  a use thoroughly identified by Sister Miriam Joseph in her book Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. In this well-researched book, she argues that Shakespeare’s application of formal logic is evidenced in his use of definition, genus and species, syllogistic vocabulary, applied syllogisms, enthymemes, and more. Let me give some of her clearer examples. Continue reading Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Logic

Great Books Challenge Lesson 12

Lesson 12 is the final installment in this Old Western Culture video course on The Romans, unit 1, and it has been a grand adventure. Wes Callihan has taken us through the entire Aeneid, greatest of the Roman epics, and led us through large portions of Ovid’s mythical tales of Metamorphoses. In this final lesson we are introduced to the last three of the Roman epics, connected (oddly enough) by the theme of impiety: De Rerum Natura by Lucretius, Pharsalia by Lucan, and Thebaid by Statius. Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lesson 12

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. Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lesson 10-11

Great Books Challenge Lesson 9

This lesson completes Vergil’s epic classic the Aeneid, with books eleven and twelve. These books are battle filled page turners, with gripping side tales and a satisfying conclusion. The side tales are sometimes tragic, as when King Evander mourns the loss of Pallas: “I, in living, have undone the fate of fathers: I survive my son”; maddeningly frustrating, as when Diomedes’ suggestion of a truce is received by all but Turnus: “I shall go bold against Aeneas”; or adventurous fun, as the story of Camilla, the warrior maiden: “At the center of the struggle, like an Amazon…”

Wes Callihan has noted many parallels between Vergil and Homer (modified to match the Roman mindset), as well as Vergil and the Bible. These parallels have been insightful and educational, and have added to the pleasure of the reading. And as Vergil imitated Homer, so later writers, such as Dante, used matter from Vergil. Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lesson 9

Great Books Challenge Lessons 7-8

These lessons include books seven through ten of the Aeneid. We are now into the second half of this epic, which is as much like the Iliad as the first half was like the Odyssey: famous warriors boasting and battling until they fall, their armor ringing around them, while the gods watch and interfere, seeking their own advantage. The parallels between the books that I noted myself or that Wes Callihan reveals help make these lessons truly intriguing. Let me note a few. Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lessons 7-8

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.

Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lessons 5-6

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.

Continue reading Great Books Challenge Lessons 1-4

The Philosopher and the Apostle

Aristotle presents the general line of argument “That if it is possible for one of a pair of contraries to be or happen, then it is possible for the other: e.g. if a man can be cured, he can also fall ill; for any two contraries are equally possible, in so far as they are contraries” (Rhetoric II.19).

I was wondering if anyone would really argued this way, when I recalled an argument from Paul about the resurrection: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Paul either knows his Aristotle, or Aristotle knows how people think.

Paul Preaching to the Ephesians
Paul Preaching at Athens