Monday, July 31, 2006

Praise for Homer's Iliad

Love2Learn Mom, a home-schooler in Wisconsin who blogs at Studeo seems to be gearing up for her Fall Semester by thinking about Chesterton and Homer's "Iliad."

I'm working on reviews of two books: Homer's Iliad and a study guide for it (it's sort of nice to have to spend time re-reading the Iliad after almost twenty years). Inspired by a quote about the Iliad in Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, I decided to collect some quotes from Catholic tradition about the importance of this book and, by extension the study of the classics of antiquity.

Cardinal Newman says that we should "know what you know and what you do not know". I know that I don't know enough to have the appreciation for The Iliad that I should, but I know that it is an absolute giant in the "common experience" of mankind and has been warmly embraced by Catholic tradition. So much so that it is referenced many times in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, including a number of references in homilies and writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Here is the quote from The Everlasting Man (from the chapter "The Antiquity of Civilization":
"Somewhere along the Ionian coast opposite Crete and the islands was a town of some sort, probably of the sort that we should call a village or hamlet with a wall. It was called Ilion but it came to be called Troy, and the name will never perish from the earth. A poet who may have been a beggar and a ballad-monger, who may have been unable to read and write, and was described by tradition as blind, composed a poem about the Greeks going to war with this town to recover the most beautiful woman in the world. That the most beautiful woman in the world lived in that one little town sounds like a legend; that the most beautiful poem in the world was written by somebody who knew of nothing larger than such little towns is a historical fact. It is said that the poem came at the end of the period; that the primitive culture brought it forth in its decay; in which case one would like to have seen that culture in its prime. But anyhow it is true that this, which is our first poem, might very well be our last poem too. It might well be the last word as well as the first word spoken by man about his mortal lot, as seen by merely mortal vision. If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die." [snip] Read More

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