Sunday, June 17, 2007

Poetry: A Father's Introduction to the Classics

Robert Browning

MY FATHER was a scholar and knew Greek.
When I was five years old, I asked him once
“What do you read about?”
“The siege of Troy.”
“What is a siege, and what is Troy?”
He piled up chairs and tables for a town,
Set me a-top for Priam, called our cat
—Helen, enticed away from home (he said)
By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere close
Under the footstool, being cowardly,
But whom—since she was worth the pains, poor puss—
Towzer and Tray,—our dogs, the Atreidai,—sought
By taking Troy to get possession of
—Always when great Achilles ceased to sulk,
(My pony in the stable)—forth would prance
And put to flight Hector—our page-boy’s self.
This taught me who was who and what was what:
So far I rightly understood the case
At five years old; a huge delight it proved
And still proves—thanks to that insructor sage
My Father, who knew better than turn straight
Learning’s full flare on weak-eyed ignorance,
Or, worse yet, leave weak eyes to grow sand-blind,
Content with darkness and vacuity.

It happened, two or three years afterward
That—I and playmates playing at Troy’ Siege—
My Father came upon our make-believe.
“How would you like to read yourself the tale
Properly told, of which I gave you first
Merely such notion as a boy could bear?
Pope, now, would give you the precise account
Of what, some day, by dint of scholarship
You’ll hear—who knows?—from Homer’ very mouth.
Learn Greek by all means, read the “Blind Old Man,
Sweetest of Singers’—tuphlos which means ‘blind,’
Hedistos which means ‘sweetest.’ Time enough!
Try, anyhow, to master him some day;
Until when, take what serves for substitute,
Read Pope, by all means!”
So I ran through Pope,
Enjoyed the tale—what history so true?
Also attacked my Primer, duly drudged,
Grew fitter thus for what was promised next—
The very thing itself, the actual words,
When I could turn—say, Buttmann to account.

Time passed, I ripened somewhat: one fine day,
“Quite ready for the Iliad, nothing less?
There’s Heine, where the big books block the shelf:
Don’t skip a word, thumb well the Lexicon!”
I thumbed well and skipped nowise till I learned
Who was who, what was what, from Homer’s tongue,
And there an end of learning.
Had you asked
The all-accomplished scholar, twelve years old,
“Who was it wrote the Iliad?”—what a laugh
“Why, Homer, all the world knows: of his life
Doubtless some facts exist: it’s everywhere:
We have not settled, though, his place of birth:
He begged, for certain, and was blind beside:
Seven cities claimed him—Scio, with best right,
Thinks Byron. What he wrote? Those Hymns we have.
Then there’s the ‘Battle of the Frogs and Mice,
’That’s all—unless they dig ‘Margites’ up
(I’d like that) nothing more remains to know.”

Thus did youth spend a comfortable time;
Until—“What’s this the Germans say in fact
That Wolf found out first? It’s unpleasant work
Their chop and change, unsettling one’s belief:
All the same, where we live, we learn, that’s sure.”
So, I bent brow o’er Prolegomena.
And after Wolf, a dozen of his like
Proved there was never any Troy at all,
Neither Besiegers nor Besieged, nay, worse,—
No actual Homer, no authentic text,
No warrant for the fiction I, as fact,
Had treasured in my heart and soul so long—
Ay, mark you! and as fact held still, still hold,
Spite of new knowledge, in my heart of hearts
And soul of souls, fact’s essence freed and fixed
From accidental fancy’s guardian sheath.
Assuredly thenceforward—thank my stars!—
However it got there, deprive who could—
Wring from the shrine my precious tenantry,
Helen, Ulysses, Hector and his Spouse,
Achilles and his Friend?—though Wolf—ah, Wolf!
Why must he needs come doubting, spoil a dream?

But then, “No dream’s worth waking”—Browning says:
And here’s the reason why I tell thus much.
I, now mature man, you anticipate,
May blame my Father justifiably
For letting me dream out my nonage thus,
And only by such slow and sure degrees
Permitting me to sift the grain from chaff,
Get truth and falsehood known and named as such.
Why did he ever let me dream at all,
Not bid me taste the story in its strength?
Suppose my childhood was scarce qualified
To rightly understand mythology,
Silence at least was in his power to keep:
I might have—somehow—correspondingly—
Well, who knows by what method, gained my gains,
Been taught, by forthrights not meanderings,
My aim should be to loathe, like Peleus’ son,
A lie as Hell’s Gate, love my wedded wife,
Like Hector, and so on with all the rest.
Could not I have excogitated this
Without believing such man really were?
That is—he might have put into my hand
The “Ethics”?
In translation, if you please,
Exact, no pretty lying that improves,
To suit the modern taste: no more, no less—
The “Ethics:” ’tis a treatise I find hard
To read aright now that my hair is gray,
And I can manage the original.At five years old—
how ill had fared its leaves!
Now, growing double o’er the Stagirite,
At least I soil no page with bread and milk,
Nor crumple, dogs-ear and deface—boys’ way.

Development - Robert Browning, Book, etext

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Father's Day - Flashes from the Past: A Great Dad

"My father...was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness."

As a young man, he was small and weak from asthma, and schooled at home. His father set up a little area at home to build up his strength and told him, "You have brains, but you have a sickly body. In order to make your brains bring you what they ought, you must build up your body; it depends upon you." As a child, he read him books (like those about knights and chivalry) that lauded physical bravery and heroism.

This Flash from the Past's time did come. He became Teddy Roosevelt, one of the most physically active U.S. Presidents, Rough Rider and cowboy, wielder of the Big Stick, the builder of the Panama Canal, avid conservationist, and buster of big corporate trusts.

On Father's Day Weekend, we thank and laud all the wonderful fathers out there who inspire us and encourage us to greater things. Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was apparently always a big, strong, healthy fellow who had special care and concern for the deprived and weak. Though a very successful businessman, he taught every 7 days in a Mission school, and worked tirelessly for many good purposes, like founding the New York Children's Aide Society and New York Orthopedic Hospital.

Teddy Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ancient, Modern, and Fantasy Maps: Ptolemy, GPS, and Tolkien

Lots of people love old maps. A 500 BC map, the Soleto Map was recently unearthed in southern Italy.

We have a special fondness for Ptolemy and his geography. His original maps don't exist, but he was rediscovered in the 1300's, and maps were made based on his descriptions in text. The beautiful map below is based on Ptolemy's coordinate system (before Descartes!). Ptolemy's maps would influence navigation for 1500 years, but his inaccuracies about the Earth's circumference (Eratosthenes was closer) were thought to be responsible for Columbus' underestimate of the time it would take to sail around the world.

Maps are often an essential feature of many tales of fantasy and mythology. J.R.R. Tolkien used map throughout his books to make his worlds more vivid and his son Christopher illustrated many maps like the one below.

If you have spatially-gifted kids, they may love to explore the History of Cartography, as well as the high tech combination Google Earth / NASA plus sites like Flash Earth. GPS / GIS technology has excited today's students about Modern Cartography and some may consider cartography as a career.

If you have GPS, a fun summer activity is Geocaching with the kids. Here's another site with ideas for geocaching with your family and the official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site.

Mathematics and Maps pdf
Ptolemy and his Maps at Wikipedia
Ptolemy's Works at the Vatican
Tolkien and Maps Cliff Notes Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

End of the Year Testing & Medieval Faire

The school year has finally come to a close. Our daughter's school took the SAT-9 as their end-of-the-year test, and in our homeschool, we used Piedmont Education Services to administer the ITBS. We've been administering either the ITBS or CAT at the end of every school year, and it's been helpful to give us reassurance that we're covering the necessary skills of traditional school as well as giving feedback about where more work may need to be done. Standardized tests are a reality for many hoops in the educational process, and most kids would benefit by a little exposure to them before they are really "high stakes." Another source for homeschool testing is Family Learning Organization. Here's info about Washington state homeschool test providers at the WHO site.

Our daughter had a wonderful medieval faire the next to last day of school. The children's costumes were wonderful (including some royalty, clergy, and Joan of Arc), and the children built catapults, a medieval village, and did calligraphy.

The castle (see below) was great fun to build. We printed the castle templates on glossy brochure paper, used spray adhesive / glue stick to attach it to posterboard, and then folded and taped to put it all together. We printed out the paper medieval soldiers and assorted characters, as well as relevant weapons like the trebuchet, cauldron, battering ram, and ballista. It was great fun!

Classical School Blog: Ancient Warfare: Medieval Siege Weapons

Monday, June 11, 2007

Classical Education and Satire

"Difficile est saturam non scribere." - Juvenal (It is difficult not to write satire.)

The word satire is thought to originate from the Latin word satura for medley, and possibly influenced by Greek satyr plays. The first recorded Roman satirist was the poet Horace, although he also acknowledges Lucilius before him.

In many classical curricula, explicit mention of satire is absent; it may be because satirical literature is often felt to be a "lower" form of expression, and many works may stray over the line of propriety in their invective or ridicule.

Satire has had an important role to play in every place and time, however, and it often reflects the voice of the outside critique, and so it often reflects an important source of dissent and current for reform or change. It is not by any accident that some of the greatest satirists of the literary world had reasons why they may have felt themselves outcasts of one sort or another (Aesop was a slave, Horace's father was a slave, Pope was a Catholic in a Protestant England with a deformed spine, Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels) was an Anglo-Irishman, and Byron and Orwell, Anglo-Scots), and satire with its mockery of power, has always had special appeal among young adults and the mature who might feel they are at the margins.

The boundaries between pure comedy, satire, and invective, are often blurred, but whether the Pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or the Chancery court lawyers in Dicken's Bleak House, well-directed satire can powerfully convict hypocrisy and deceit, swaying the tide of public opinion, and allowing individuals to see others as well as themselves in a completely different lights.

There is much that is good to be found in curricula such as Charlotte Mason's, but young satirists-at-heart will view some of her proponent's "twaddle-free" lists skeptically. And well they should. There is a lot of disagreement what constitutes Great Books, and much variability among the works of Great Authors, too. Satire has been with us throughout the Western Canon. It's been used for many purposes, to get a chuckle out of the reader, to purge the writer, to convict the guilty, and to rescue the downtrodden.

We haven't even really talked about visual satire like political cartoons or musical satire like Gilbert and Sullivan...we'll add them in some follow-up posts.

Horace Picture

Friday, June 8, 2007

History of Music: Rounds and Canons

The oldest known found is Sumer is icumen in (Summer has come in) from the mid-13th century. The manuscript is written in Middle English and Latin (red ink), too, and it was written for several voices. One singer would begin, then the second singer would start when the first singer had reached the red cross (see below).

Here in the United States, children learn rounds through Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Frere Jacque, or Dona Nobis Pachem (Give Us Peace). Rounds are a great way to introduce singing in harmony to children. Here's a nice collection of rounds lyrics from Swarthmore. A shorter listing of rounds with short sound clips can be found here.

Rounds and canons both have repeating sequences of melody, but in canons, the repetitions can be complex, with backwards or upside down imitations, variations in the durations of sounds, and changes in pitch. In Pachelbel's Canon in D, repeated sequences are shown in different colors to make the pattern easier to see.

To listen to a brief excerpt, click here: Johann PachelbelCanon

Pachelbel's Canon has a remarkable history in recent history. It burst on the musical scene in the 1970's in relative obscurity, and then was played in countless versions and arrangements, and still enjoys a great deal of popularity among all age groups and musical traditions. One of the top ten watched videos at was of an apparently young baseball cap-wearing electrical guitarist playing a pretty incredible Canon in D variation here. It has been been viewed over 21 million times.

Round (music) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Canons and Rounds

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Progymnasmata Examples

Cindy Marsch at has posted updates to her samples of Progymnasmata. Free downloads at the link below include a Progymnasmata Overview, and chapters on Narrative and Fable. Examples are wonderful, and her approach straightforward:

1. Warm-Up 5 W's and an H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
2. "Aerobic" (Expand)
3. "Anaerobic" (Change)
4. "Cool-Down" (Imitate the style of one great sentence)

If you have a reluctant writer, you might considering trying an online Progym tutorial over the summer when there won't be pressure from other assignments. If you're homeschooling, it can be a lot less stressful having someone else critique your student's papers.

It's easy to see Marsch's simple template can help overwhelmed students. It should also help focus listening and improve note-taking efficiency.

When your student listens to a Teaching Company lecture, or reads a chapter in a book, see if he or she can remember to cover the main points in the 5W/H framework. If your student is already practicing taking notes, you can critique their note-taking to see whether they are taking down only the most relevant information, or getting mired in the "junk words" not essential to meaning. One helpful template for taking notes is the Cornell method.

Expanding text may be difficult for students, and some may need to use a thesaurus (electronic or otherwise). In some cases, it may be important to highlight key words that are the best candidate for expansion (e.g. what does this really mean, what is an example).

The change step is particularly valuable for giving students more command of the structure of sentences (syntax, grammar). This may sound dull, but it may make all the difference between a charismatic writer and someone who everyone wants to tune out. Marsch's examples of expansion: slant, direct and indirect declarative, interrogative, comparative.

Finally, style imitation step can be great fun as well as training students on the skills that make up the art of great writers. One humorous example of this is Henry Beard's delightfulPoetry for Cats.

Example from "Samuel Taylor Coleridge's cat":

In Xanadu did Kubla Kat
A splendid sofa-bed decree
With silken cushions soft and fat
A perfect feline habitat
Set on a gilt settee.

With imitation, a writer tries to capture emotional feeling, the word choice and structure of phrases, the imagery, and the music of what is said.

I've also added more links to more Progym sites and examples on the Internet.

Marsch's Progymnasmata Examples Downloads page
Rick Librarian Poetry for Cats Excerpts
Bert Dill's Progymnasmata Samples
Short Progym Example from Jonathan Swift
Sonnet Analysis - Not Exactly Progym, but Finding Rhetorical Devices in Sonnets
Short Progymnasmata Examples with Rhetorical Device Prompts
More Progym Examples, U Texas
One Progymnasmata Example: Proverb

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ancient Greece and a Classical Christian Education

Classical Christian schools are undergoing a revival in the United States, jumpstarted from Douglas Wilson's Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning in 1991 and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind in 1999. Of course, more continuous history of classical Christian education can be traced from classical Catholic educators.

The question of how to incorporate ancient Greek history, mythology, and philosophy often arises between different groups as well as different parents and educators. Here are some reflections from a book I'm reading by Gilbert Highet: "We read them not because they are "historic," but because they teach us, they make us think. Nowhere else in the entire literature of the world, in any language or any single period is there such a rich, varied, and deeply thoughtful collection of books as those produced by the Greeks and their successors the Romans...A wise man of our own time was once asked what was the single greatest contribution of Greece to the world's welfare. He replied "The greatest invention of the Greeks was (or "on the one hand") and ("on the other hand"). Without these two balances, we cannot think. The Greeks therefore taught one another, by thinking and talking, and writing."

Highet adds, "One of the chief pleasures of studying aesthetic and intellectual history is to see how their ideas...reappear in distant times...If we open Dante's Comedy...we recognize the moral system of the Greek philsopher Aristotle. If we see Shakespeare's Macbeth, we reflect that form of the tragedy and its basic sense were both created by the poets of Greece. The balance of powers on which the American constitution rests was first formulated by a Greek historical thinker, and Greek teachers first stated that lofty ideal, the brotherhood of man..."

And we all live among ancient Greek thinkers, today. One does not have to look far to find Stoics, Sophists, Skeptics, Aristotelians, Platonists, and Epicureans. Recently, John Mark Reynolds posted a rebuttal to a Heart of Wisdom article that suggested "adoption of classical methods but rejection of classical literature." In the spirit of and , I invite you to read and reason through both.

Certainly there are different ages when it would more appropriate to introduce the people and philosophical debates of ancient Greece, but Highet is right. If we teach ancient Greece as only a collection of historical facts, we have missed important lessons for our next generation.

Previous Latin Sayings of the Week

"Soli deo gloria." - For the glory of God alone.

Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit! - Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

"Lex malla, lex nulla." - St. Thomas Aquinas
(A bad law is no law.)

"Cantantes licet usque (minus via laedit) eamus. " - Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious.

"Caelitus mihi vires." - My strength is from heaven.

"Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo Salvatore meo" - My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:45)

In Omnibus Ipse Primatum Tenens “That in all things He (Christ) might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:16-18)

"Qui bene cantat bis orat." - He who sings well, prays twice - (St Augustine)

"Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te." -
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. (St Augustine)

"Caelitus mihi vires
." - My strength is from heaven.

"Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est." - Where there is charity and love, God is there.

"Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis ."

Unless you will have believed, you will not understand. - St Augustine

"Deo vindice" - With God as Protector

"Credite amori vera dicenti." - Believe love speaking the truth. (St. Jerome)

De vitiis nostris scalam nobis facimus, si vitia ipsa calcamus." - If we tread our vices under feet, we make them a ladder to rise to higher things. (St. Augustine)

Dei gratia - By the grace of God

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. - The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis." - Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. (St. Augustine)

"Deo iuvante" - with God's help

"Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus." - That God may be glorified in all things

"Pax vobiscum." Peace be with you.

"Jubilate Deo." Be joyful in the Lord.

"Ille vir, haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei." He is a man, not of ample means, but full of good faith.

"Facit enim mihi magna qui potens est." - For He that is mighty does to me great things.

"Oremus semper pro invicem." - Let us ever pray for each other.

"Distrahit animum librorum multitudo." - Seneca
A multitude of books distracts the mind.

"Nullam est nunc dictum, quod sit non dictum prius." - Terence
There is nothing said now, that has not been said before.

"Nosce te ipsum." - Plato
Know thyself.

"Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis" - Not for you, not for me, but for us.

"Primum non nocere." - First, do no harm (Hippocrates)

"Dei plena sunt omnia." - Cicero (All things are full of God.)