Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Through Illuminated Manuscripts

If you enjoy illuminated manuscripts, check out Christmas: Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. At the Getty Museum site, there's Making of a Medieval Book.

From a bishop's note to monk copyists at Durham Cathedral (reference):

"You write with the pen of memory on the parchment of pure conscience, scraped by the knife of Divine fear, smoothed by the pumice of heavenly desires, and whitened by the chalk of holy thoughts. The ruler is the Will of God. The split nib is the joint love of God and our neighbor. Coloured inks are heavenly grace. The exemplar is the life of Christ."

Pages were made from stretched animal skins and the feathers of geese or swans were used as quills. Illumination (from Latin illuminaire, to light up)came from burnishing gold leaf (coins hammered and flaked) into figures outlined with leadpoint. Paints were made from mineral and plant extracts as well as chemical reactions.

Finished manuscripts were sewn together and bound in leather, wood, or decorative fabric.

Merry Christmas!

Classical School Blog: Do-It-Yourself Illuminated Manuscripts and Monks Day

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Scroll and Puritan Prayers

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

At right the Thanksgiving scroll of the Dead Sea scrolls, written on leather and 10 feet long, dating from about 200 B.C. It's very similar to the Psalms. Below, the Puritans arriving in America and praying.

The prayer below is A Puritan Prayer for Thanksgiving


Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admires, adores, loves Thee,
for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before Thee in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with Thee
ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless Thee for the soul Thou hast created,
for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body Thou hast given me,
for preserving its strength and vigor,
for providing senses to enjoy delights,
for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
for hands, eyes, ears that do Thy bidding;
for Thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,
for social joys of relatives and friends,
for ability to serve others,
for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
for my own expectation of seeing Thee clearly.
I love Thee above the powers of language to express,
for what Thou art to Thy creatures.
Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity. Amen

Monday, November 3, 2008

Old English Verse

" I have always best enjoyed things in a foreign language, or one so remote as to feel like it (such as Anglo-Saxon)." - J.R.R. Tolkien

As our son's Omnibus course wends its way through early English ecclesiastical history (Bede), we also finished watching he Lord of the Rings trilogy and Old Anglo Saxon verse seem to be the perfect complement.

In Saxon England, professional storytellers called scops would wander from town to town, receiving food and lodging in exchange for good stories sung or told.

From Beowulf's court: "'... now and then the poet raised his voice, resonant in Heorot... Then Hrothgar, leader in battle, was entertained with music - harp and voice in harmony. The strings were plucked, many a song rehearsed, when it was the turn of Hrothgar's poet to please men at the mead bench, perform in the hall... Thus was the lay sung, the song of the poet. The hall echoed with joy, waves of noise broke out along the benches..."

Caedmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. He was an Anglo Saxon herdsman who was ignorant of the "art of song", but called to write music in a dream. From Bede: "...some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: 'Caedmon, sing me something.' Then he answered and said: 'I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither, because I did not know how to sing at all.' Again he said, he who was speaking with him: 'Nevertheless, you must sing.' Then he said: 'What must I sing?' Said he: 'Sing to me of the first Creation.' When he received this answer, then he began immediately to sing in praise of God the Creator verses and words which he had never heard, whose order is this:

Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard
metudæs maecti end his modgidanc
uerc uuldurfadur— sue he uundra gihuaes
eci dryctin or astelidæ
he aerist scop aelda barnum
heben til hrofe haleg scepen
tha middungeard moncynnæs uard
eci dryctin æfter tiadæ
firum foldu frea allmectig

Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven,
the might of the architect, and his purpose,
the work of the father of glory
— as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders.
He, the holy creator,
first created heaven as a roof for the children of men.
Then the guardian of mankind, the eternal lord,
the lord almighty, afterwards appointed the middle earth,
the lands, for men.

To hear it read in Old English, click the links at the bottom of the page here.

Caedmon became a zealous monk and an inspirational religious poet living at Whitby Abbey (above).

Caedmon's Hymn
The Wanderer
Longfellow: Elegaic Verse
Old English Aloud
Wikipedia: Heroic Verse
Longfellow: Elegaic Verse
Old English Aloud
Wikipedia: Heroic Verse
Brief Powerpoint on Anglo Saxon Poetry
Exeter Book of Riddles
Image Beowulf
Music and Verse
Wikipedia: Caedmon

Saturday, October 18, 2008

William Billings: Early Colonial Composer of Hymns and Fugues

Now shall my inward joy arise,
And burst into a song;
Almighty Love inspires my heart;
and Pleasure tunes my tongue. (Africa - William Billings)

I'm enjoying a wonderful collection of hymns and fugues from Colonial American William Billings (1746-1800). An excerpt from his famous a capella Africa .

Billings was an unconventional character (we confess a soft spot for these...), but his gift of music making is unquestionable. He blends medieval harmonies with complicated fugues, and an personal irascibility that caused no small upheaval among singing believers. From a New England magazine in the 1800's: "He spurned the rules of art, such as there were, and sung out of the abundance of his heart..."

More about the life of William Billings

"He was poor and uneducated -- he supported himself much of the time as a tanner. But he also took up music when he was young and was teaching choral singing by the age of 22.

Biographers call him a gargoyle. He was blind in one eye with a short leg and a withered arm. But that's only the beginning. He practiced what a contemporary called "an uncommon negligence of person," and he was hopelessly addicted to tobacco -- constantly inhaling handfuls of snuff. That may explain why he only lived to the age of 54. He had a stentorian, tobacco-damaged bass voice and he seemed uninterested in any easy beauty of sound."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Wisdom of St. Augustine

"Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul." - St. Augustine

Our son is taking his first class with Veritas Press Academy (Omnibus II), and in order to keep up with readings, we've found I've had to read with him - but it has turned out to be a wonderful blessing for me! We are reading St. Augustine's Confessions now, and it is an extraordinary book.

Many historians see Augustine as the bridge between antiquity and the middle ages. It is remarkable to see how perceptive Augustine was for his times, but also jarring to think that the world would fall into the Dark Ages after Augustine, and think how much of the history, literature, and philosophy of Western Civilization would have been lost if monasteries hadn't sought to preserve the old texts and documents.

Confessions is Augustine's spiritual autobiography. Much of it is running conversation with God, beginning with his earliest recollections, then traveling in some detail through important life experiences that brought him to his faith. Augustine's upbringing will resonate with many young people today - his father valued a secular education (a classical education), but was not a Christian and therefore did not particularly consider spiritual factors in his upbringing.

It is easy to see the boy (and later man) in Confessions because Augustine writes in such a frank and colorful conversational tone - "Even now I cannot fully understand why the Greek language, which I learned as a child, was so distasteful to me...I suppose that Greek boys think the same about Virgil when they are forced to study him as I was forced to study Homer..." But this frankness turns its attention to reckless, painful, and sinful periods in his life - and his eventual turning to God.

There are many good things in Confessions for young adult readers - the subtle-and-not-so-subtle temptations that arise from friends, misguided teachers and cults, and muddy-headed thinking, and it is a surprisingly easy read - perhaps because of Augustine's skills as a rhetorician.

I find it hard to put into words what I've gained most from reading Confessions, but I think the best way I can think to say it is that it's given me a greater vision of the depth that's possible in my walk with God. Augustine has wonderful prayers and praises, true, but what is even more inspiring is how he was able to surrender more and more of his view of the world and life to God, and how as a result his worldview and life became much greater.

"Go forth on your path, as it exists only through your walking."

Biography of St. Augustine | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Wikipedia: Augustine
Wikiquote: Augustine

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lab Notebooks Through History

Lab notebooks are essential, but more important than neatness is a careful documentation of observations whether the experiment works or not. Da Vinci's notebook (see yellowed page at right, his notes on mirrors) is a phenomenal work of art, as are Vesalius' notebooks (anatomical dissections below). Many famous scientists of course were extremely messy, doodled, wrote upside down, spilled things on their notebooks, etc. For those of us who are organizationally challenged, we may take heart in pioneering molecular biologist Max Delbruck's "Principle of Limited Sloppiness" that states we should be sloppy enough so that unexpected things can happen, but not so sloppy that we can't find out that it did.

One does need to start somewhere, though, so for a helpful and free online lab notebook, check out A screenshot of a sample page is shown at bottom right.

Image references:
Vesalius' notebook
Isaac Newton's notebook
Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook
Curie's notebook

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Chemistry

We're doing some home chemistry this summer because both our kids like doing experiments on school break. There are many chemistry resources on the web. Our son's in middle school and daughter's in 6th, I combined a little teaching about chemical compounds and the "logic" of balancing chemical equations with look-and-see learning from home experiments.

The theory of oxidation grew out of theories regarding combustion. The Flemish physician Johann Baptista van Helmont was the first to hypothesize that a spiritus sylvestre (wild spirit) was responsible for combustion. This wild spirit theory evolved in to the concept of a substance phlogiston that could be driven out by the burning process.

French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794)theorized instead that combustion was the mechanism by which a substance combined with oxygen. He advanced his theory by meticulous experiments involving the weighing of material. The oxidation theory was born.

I found the Home Chemistry Blog and the pennies and vinegar experiment seemed like a great start to our discussion of oxidation. Vinegar comes from French, vin-algre, or wine-sour.

I. Dull to Shiny Penny

1. Mix 1/4 c vinegar with 1 teaspoon salt. Collect a dozen or so dull / black pennies. Dip one into the mixture so that it is half shiny.

A dark penny has been oxidized by oxygen in the air. Instead of copper (Cu), it is CuO, or copper oxide.

II. Verdigris and Copper Plating Iron Nails

1. Put the remaining pennies in the vinegar-salt mixture. Wait for about an hour.
2. Rinse half of the pennies in water, and the other half let dry on a paper towel.
3. Now add some nails to the vinegar-salt solution that had the pennies. You can use galvanized or non-galvanized nails if you have them. We added a paper clip and aluminum nails that we found.
4. Check back in 10-15 minutes. Do you see small bubbles forming on some of the nails? It's hydrogen gas being released from a reaction between the vinegar (acetic acid) and metal oxides.
5. Check back in an hour. The control (non-washed pennies) should have a nice verdigris finish (like the Statue of Liberty!) and the iron nails will be copper-coated, and so light brown. Our paper clip also became brown, and our aluminum nails were unchanged.

The reactions: CuO + CH3COOH (vinegar) + Salt (increases ionic strength) --> Copper acetate (CuOCH3CO2-) + H2 (hydrogen gas).

When the iron nails are put in the copper solution (made from the pennies), the reaction is: Cu2+ (aq) + Fe (s) --> Cu(s)+ Fe2+ (aq), where aq = aqueous and s = solid. Copper is more avid for electrons than iron so it steals electrons in the solution to become solid plating.

The history of copper dates back 1000's of years. At left is a copper-headed axe found in Europe with the body of a 5200 year old corpse(called Otzi).

History of Combustion
Kent's Chemical Demos
Chemistry, Matter, and the Universe Free Course
Chemistry Songs
Chemistry Links
History of Chemistry

Monday, June 30, 2008

Rediscovering Ancient Church Music - Medieval and Renaissance

The Washington Times reports Gregorian chants by the Cistercian monks of the Stift Heiligenkreuz monastery have shot to the top of the classical music charts, perhaps because players of the video game Halo have gotten hooked on Gregorian chants. It may not just be the game.

There are movements within both the Catholic and Protestant churches to return to ancient liturgy. In the video below, this Gregorian Chant on Below that, you may want to check out Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli - apparently it looked as if the Church was going to permanently abolish anything but monophonic music in Church services. Authorities within the church during the Renaissance then heard Palestrina's Missa, and they said - Oh, well that's OK...

Chant picture

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Summer around our house is pretty eclectic, and we will be away from the blog too as we still have some traveling planned for our daughter. We will be outdoors more, swimming, and reading lots of books, but we also have a tradition of doing more science experiments and computer programming over the summer because both kids are home and they enjoy doing this together. Our son will also be taking a writing course from Scholars Online over the summer and assorted electives from

Computers are not a staple of classical education, but definitely wanted to include it for our kids. Computer technology has helped bring back a resurgence in classical education (online Latin and Greek courses, online Great Books discussions), and as a medium, it can make difficult material more fun and accessible.

From, check out animated stories of Bellerophon (above right), Theseus, Jason, Hercules, Odysseus, and Perseus.

Also the kids are following a tutorial and example games for the free program Gamemaker 7.0. This is a free program that has extensive helps via tutorials, forums, and school-based sites like this. Already we can see that programming provides good error detection practice, and appreciation for what goes into a good game.

Our kids have only been working on their tutorial games for the past 2 weeks, but if you'd like to see some of their work in-progress, download one of their fully executable games here. They are also learning how to edit sprites and the final assignment is to convert their mazes into a classical theme (like Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth).

For more games on classical themes (most very simple, tells you of the need for more tech-saavy young classical scholars...)

Ancient Greece Olympics at BBC
Ancient Games at Winged Sandals
Who Wants to Be an Ancient Greek Millionaire? (Quia game)
Battlefield Academy: Ancient Romans vs. Britons

We'll be traveling more this summer, so our posting will be more erratic, but we'd like to be back weekly in the coming school year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Math in Books and Film

In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes uses geometry to solve a 250 year mystery:

"Well, at least I knew that if Brunton could do it, I could also. Besides, there was no real difficulty. I went with Musgrave to his study and whittled myself this peg, to which I tied this long string with a knot at each yard. Then I took two lengths of a fishing-rod, which came to just six feet, and I went back with my client to where the elm had been. The sun was just grazing the top of the oak. I fastened the rod on end, marked out the direction of the shadow, and measured it. It was nine feet in length.

"Of course the calculation now was a simple one. If a rod of
six feet threw a shadow of nine, a tree of sixty-four feet would
throw one of ninety-six, and the line of the one would of course be the line of the other."

Of course, this is an old idea, and how Thales measured the height of Egyptian pyramids some 500 years B.C. For more Math at the movies, check out Mathematics in Movies (includes clips) and Math In the Movies or Mathematical Fiction for books.

Sherlock Holmes image from Wikimedia

Monday, May 12, 2008

Exercise in Rhetoric: Comparing Alexander and Caesar

In ancient times, a common rhetorical exercise was to have students compare famous individuals. This past week our son wrote an essay comparing Alexander the Great and Caesar, and we discovered an example from the past. It is a fascinating read, and Appian of Alexandria , makes these men's lives come vividly to life.


"They were both supremely ambitious, warlike, rapid in executing their decisions, careless of danger, unsparing of their bodies, and believers not so much in strategy as in daring and good luck. One of them made a long journey across the desert in the hot season [1] to the shrine of Ammon, and when the sea was pushed back crossed the Pamphylian gulf by divine power, for heaven held back the deep for him until he passed, and it rained for him while he was on the march. In India he ventured on an unsailed sea. He also led the way up a scaling-ladder, leapt unaccompanied on to the enemy wall, and suffered thirteen wounds. He was never defeated and brought all his campaigns to an end after one or at most two pitched battles...

In Caesar's case, the Adriatic yielded by becoming calm and navigable in the middle of winter. He also crossed the western ocean in an unprecedented attempt to attack the Britons, and ordered his captains to wreck their ships by running them ashore on the British cliffs. He forced his way alone in a small boat at night against another stormy sea, when he ordered the captain to spread the sails and take courage not from the waves but from Caesar's good fortune. On many occasions he was the only man to spring forward from a terrified mass of others and attack the enemy..."

A rhetorical exercise: Alexander and Caesar

Wikipedia: Caesar

Monday, May 5, 2008

End of the Year Testing - Homeschool

This is a busy time, but wanted to post our links for end-of-the-year testing. Some states require this for homeschoolers and we have always found the information helpful for identifying students' (and curricular) strengths and weaknesses.

Currently we are using Piedmont Educational Services for the ITBS.

In previous years we used Family Learning Organization for the California Achievement Test.

Giving these tests to your kids at the end of the year can give them some practice at standardized tests and help you plan for what your student needs for the coming year.

Here's a link with more Testing Services for Homeschoolers.

p.s. We've recently received word that our daughter has been accepted into a clinical trial. We'll post when we can, but may be a little spotty until we get into a more regular routine in mid June. We'd appreciate your prayers for this next step in her treatment.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Writing a Socratic Dialogue

Our son's just finishing his online Logic course through Biola, and after reading Plato's Meno, the students were asked to write a Socratic dialogue on any topic of their choice. This assignment is a perfect cap to a logic course; I also can't help thinking it will make him more successful at being able to analyze the arguments of others and persuade some to his own opinions when important topics (different philosophies, religious beliefs, social or political opinions) are being considered.

Wikipedia describes the Socratic method as "a negative method of hypotheses elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions. The method of Socrates is a search for the underlying hypotheses, assumptions, or axioms, which may subconsciously shape one's opinion, and to make them the subject of scrutiny, to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances."

Some common features of a Socratic dialogue (from Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic):

1. The goal is moral or philosophical.
2. Define the question and ambiguous terms.
3. Question, rather than giving one's opinion.
4. Examine the why of the discussant's belief, especially looking for ambiguous terms, a false premise, or logical fallacy.
5. Trace premises back to additional premises.
6. Draw out consequences of the belief (reductio ad absurdum)
7. Construct an argument that contradictors the belief.
8. Closure and proof.

Here's an excerpt of our son's Socratic Dialogue. He wanted to address the issue of Free Will. If you'd like the read the entire dialogue, click here.

"Adelphos: Socrates, why do you waste your time by chatting with the people on the street?

Socrates: Ah, Adelphos! What a delightful surprise!. I have waited years for somebody to ask this question. Exactly in what sense am I wasting my time?

Adelphos: You aren't teaching anyone with your little dialogues in a way that can change their fate. Look at Demos there. He is the son of wise Erasmus, and also a wealthy young man of Athens. The gods know the number of his days, and he has inherited the wisdom of his father and the kindness of his mother. Look upon his face, his bearing, his diligence. He will be a fine young man whether he listens to you babble on for hours or not.

Socrates: There are a few questions I want to ask you. First, if the gods know the number of Demos's days, does that necessarily make any action of his futile?

Adelphos: It does not. The good deeds of a good man bring much blessings, whether his life is long or short.

Socrates: And is it always the case that good fathers have good sons?

Adelphos: That is not the case, though there are more good sons that come from good fathers than bad sons that come from good fathers or good sons that come from bad fathers.

Socrates: Exactly what causes the exceptions, particularly when bad sons are born to good fathers?

Adelphos: It depends. Sometimes it's the result of the bad character that's given to the sons by the gods. Sometimes it's the ideas imposed upon the sons by other people that corrupt a naturally good character.

Socrates: How do these ideas get imposed upon the naturally good sons?

Adelphos: From spending too much time listening to the ideas of other people with poor character and imitating their actions. Let me give you an example. Alcibiades was born of a good family and he had plenty in terms of beauty and cleverness, but he turned out bad because he was surrounded by a few reckless and wild people.

Socrates: Yet it would seem to me that if anyone was fated by the gods to be good, Alcibiades was. It looked as if he had many gifts from the gods and blessings from his parents, yet he turned out bad because he imitated the poor judgments and actions of others. Was he simply fated to spend his time with evil friends and so to learn to make bad choices? Or did he choose to do so?

Adelphos: I see where you are going with this, Socrates. But choosing and being fated to choose are the same thing..."

For more examples of Socratic dialogues, check out the Google books excerpts from Peter Kreeft's Socrates Meets Marx

Monday, April 14, 2008

The First Historian: Herodotus of Helicarnassus

The world's first historian was Greek storyteller Herodotus of Helicarnassus. He was a wonderful storyteller, but some critics (from Thucydides to modern historians) have bemoaned his inaccuracies, leading some to call him instead, "The Father of Lies."

What led Herodotus to research and record historical events in such detail, traveling long distances to obtain first-hand accounts of events, then retelling them as stories? It's Herodotus that we owe the credit for the Spartan Dienekes' great line at Thermopylae, "So much the better, then we will fight in the shade."

Because Herodotus enjoyed entertaining others with his stories, he related well-chronicled events as well as hearsay, gossip, and outlandish fables, but even the latter often had some basis in truth. Here a team of explorers recently found evidence that Herodotus' stories of gold-digging ants were ac tually marmots that uncovered gold by the incessant burrowing in the Himalayas. For another Herodotus vindication, check out Herodotus and the Ancient Etruscans.

Wikipedia: Battle of Thermopylae

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blog Break - Back April 14th

We are traveling out-of-state and will have a brief break. See you soon!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was kidnapped at the age of 16 by Irish pirates. As a slave, Patrick recalled his Christian upbringing and instead of becoming embittered, he was penitent: "I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation...And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son."

One of his jobs was tending sheep, and it was there Patrick developed the habit of praying unceasingly. Friendly traders helped him escape after 6 years, enabling him to return to his family, but he would return to Ireland as a missionary, converting kings and whole kingdoms, and establishing churches all over Ireland.

Saint Patrick's Prayer for the Faithful

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

Saint Patrick - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
St. Patrick: Pilgrim, Patron and Model
Saint Patrick: Prayer for the Faithful
The Confession of Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick Statue

Monday, March 10, 2008

Early Christian Symbols - Chi-Rho and the Mosaics of San Vitale

For our son's Art History, we've been enjoying slowing working our way through Laurie Adams' A History of Western Art. It was in the chapter on Early Christian and Byzantine Art that discovered the beautiful mosaics of San Vitale.

In the picture at the left, the green shield is decorated with Constantine's Chi-Rho. Constantine was very important in the history of early Christianity because his Edict of Milan made it safe for Christians to open practice Christianity. A precise account of Constantine's relationship to Christianity is not known, but according to Eusebius, Constantine saw two visions before his battle with Maxentius. In one, the Cross appeared against a light with the words "In this sign you conque," while on the other, he was told to place Chi-Rho - the first two letters of Christ's Greek name on the shields of his soldiers. Eusebius also told of Constantine's baptism as a Christian.

For more views of the mosaics, check the following link: San Vitale Basilica.

For more, read here about Early Christian Symbols.The fish is an acrostic: in Latin fish is icthus; in Greek, Iota Chi Theta Upsiolon Sigma is an acrostic for Jesus Christ, of God, the Son, the Savior (Iesous Christos, Theou Uiou Soter). The drawing of two fish and an anchor (at right) was another early Christian symbol seen in an ancient Roman catacomb.

The two images above were taken from Dr. Ralph Wilson's Ichthus as Early Christian Symbols.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Building an Ancient Greek Ship - Trireme

The bireme (2 rows of oars) was used during the Trojan Wars, but the trireme would become the ultimate warship in Greece's victory against the Persian fleet at Salamis in 480 B.C.

Here's more about the history and archeology of the trireme. Click here if you want to find paper templates and rules to re-enact the Battle of Salamis, and here for a very short trireme Youtube video that shows a working trireme at sea.

Triremes usually 170 rowers arrange in 3 rows. They were very narrow and built for close in battles, rather than long open ocean campaigns. For a great review of the importance of the Trireme at Salamis, read here. The Persians attacked the Greeks, but by the time the battle was over, 200+ Persian boats were lost compared to 40 of the Greeks.

How Triremes Were Made
Kids' Examples: Building Triremes with Popsicle Sticks

Monday, February 25, 2008

Latin Mnemonics, Flashcards, and the National Latin Exam

Here's a link to our Latin 1 Mnemonics Study Sheet My son and I found ourselves drowning in conjugation and declension rules, and though we had the chants memorized, we were confused about which chant was which. These are our own homespun mnemonics - Imperfect Bam Bam, Perfect Cousin It (from Adams Family), Future Little BO Peep and Ent (Lord of the Rings). The file is a pdf file, so you can only open it if you have Adobe Acrobat Reader. Other sites: Cornell Latin Mnemonics and for some entertaining Latin mnemonics songs (including downloadable music files) check out Julie Dyson Hejduk's Latin Study Materials site.

For flashcard practice, we usually use free cards at (search under Latin or Wheelocks) and Both sites are have a free membership option, but require registration.

Our son will be taking the National Latin Exam in March, and the best all-around site we found for review is NLE KET Distance Learning. Previous exams (including answer keys) are posted at the National Latin Exam site.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Flash from the Past: "He regarded his education as defective..."

He "regarded his education as defective"(his formal education ended at age 15), but he was determined to improve himself through reading and independent study. He would become the quintessential self-made man, inventor, land surveyor and speculator, businessman, soldier, farmer, writer, politician, and President.

This Flash from the Past lost his father at age 11, but was guided by his older brother to be a land surveyor (he surveyed his brother's turnip garden below - and added, "Survey'd by me").

As a teen, he had trouble with his temper leading a family friend to bemoan, "I wish that I could say that he governs his temper. He is subject to attacks of anger and provocation, sometimes without just cause."

At some point in his late teens, though, he began a campaign of self-improvement, read biographies and histories voraciously, and tried to tutor himself in good manners and a consistent habit of discipline that would train him to hold his temper. He was ambitious, but preferred to "let my designs appear from my works than my expression," and applied himself to doing.

Who was this? This was our first Executive-in-Chief, Founding Father George Washington.

We got hooked on learning more about GW since visiting Mount Vernon for the first time this spring. Washington was a tweaker and a genius at management - whether it was inspiring his ragtag army, orchestrating the cooperation of some very difficult personalities in his government, or running his grand estate. He was inspired by the Stoics, and his later command of his outward character would be important in establishing his new country's credibility. He had a vision for our country, and he would inspire generations to come. He was so valuable in dire times because, as David McCullough put it, he had a genius for seeing things as they were, and not as what he wished them to be.

There are more details than we can list about GW, his excellent but clearly micromanaging of Mount Vernon(experimentation with different fertilizers, crop rotation, farm implements and 16-sided threshing barn), numerous architectural tweaks (including faux stone exterior and wood stain), and of course his management of such talented but complex people as Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison.

Last year after we visited Mount Vernon, I got hooked on learning more about Washington, enjoying both McCullough's 1776 and the Novaks' Washington's God. For an online article by the Novaks, check out What Washington Saw in God at USA Today.

Mount Vernon: George Washington
George Washington's Rule Book of Civility
George Washington: Farmer

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is the Cave in Ancient Rome the Wolf Den of Romulus and Remus?

While Emperor Augustus' palace on Palatine Hill was undergoing restorations, archeologist discovered a underground grotto believed to be worshiped as the site where a wolf nursed Romulus and Remus - the Lupercale.

Not all archeologists agree, but it is quite a find as the area is covered with mosaics. So far it is too structurally fragile to enter, but archeologists are exploring it the best they can with endoscopes and laser scanners. For more a few more pictures, check out this article at BBC News

The cave of Romulus and Remus?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blog Break

We will be taking a break from our blog because our daughter will be having the first of her surgeries down in California this week. Please keep us in your prayers. If you'd like to send her a card or words of encouragement, please visit her caring bridge site above, and bless you.

- P.S. We're back and thank you for your prayers. Her surgery was successful and she recovered much more quickly than we anticipated. Soli Deo Gloria!

The Fantastic Imagination

We have been enjoying George Macdonald's Princess and Curdie stories. Here is an excerpt from his wonderful essay on The Fantastic Imagination:

"One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is a layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God's things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time things that came from thoughts beyond his own."

There are certainly many sublime moments in George Macdonald's books, and their highest moments have nothing to do with his writing ability, which is quite cumbersome at times.

For the discovery of George MacDonald, I have to thank C.S. Lewis, who said he had always considered GM his master.

Princess and the Goblins at Google Books

Monday, January 14, 2008

Classical, Modern, and Discovery-Based Science

A classical education has much to contribute to science teaching, particularly with showing students how science discoveries are made - science should not be taught as a disembodied list of facts to be memorized. Understanding science in its historical context, provides a more realistic view of how science can be fallible, how can be advanced by the efforts of individual men and women with their own personal motivations, and how different problems can be discovered and solved with the processes of close observation, testing, analysis, and communication with colleagues.

A great historical example of a classical approach to science is Faraday's Observation of a Candle series of lectures. These can be read here. This series of lectures combined so many elements of good science teaching: closer inspection of every day phenomena, a deeper exploration of facts, a thorough examination of scientific assumptions, and a testing of hypotheses. Currently there is great interest in discovery-based learning, but as it is equally important not to stamp out student-led inquiry and curiosity, it is important not to withold facts and technical information that will allow greater complexity in students' scientific thinking.

Last month, I did some science experiments at home with the kids because both were beginning to study the periodic table (pH for hydrogen). The text they were using didn't provide any historical content for why the red cabbaged could be used as an acid-base indicator, so with a little digging, we all were able to discover how the interest in acids and bases came about, how the color changes were important the textile industry, and how research into some of these color-changing substances is important for today and possibly even more for the future.

At The Origins of Acids and Alkalis, we learned that ancient Egyptians and Greeks identified different substances on the basis of taste. Vinegar was sour (acid). Alkalis came from the Arabic word al-qaliy which stood for a slippery substance left over after burning.

But the interest in acids really took off when French fabric dyers in the 16th century discovered that acids created colors that were much more vibrant (we thought of our Easter egg dyeing with vinegar).

There are many take off points for this study. Some of you may like to explore natural dyes at a site like Pioneer Thinking and Natural Dyes. We also talked about current ideas about possible health benefits of the anthocyanins and examined the structure of anthocyanins. We also tested various substances around the house, and found that most of their predictions about acids and bases were correct. But there was one exception that seemed to stump us. The kids dissolved a praline in some water, and had expected it to be a bit acidic (doesn't candy dissolve your teeth?). With a little bit of research into this unexpected result, they learned that the acid that makes dental cavities is caused by sugar because the sugar makes bacteria sticky to teeth, and it's the acid produced by the bacteria that makes holes. So what kind of science is all this? Classical-Modern-Discovery-Based Science, I think.

Yarn Picture

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Fall of Ancient Greek Civilization - The Peloponnesian War

Our son's midterm paper topic (Schola Tutorials) over Christmas break was Who Should Have Won the Peloponnesian War. I confess to knowing very little about the Peloponnesian War, but the topic piqued my curiosity as I remember from some of my friends at Harvard that Thucydides' The History of the Peloponnesian War was mandatory reading for Gov 40, the killer pregov / prelaw course (like the premeds' Organic Chem). So why should this old book be required reading?

We've been wending our way through The Baldwin Project's The Story of the Greeks and I came to realize that there is a lot to learn from this War for any citizen of a democratic country. Athens should have won. It wasted its talented leaders and could not act decisively to unite the different dissenting voices within its city states. Human vices of arrogance, greed, and cruelty, doomed much more than who would rule Greece. I was surprised to learn that most of my son's online classmates felt that the Spartans should have won the war. Certainly this could make for a good discussion or debate over the dinner table!

An excerpt from Gilbert Highet's The Classical Tradition:

"It is not always understood nowadays how noble and how widespread Greco-Roman Civilization was, how it kept Europe, the Middle East, and northern AFrica peaceful, cultured, prosperous, and happy for centuries, and how much was lost when the savages and invaders broke in upon it...We are so accustomed to contemplating the spectacle of human progress that we assume modern culture to be better than anything that preceded it. We forget also how able and how willing men are to reverse the movement of progress: how many forces of barbarism remain, like vocanoes in a cultivated island, still powerfully alive, capable not only of injuring civilization but of putting a burning desert in its place."

For those of you interested in samples of middle school writing, here's our son's short position paper on the War:

Athens should have won the Peloponnesian War.

The Athenians' loss in the Peloponnesian War meant a loss of Greek independence and setback for the principles of democracy throughout the Western world. At the start of the war, Athens had good resources, a superior navy, and a good general in Pericles. Pericles' war strategy was to protect his population behind the Long Walls. Sparta attacked the countryside, but could not significantly harm the people or the supply lines to Athens, which were protected by their fleet. Athens was defeated mainly due to a plague that struck, killing almost one-third of the population, including Pericles.

Sparta ended up winning the war, but ruled poorly over Greece because of poor leaderships and a society that was not oriented toward government during peacetime. Spartan culture emphasized only military strength and denied its citizens individuality and free choice. As a result, Spartan culture had little in the way of the arts or philosophy. Children were taken away from their mothers at age 7 and raised by nurses with little coddling and only simple food. This culture was non-Biblical. Whereas the Bible places importance on the family and the different roles of father, mother, and child, the Spartan culture placed little importance on family, and replaced the family with the state.

As a result of Sparta winning, all the Greek city-states were weakened. As a result, it was easier for Macedonia to conquer them several decades later.

Athens should share some of the blame for losing the Peloponnesian War. Athens went to conquer Sicily and Syracuse, exhausting their navy and army, and making them more vulnerable to defeat. Also, the Athenians had a bad tradition of exiling or killing some of their greatest leaders. Many were so anxious that their leaders would gain too much power and become tyrants that they accused them of crimes that many probably did not commit. Many good leaders may have been killed, exiled, or forced to defect to another country, like Alcibiades.

The Age of Pericles was a time when politics, philosophy, and the arts flourished in Greece. Pericles also created a large number of public works projects that made living easier for the Athenians. If Athens had won the Peloponnesian War, perhaps that age would have continued.

A War Like No Other - NRO
The Plague of Athens
Peloponnesian War Picture

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.)