An explanation of how the challenge is working at our house: I watch the lectures by myself, then I read the Aeneid aloud to my teen boys (ages 14 and 17). I decided wait on having them watch the videos for now, as they will be taking Mr. C’s live class next year. The Humanities class at our local co-op will also be discussing the Aeneid this spring, AND the 17 yo’s Latin class will be translating it next year. Vergil immersion here – I love the way this is working out.
First, a rave. The quality of the video and accompanying materials is outstanding. And what a treat to get to SEE Mr. C. instead of just hearing him. A little context: my older boys started the Schola Great Books program in 2001, and we’ve had at least one student in Schola every year since (including me — I took Great Books for Parents during the two year gap between my older boys’ high school graduation and my middle son’s high school initiation). That adds up to fourteen years of Mr. C.’s deep baritone gracing our home each week, which will stretch to seventeen, D.V., by the time our youngest graduates. Roman Roads offers a delightful prospect: our grandchildren taught by the beloved tutor of their dad’s (mom’s) youth.
For the structure of these posts, I decided to follow the basic format I require of my high school Literature students. Someday soon, I’ll share more details about this. Basically, there are three components:
- Reflection: Write a paragraph or two on a few topics from the readings or the lecture. Sometimes I assign specific questions or topics; other times, students may choose their own topics from a list of general possibilities. So here, I will sometimes base my reflection on questions from the Roman Roads workbook, and other times I will choose my own topic.
- Connections: Write several paragraphs exploring connections with other books, poetry, Scripture, history topics, current events, music, sermons, etc. The goal is to encourage students to wade into The Great Conversation: testing, comparing, challenging, proving or disproving one idea in light of others. One thing I love about Mr. C’s live teaching style is his frequent wandering along what he calls rabbit-trails, but which I consider a modeling of this very practice.
- Commonplace: Thoughtfully choose and carefully copy a favorite passage to share in class. This practice benefits students of every age, and my hope is that my students will make commonplacing a lifelong habit, as so many great men and women of the past have done.
Lecture 1 is a helpful overview of 2000 plus years of Roman history. I really love the embedded timelines and maps. The comparison of our very brief American history to that of Rome is eye-opening, along with the reminder of why Americans MUST study classical history and literature.
Lecture 2 is an introduction to Vergil and his Aeneid. The etymology of propaganda and Vergil’s likely response if he were charged with writing it was interesting to me. As is so common in my study of the classics, I am constantly confronted with the narrowness of my perceptions, shaped as they are by my modern mindset.
Finally, I always wondered about Vergil and Virgil. And now, I know.
The short discussion of storytelling chronology in the second lecture provoked a chain of thoughts. Mr. C. mentioned that Vergil follows the epic convention of beginning in media res, or in the middle of things, as did Homer. This style famously earned the approval of the Roman literary critic Horace, who advised that all stories be told in media res instead of ab ovo. Literally, ab ovo means from the egg, referring to the fabled birth of Helen from a swan’s egg. As Helen is considered the cause of the Trojan War, a story told ab ovo begins at its earliest beginning or cause. In media res and ab ovo keep popping up in my studies lately — in writing lessons for Bards & Poets, in reading Tristram Shandy, and now in this lecture.
As Mr. C. mentioned, very many of the great classic tales of Western Civilization are told in media res. There is either the expectation, as the ancients clearly had, that the listener already knows what has come before, or the author will weave in the necessary details of the back-story in some way. In like manner, we join The Great Conversation in media res, jumping in to the middle of the things. As in the great stories, either you must know a bit about what has come before in the Conversation, or you must fill in the details for yourself as you go, using the hints and clues given by other participants to point you to relevant books and sources for the “rest of the story” (in my best Paul Harvey imitation).
By the way, this time-proven preference for in media res storytelling makes me feel vindicated in my conviction that The Chronicles of Narnia are best read in the order in which Lewis wrote them, off-the-cuff remarks by the great man himself to inquiring children notwithstanding. It is a pet peeve of mine that every currently available set of these books is MIS-numbered. Okay, maybe this really is a rabbit-trail . . .
Yet another trail of thought opened in my mind: how our own stories — and THE story — truly must be understood ab ovo, or perhaps, ab horto (from the Garden). If we fail to consider the great beginning of all stories, the opening act in Eden of God’s great drama of redemption, we cannot make sense of anything that comes after, most particularly the current act that our own lives occupy in time and space.
So you see, even the study of literary terms and conventions can spark connections!
Beautifully evocative lines from Book One; maybe because it’s February, and it’s cold and dark and sleep is so precious:
Venus in turn sent through Ascanius’ body
Rills of slumber, caught him to her breast,
And bore him to Idalia’s aerial groves
Where beds of marjoram
Embraced him in soft bloom and breathing shade. ~Aeneid 1.944-949