15 Mar 2013

Beware of Greeks bearing Gifts

In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way.Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

Acts 14:8-18 NIV

The following message from a friend came at a perfect time for me as I was grappling with the idea of reading The Iliad to Jemimah as part of our AO6 Ancient History in the coming months.  Why would I spend two terms reading a book about false gods, about questionable morals, and about a worldview that is not our own?   It's a very good question. 

Have a read, first, of the message:
Regarding Greek Mythology, I couldn't find a suitable reason for delving deeply into teaching my children the legends of the myths. I don't mind reading the myths as a part of history teaching, it's just not sitting right with me. I'm searching for Charlotte's reasons for teaching them. I'm all ears if you wanted to expand on your reasons as a Christian. Good topic for a blog post!
My friend's quandary is not a new one.  In fact, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), a Christian author from Carthage in  Africa asked a similar one just a couple of hundred years after our Lord was on earth - “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” His question - why should we read pagan literature?  Yep.  The very same..

Okay.  My friend's first question is why Charlotte Mason would have taught the classics.  The answer to this one is simple.  Miss Mason taught the classics because in those days everyone did.  Mine was the last generation to study Greek, Latin and the myths, I think.  In fact, in my family, my brother and I did; my sister who is 5 years younger didn't.  We were right on the cusp. Quite simply, the classics were part of education right up until recent times. It is just what one did to be educated.

So everyone read them, but that doesn't necessarily make it right, does it?  No, it doesn't.  Nowadays everyone studies evolution.  Doesn't make it okay, does it?  Everybody cohabits before marriage.  Not right.  Everyone's equal so gay marriage is a given.  You get the idea.

So what do we gain from studying Greek literature? 

Firstly, Jesus Christ our Lord was born in the middle of the Graeco-Roman empire.  While we smile a little at the idea of Paul and Barnabas being mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, for those men it was very serious indeed. A knowledge of who these characters are enhances our understanding of this and other portions of God's word.  In fact, if we don't know Zeus and Hermes, how can we understand at all?  When we read about this strange religion we are learning about the people that we read about in the Bible.  Paul, himself, and his co-worker Apollos were both educated in the Classics.  These men were not condemned for their knowledge.  Instead they used it with discernment, as we should do, using it for good, and filtering out the evil.

Secondly, because everyone until a couple of generations ago studied the Classics, they were highly familiar, and as a result, the basic stories and names are part of our vernacular. Greek mythology has  contributed to many of the words, phrases, and expressions in our language.  We refer to somebody as an Adonis, or  an Amazon or a Titan or a Muse.  We speak of our Achilles heel or accuse someone of being our nemesis or of being narcissistic.  We say someone has an Oedipus complex or the Midas touch.   We get caught between Scylla and Charybdis.  We harp on.  When we read the myths we know what these words and phrases really mean.  If we don't know the background stories then all we can do is know them contextually.

Thus same knowledge helps us when we read  Dante Alighieri's  Divine Comedy, and the poetry of  Pope, Keats and Tennyson.  If we don't know the legends how can we read Milton, arguably the greatest Christian poet of them all?  The myths allow us to comprehend the allusions that are everywhere in our speech, our media, our art,our sculpture, our literature.  This is the reason Thomas Bulfinch cites for his book The Age Of Fable, and he introduces poetical citations wherever they are connected with a myth.  He calls his province 'mythology connected with literature'.

Thirdly, we do not read Greek myths in order to teach pagan religion. My aim as a homeschooling parent is to educate my daughter to live a Christian life, seeking to glorify God in everything she does - not only when we study Bible, sing Psalms or pray, but as she studies French, does maths or reads the Classics. We are educating her to become a fine Christian wife and mother, or a fine Christian rocket scientist or vet. We are educating her to live a life of faith where the pattern of her choices and decisions is determined by her faith in God as written in the Scripture.  This Christian worldview colours our reading of all books, Christian and non-Christian.  We see the actions of the characters through our Scriptural lens, and we judge them accordingly.  We do not believe these myths and legends to be true, and yet they do serve as a medium for teaching wisdom.  They reflect  the true state of spiritual reality, and they mirror the world without the one true God.  As we read these stories we reflect upon our own truth, and we appreciate it all the more.  We see the immorality, the evil and the misery.  We see the truth of mankind, and we are grateful for the saving grace that makes our eternity different from the characters we are reading about.

My home is not the same as yours.  My family is not the same as yours, nor is my homeschool.  One of the reasons we choose to home educate is to be in control of what our children are taught.  That is our right, and you will never see me telling you what you should be teaching your children in your home.  Right back to the time of Tertullian men have considered the value of Greek myths.  It is a good thing to consider.  In my home we study them and we learn from them.  As we move into our study of the ancients next term I will be considering these issues all over again. As we read the pages of The Iliad I will be considering its worth, and if I am concerned about it then I will stop reading.  That is my prerogative - in fact, more, it is my responsibility to do what is best for my family. Just as you will do with yours.

I do hope this won't be opening a Pandora's box...


  1. We read them, too, Jeanne. In fact, the girls just finished The Odyssey for Boys and Girls, which they read on their own, and really enjoyed it.

  2. I think you know where I stand on this one...☺

  3. Jeanne
    "Secondly, because everyone until a couple of generations ago studied the Classics, they were highly familiar, and as a result, the basic stories and names are part of our vernacular. "
    Excellent reason and whilst I do appreciate where those families who chose not to study Grecian tales come from, we too have chosen to read them.

  4. This is definitely food for thought and I appreciate your reasons.

    "We see the actions of the characters through our Scriptural lens, and we judge them accordingly." - this is great and exactly what I do.

    I have a whole week to decide if we will continue reading 'The Heroes'.

  5. I love this post, Jeanne!

    I have been so blessed by seeing how my older kids are now so very discerning. The years I have spent guiding them through the classics, Greek myths included, have paid off. It is definitely possible, and worthwhile, to lead our children through these readings as we help them to form a Christian worldview. As homeschool moms we have the privilege of helping our children to process these stories at the age appropriate for each child. Thankfully, we do not have to leave them to their own devices, nor allow them to be lead wrongly by a teacher with a different worldview.

  6. Can you imagine Paul on Mar's Hill having never read Aratus' poetry?

  7. Had it not been C.S. Lewis' love of the Norse myth of a dying god, he might have never embraced the idea of THE dying God.

    "Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens-at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other."


  8. Excellent post, Jeanne. We use the classics too. What an education it has been for me!

    In Him


  9. thanks for posting your well thought out position. i agree 100%. :) and... i'm so glad you did because you've said it much better than i could have. ;)

  10. Oh how I struggle with this. It's the third time I have read this entry!


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