Why is Homer so great?

posted Mar 23, 2017, 12:23 PM by Lindsey Scholl   [ updated Mar 23, 2017, 12:28 PM ]

Classical schools are popping up all over the country, proclaiming the virtues of Latin, Augustine, Dante, and Homer, though perhaps not in that order. Latin improves mental acuity, vocabulary, and serves as an entrance into Romance languages. Augustine is the voice of western Christendom, second to St. Paul, of course, but equal with Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. All educated people west of Constantinople should know Augustine. Dante is everyman's poet, writing in Italian but leaning--sometimes literally--on Virgil. And Homer is Homer, enough said. 

Yet publicly educated souls, such as my own, may want to know why Homer's works have achieved such unquestioned fame. Perhaps we are skeptical of the opinion of one 17th-century Duke of Buckingham, who proclaimed, 

Read Homer once, and you can read no more,
For all the books else appear so mean, so poor,
Verse will seem prose; but still persist to read,
And Homer will be all the books you need.*

This is the sort of verse that only convinces the convinced. Maybe the sad truth is that Homer is popular simply because Homer is popular. The blind poet was in the right place at the right time, and his works survived, so they were acclaimed. In Homer's lifetime, there must have been an equally talented Elmer or Phainopepla whose works were buried in history's inbox. 

I would refer such skeptics to Aristotle's Poetics, a short treatise on drama and poetry written by the Philosopher in the 4th century B.C. Here Aristotle provides the uneducated reader with helpful tidbits on art, such as the observation that plot, not character, is the soul of tragedy or "beauty depends on magnitude and order."*

Poetics is a great repository for the names of lesser known Greek authors, although Sophocles and Euripides make their appearance. And so does Homer. Specifically, Homer the "pre-eminent among poets" and Homer, who is "admirable in all respects." Nor does Aristotle stop at homage; he gives reasons for it. Here are a few: 

1. The plots of the Iliad and the Odyssey, respectively, center around a unified action. Homer doesn't try to tell everything there is to tell about Odysseus, which would confuse or bore the audience.
2. Homer knows his place, which is not in the story he's telling. After a brief preface, he at once brings in a worthy character to begin the story. Aristotle thinks the poet "should speak as little as possible about his own person," so he commends Homer's choice.
3. Everyone likes stories that are wonderful, and to provide wonder, the poet often makes his stories more colorful, while still believable. Aristotle claims that "it is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully."

These are not obscure virtues that were applicable only to Greece. Homer did much more than use dactylic hexameter properly. His virtues in composition remain virtues to this day. No author wants to confuse or bore his readers; a novelist should write her characters so well that the novelist herself disappears; the art of storytelling (while I won't call it a lie) should have a balance of the marvelous and the believable. 

There are several other points where Aristotle uses Homer as a laudatory example. The classical schools are on to something. When a beloved fourth-century philosopher recommends the specific strengths of a famous eighth-century poet, perhaps we should pay attention.

Go, read Homer. Not just because everyone else has, but because, apparently, he's a good storyteller.

*John Sheffield, An Essay on Poetry
*All quotes and references are from Poetics, VI; VII; XXIV (not necessarily in this order), transl. by S.H. Butcher.

What nature has to say

posted Feb 2, 2017, 1:27 PM by Lindsey Scholl   [ updated Feb 2, 2017, 1:28 PM ]

Nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination...
                                                                                            C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Epilogue

From the Archives: Bass Playing for God

posted Jan 12, 2017, 1:59 PM by Lindsey Scholl   [ updated Jan 12, 2017, 2:00 PM ]

When is it safe to relax? Or even more so, when is it safe to give yourself up to a little emotion? 
There is this song that our church sings called "Oh Our Lord." It's a great song by Paul Baloche. As our worship group plays it, it employs an energetic banjo throughout and there is a great bridge where the bass comes in. When that bass hits, it's one of those moments where I want to let go and let the music wash over me. I'm not the charismatic type, yet my hands start inching up from my sides and up toward the ceiling--don't worry, they stop around torso level. Like I said, I'm not the charismatic type.

Aside from praising God, there is something else on in my mind during this song. As the bass comes in, I want to lean back, stop thinking, sing, and enjoy. But another part of me says that it is a dangerous activity to surrender my powers of analysis up to an experiential moment. I'm still in the fallen world, after all. There are still fallen people writing and singing this music. I might fall myself, physically, in some transport of emotion. How embarrassing would that be?

Yet I am in church, surrounded by friends, my husband is nearby, and the pastor is trustworthy. Heck, one of my good friends is the one playing the bass. Why can't I let go?

You may not be as tormented when it comes to music as I am, but surely you have felt this tension. It's related to the "If it feels good, do it" mentality. Most of us know that this is a dangerous mantra that can get your heart broken, your conscience stung, and your body seriously harmed. But I sometimes feel as if I've gone too far the other way: when something is good and feels good, like Paul Baloche's song as played by Brenham Bible ChurchI still can't let powerful emotions get the upper hand. Yet surely singing "Oh our Lord. . .your name is a light in the darkness" doesn't require cool, distant analysis.

I guess it comes down to this: if it's your first date and that tall, dark handsome guy holds you close, you should have your guard up. Cool, distant analysis could save you. If that tall, dark, handsome guy is your husband of seven years, maybe it's okay to let your guard down and relax. He's been proven good, so it's okay to feel good around him. It's the same with God. He has been proven good, so it's okay to relax when singing to him. And if that relaxation comes with a little bass action, so much the better!

Originally posted April 3, 2014.

Say what you mean to say

posted Dec 31, 2016, 8:31 AM by Lindsey Scholl

"Now, you know that I love this man very much, except for his 'to be sure,' for isn't it obvious that every generalization admits of exceptions? But this fellow is full of such self-justification. When he thinks he has said something too hastily, or spoken a half-truth, or generalized too much, then you can't stop him from attaching limitations to what he has said, from modifying it, adding to it and subtracting from it, until at last nothing is left of the original idea!"
                                                                                        Letter Aug. 12, concerning Albert, in The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe.

WORLD and Classical Education

posted Dec 6, 2016, 7:31 AM by Lindsey Scholl   [ updated Dec 6, 2016, 1:25 PM ]

Funny, how WORLD can mean such different things. In this instance, it means an American magazine doing an article on American public versus private versus classically based education. It touches on deeper themes, though, such as, can--or should--educational institutions provide classical education without a Christian reference point? To any Roman prior to 400 AD, this would seem a laughable question. But much has happened since then.

Have a look at the article and seen what you think. If you have experience and developed thought in this area, email me your thoughts at I'd love to hear different perspectives (especially international ones), and I'd like to share some of them on this blog.

Giving thanks for people near and far.

posted Nov 23, 2016, 8:16 AM by Lindsey Scholl

It rained this morning! It was a lovely, soaking rain, and when I first woke up to it, the sun was still shining, giving the whole world a moist glow. Then the gray came in, perfectly setting the mood for a cup of coffee and a warm breakfast with my parents. 

We all know the internet has limitless dangers. Yet one of its strengths is that allows easy connection with people you haven't seen in awhile. This is particularly true for friends in other countries. So I want to use this platform to say hello to Giusy, that model of Christian perseverance and joy in Torino. Giusy, thanks for your wonderful email, and I'll respond soon. I also want to say hello to those faithful missionaries in the Ukraine who had such an impact on my teenage years, Shannon and Katie. Also to Dyfan and Caroline, who are likely enjoying plenty of rain in England. 

To use the adapted words of the most interesting man in the world, 'Stay faithful, my friends.' It's good to hear from you!

Breastplate of St. Patrick

posted Nov 13, 2016, 4:31 PM by Lindsey Scholl

With this most recent election over, I feel like I should say something about politics. But I don't want to. Instead, I want to share a section of this poem attributed to Saint Patrick. Here is where I want to take my stand and place my identity. Love you guys.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left...
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity 
The Creator of the Universe.

Pilgrim's Regress

posted Nov 2, 2016, 6:32 PM by Lindsey Scholl

John was silent for a few minutes. Then he began again: ‘But how do you know there is no Landlord?’

“Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder!” exclaimed Mr. Enlightenment in such a loud voice that the pony shied.

“I beg your pardon,’” said John.

“Eh?” said Mr. Enlightenment.*

My seventh grade class had just finished reading Pilgrim’s Progress, so I thought I would treat them to an excerpt of C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress. I tracked down a copy and began to scan it for an appropriate section. Like Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim’s Regress is an allegory of the Christian life, but Lewis changes the theater of action from John Bunyan’s imaginary landscape to his own and changes the main character of “Christian” to “John.” And around about the time John, “committed fornication with [a naked girl] in the wood,” I decided against ever mentioning the book to a group of twelve and thirteen year-olds.*

But I kept reading, watching the story unfold as John journeyed from Puritania to the land of Thrill and on “through darkest Zeitgeistheim” in his search for the Beautiful Island, the place which he had been seeking when the girl distracted him. Along the way, he meets a big man with three chins named Mr. Enlightenment, a poet named Halfways, a postmodern named Glugly, and a friend named Vertue. Like most people, Vertue does not believe in the island, but he and John get along so well that they become traveling companions. 

I won’t go much further into the plot, except to say that Mr. Sensible and even Mr. Wisdom aren’t as trustworthy as you think, but the hermit History is a good guy. And Reason…well, Reason is a beautiful, scary lady, who is much better than Sensible. 

It is a very specific audience who would appreciate this book. This audience does not include seventh graders, high school students, or even many undergraduates. The material would be lost on them: their takeaway would be little more than titillating ideas and a sense of desperation brought on by Lewis’ erudite vocabulary. 

If Pilgrim’s Regress would be wasted on students, who is it for? It’s for me, and the me who struggled through years of grad school where my hope of Christ was assaulted from countless different angles (more on that in another post). It’s for the adult who knows what sin is, knows what church is, and doesn’t see how they’re reconciled. It’s for the educated twenty-something who is living with his girlfriend, and has turned away from Christianity entirely. It’s for that lawyer in your life who knows he is smarter than James Dobson and Max Lucado, but might just tolerate one more C.S. Lewis book. 

“I am indeed very ignorant and have listened to people more ignorant still.”* These are the words of John as he realizes how great his errors have been. They might be our words, who have been torn from our hope by all the trends and philosophies that make Christianity seem impossible. 

Pilgrim’s Regress will remind you of how transcendent, how complex, how beautiful the revelation of Christ is, and how aggressive are the forces that would detract from it. Don’t expect to know everything Lewis is talking about. Not all of his battles are our own. But one of Lewis’s great strengths is that publicly battled internal temptations as well as external threats. Pilgrim’s Regress combines those struggles in a vivid intellectual landscape that educates as well as entertains. If you read it once in high school, go read it again. 

*Book 2, Chapter One

*Book 1, Chapter Four

*Book 8, Chapter Ten


posted Oct 25, 2016, 8:37 AM by Lindsey Scholl

the definition of this word is basically, someone employed to take dictation or copy manuscripts. Not much call for those these days, what with word processing and voice recognition technology. But in case you're interested, it comes from Latin: servus+ a manu+ ensis (i.e. a slave belonging to you for handwriting). Thank you, Google!

I've just decided that Cassius (from Born of Stone, see "Projects") is an amanuensis, not a scribe. 

Flying Wounded

posted Oct 20, 2016, 8:54 AM by Lindsey Scholl   [ updated Oct 20, 2016, 9:02 AM ]

For Houston, autumn does not come like a thief in the night. It comes like a late train as you eagerly check your watch, pace the platform, and pretend you're not waiting for it. Earlier in this mid-October week, I sat outside at 8:30, enjoying a cup of coffee, the 70+ degree morning, and a birdfeeder partially full of seeds but bereft of birds. The high was going to be 90 that day, so nature was not cooperating as I would have liked.

Still, it was hard not to appreciate the monarch butterfly on my milkweed plant. Being, as I mentioned, bereft of birds, I gave it my full attention. It had the wingspan of a baby sparrow, and each of its delicate, burnt-orange panels was outlined by black curves, giving them the look of stained glass windows. The creature flew to one orange and yellow bud, then took off in a vaunted half-circle over the patio, before landing on another bud not too distant from the first one. I couldn't guess its strategy, but I did notice that its glorious wings were not as perfect as they could be. On the lower part of the right wing, a small pane had been punched out, letting the sunlight through. 

I would like to say it reminded me of a Bible verse, but I was reading Oliver Twist at the time and pondering how such a maltreated orphan could grow up without serious emotional scarring. Would the adult Oliver shun human affection, since he had received none as a child? Would he struggle with trust? Would he sneer at the whole idea of church "charity"? Probably. What then? The butterfly was living with part of its wing punched out. On closer inspection, it's likely that most butterflies have something wrong with them. But still they pollinate and bless morning coffee-drinkers. 

We all have scars. Some of us have deep, deep scars that will attend all our days. So what? We're still alive. We can still fly. And whatever the human equivalent is of pollinating, we can still do it.  Wait, I have a Bible verse. Here it is: Don't be afraid. You are worth more than many butterflies.*

Matthew 10:31, sort of. 

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