The Greatest Roman | By Wes Callihan

The Meeting of Dido and AeneasVergil’s Aeneid, the epic poem which tells the story of the wanderings of Aeneas on his way to becoming the founder of Rome, is propaganda. But such a statement would not have bothered Vergil a bit. “Propaganda” in Latin simply means “things which ought to be propagated,” and Vergil certainly believed that the values espoused in his story needed to be spread about a bit.

Aeneas was the ultimate Roman, primarily because he revered the gods. “Pious Aeneas” is the epithet used of him throughout the poem, and if anyone missed the point, they were asleep during the reading. Aeneas modeled for the Romans what they all ought to have been, and if Caesar Augustus, who was Vergil’s great patron, dropped less than subtle hints about the duties of poets in influencing culture, Vergil was not reluctant in agreeing. Rome had not been long out of decades of civil war, and Rome desperately needed, and was getting under Augustus, stability and safety, prosperity and peace. Most of all Rome needed a moral compass, and that is what Vergil hoped to provide. He would write an epic poem following Homer’s pattern and, in his hero, would praise the greatness of Rome, glorify Augustus Caesar, and extol the virtues of patriotism, conservatism, devotion to duty, and reverence for the gods of Rome, of whom Augustus was soon to become.

All this he accomplished, and his poem became the benchmark of literature for nearly a millennia and a half. He did not keep Rome from falling into the quagmire of corruption that he and Augustus foresaw, but his work endured like no other.

The Fight Between Aeneas and King TurnusThe Aeneid “propagates” other things besides Roman ethics. It carries embedded in it presuppositions about the nature of history and man’s response to it that are radically different from those of the Greeks and especially Homer, whose works so influenced the Aeneid’s form. Behind Achilleus’ glory-seeking, Hektor’s devotion to his city and people, and Odysseus’s drive to return home is the pervasive assumption that the passage of time is essentially meaningless. At the end of the Iliad , when old king Priam has come to Achilleus to plead for the return of Hektor’s body,Achilleus commiserates with his suffering, reminding him that Zeus hands out good and evil mixed, or sometimes just evil, and men can but endure what he deals out, while only the gods live happily. For men like these, lives are lived for the short-term, and what will happen has happened before. All things change, but the change is fundamentally meaningless, and consequently all things stay the same. History is but “meaningless flux.” Fate is what the gods do to a man, and his response therefore is simply to do what he pleases and suffer his fate. Fate will happen, no matter what he does; there is no question of obedience.

Aeneas Relating to Dido the Disasters of TroyOn the other hand, Aeneas’ drive to fulfill his destiny implies at least two changes in the way we are asked to view history. First, man must respond to his destiny, when the gods reveal it, by obeying. His fate may not be fulfilled, it seems, if he simply does what he pleases, and so he must subordinate his immediate desires to the higher duty to the future, a future he may never see himself. At one point in his wanderings over the Mediterranean, Aeneas finds himself falling in love with Queen Dido of Carthage and is tempted to stay with her rather than continue seeking for the land where he is destined to found the nation of Rome. The gods remind him not only of his destiny, but of the necessity of his obedience, and he goes. Odysseus, who also got sidetracked with women, would not have understood this response to fate. Odysseus moved on simply because he could, not because he had any idea of helping fate.

Second, history is teleological. It has a purpose, a goal; time has meaning. It is not cyclical, but it progresses upward, and things become greater and higher. The gods drive man onward, and as he obeys, he becomes a great people. Achilleus did not fight, nor Hektor defend, because of any potential progress in the future; Achilleus fought because he had always fought and because that was how men gained glory. Hektor fought because he had a wife and child whom he loved. But Aeneas struggled on against the obstacles Juno constantly threw in his way because the gods had told him that, if he succeeded, a great nation would come from him, with countless descendants and glorious ones. He subordinated himself to the greater glory of future Rome, knowing he would never see it, and so Rome was founded.

Because Vergil’s poem was so important during the rest of the Empire’s history and throughout the Middle Ages, the structure of his poem standardized the epic form embodied in Homer. Vergil was the vehicle by which Homer’s peculiarities became literary conventions. After Vergil, everyone who wrote an epic began it with an invocation to the muse of epic poetry, launched the story in medias res , included epic similes, had his hero journey to the underworld, had a catalog of nations or men, had funeral games, and so on. These elements exist because Homer did them, but they are characteristics of epic poetry because Vergil carried them on.

Vergil was called the Magus by medievals because he was so learned and they were so ignorant; by comparison he seemed to them to be a man of supernatural wisdom and power. It has been some time since anyone felt that way about him; nevertheless, he is still deservedly recognized as one of the four or five greatest poets in our western tradition.

This article originally appeared in Credenda Agenda, Volume 7, Issue 6: Poetics. Republished with permission. 

Wes Callihan reading John of Damascus during Hill AbbeyWesley Callihan grew up on a farm in Idaho and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Idaho. He has taught at Logos School, New Saint Andrews College, and Veritas Academy. In 1997 he founded Schola Classical Tutorials where he teaches online classes on the Great Books, Astronomy, Church History, Greek, and Latin.
He is now working with Roman Roads Media to produce Old Western Culture, a 4-year integrated humanities curriculum designed to equip homeschoolers and their families with the tools to tackle the Great Books that shaped Western Civilization.

Cincinnatus and George Washington

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer in the 5th century B.C. Because Rome was in dire need of a leader to fight off invaders, the Roman Senate asked Cincinnatus to be “Dictator” for a term of six months. The Roman Senate was worried that the person they chose as dictator might not return the power to the Senate when the time was up. But the reason they chose Cincinnatus was that he was known to be a man of virtue, who had proven himself as a consul. After two weeks, he had taken care of the situation with their enemies, leading the charge himself, and immediately handed power back to the Senate.

George Washington as CincinnatusGeorge Washington was compared to Cincinnatus on many occasions. This comparison inspired many works of art. In the paintings and sculptures you see a George Washington dressed like an ancient Roman, toga and all! The anachronism in the art shows just how closely the American Founders wanted to connect themselves to the Roman Republican ideals.

Carl Richard, in his book The Founders and the Classics, points out how this affected the interaction between George the III during the American War for Independence:

“An astonished western world agreed with the judgement of George III. Unable to believe that any military leader would voluntarily surrender such power, the kind scoffed that if Washington resigned his commission, “He will be the greatest man in the world.” The king’s confusion epitomized his inability, throughout the Revolutionary conflict , to comprehend the enormous emotional power which classical republican ideals wielded over American minds” (p. 71).

He goes on to say that Washington did not want to declare defeat at the worst moments of the war because he did not want to lose the privilege of laying down his arms in imitation of Cincinatus. And that is precisely what George Washington did. He resigned from public life after the war, when he could have used his influence to become very powerful, and moved to his “villa” in the country, a term Washington used only after his retirement, most probably making an allusion to Cincinatus in doing so.

Hear Wes Callihan tell the fascinating story in this excerpt from The Historians.


YouTube version HERE.

cincinnatus-leaves-for-rome-dictatorship

Plundering the Egyptians | by Wesley Callihan

I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians. – Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36

Does secular literature have any value for a Christian? There are so many good books by Christians – why should we waste our time with anything else? For many Christians, this is a genuine question, and deserves a considered answer. Here it is.

The Apostle Paul preaching at Athens to a Greco-Roman audience.

The Apostle Paul preaching at Athens to a Greco-Roman audience.

First, the apostle Paul himself sets an example of being familiar with pagan literature and using it for the glory of God in the spread of the gospel. In Acts 17:28, he quotes to the Athenians from two pagan Greek poets. “In Him we live and move and have our being” is from De Oraculis, a work by the 7th century B.C. Cretan poet/philosopher Epimenides, and the following line, “we are also His offspring,” is from The Phenomena, written in the 3rd century B.C. by Aratus. The same line is found in the Hymn of Zeus by Cleanthes. Notice that Paul is clear about what he is doing – “as also some of your own poets have said.” In Titus 1:12, he again quotes the De Oraculis, in making a point about the wickedness of certain deceivers, and says in the next verse, “this testimony is true.” Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil is a quotation from a Greek philosopher – Diogenes the Cynic. Some may remember him as the one who went around in broad daylight with a lantern – looking for an honest man.

It is important to note that the quotations above were not made by Paul for the purposes of refutation. They were all cited with approval – not of the author, but of the statement.

The Iliad

The early Christians were very familiar with the Epics poems such as the Iliad and the Aeneid.

In Acts 26:14, Paul tells Agrippa that Christ’s words to him on the Damascus road were, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” The educated Agrippa would have recognized the allusion to the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, one of the greatest playwrights. The line in the play refers to an old man fighting a losing battle against forces more powerful than he. Paul takes that which was familiar to his culture and uses it for the spread of the true gospel.

Monk copying a manuscript

Monk copying an ancient manuscript

If we jump ahead to the Reformers, we find them following Paul’s example. They were thoroughly versed in secular literature and used it to their great advantage. In Calvin’s Institutes, we observe how willingly he quotes secular authors – Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Cato, Cicero, Horace, Josephus, Juvenal, Lucretius, Ovid, Plautus, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, Suetonius, Virgil.

Later, the Puritans were just as thoroughly versed in classical literature. John Rainolds was recognized in his lifetime as one of the most learned men in Elizabethan England. He was one of the instigators of the Hampton Court Conference which led to the King James Version of the Bible, and became one of the principal translators. He was president of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, was Greek Reader in the same college, and lectured on classical authors, notably Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric. He was renowned for his erudition in the classical languages and authors, and for his formidable opposition to the heresies of his day.

"A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who 'though they knew God did not glorify him as God." St. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, II.75

Augustine’s metaphor, in On Christian Doctrine, for using pagan literature was perhaps the best. Commenting on Exodus 3 (quoted above), he had this to say:

“If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it . . . all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them… These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel.”

But of course, if we are to join Paul, Augustine, and the Reformers in the work of plundering the Egyptians, we must know where the gold is kept.

Wes Callihan reading John of Damascus during Hill AbbeyWesley Callihan grew up on a farm in Idaho and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Idaho. He has taught at Logos School, New Saint Andrews College, and Veritas Academy. In 1997 he founded Schola Classical Tutorials where he teaches online classes on the Great Books, Astronomy, Church History, Greek, and Latin.
He is now working with Roman Roads Media to produce Old Western Culture, a 4-year integrated humanities curriculum designed to equip homeschoolers and their families with the tools to tackle the Great Books that shaped Western Civilization.

Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

We’re thrilled that the Old Western Culture curriculum will be included in Cathy Duffy’s upcoming book “102 Top Picks“!

You can read Cathy Duffy’s online review of Old Western Culture here: HERE.

102 Top Picks by Cathy Duffy - Old Western Culture

The Relationship Woes of Dido and Aeneas

Advice for all men: When you mess up, fess up!

Part of what makes the Aeneid such a timeless classic is that it captures so many aspects of human nature. Wes Callihan brings these alive in the Old Western Culture curriculum.

This excerpt from The Aeneid (unit 1 of The Romans) is an example of how Wes Callihan brings the classics alive. This is learning literature re-imagined!

The Hunt of Dido and Aeneas, by Jean Raoux. AD 1730

The Hunt of Dido and Aeneas, by Jean Raoux. AD 1730

Wes Callihan LIVE? Yes please! (And a special offer)

Wes Callihan reading John of Damascus during Hill AbbeyWes Callihan, the author of the Old Western Culture curriculum, has been offering live classes through Schola Classical Tutorials since 1997. In addition to “Great Books I-IV” (corresponding to Old Western Culture years 1-4: The Greeks, The Romans, Christendom, and Early Moderns), Wes Callihan also teaches Homeric Greek, Rhetoric, Church History, and Astronomy.

A pioneer of the modern Classical education movement and a teacher of teachers, a live class with Wes Callihan is not something to be missed! He is known for his ability to bring the essence of the Great Books that shaped the Western world into story form, and create an environment of community and camaraderie among his student, who can live-chat questions during his lectures. As a generation of Schola graduates now demonstrate, the end result are students who leave his classes with the love of learning and the kernel of curiosity planted in their hearts and minds.

SPECIAL PROMOTION

Schola Classical TutorialsAs a special promotion running SEPTEMBER 1st – 7th, receive 1 unit from The Greeks  FREE with any NEW course sign-up from Schola Classical Tutorials ($56 value)! Once you’ve signed up at the Schola website, send an email to info@romanroadsmedia.com with your unit of choice from The Greeks and we’ll send you the DVD set!

Enjoy Wes Callihan live AND have his teaching in DVD form!

In what way is Old Western Culture a “Christian Approach” to the Great Books?

crossOld Western Culture is a distinctly Christian course. The creators of the course believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, the Providence of God working in history, and that all truth is God’s truth wherever it may be found.

A Christian worldview is not “taught” as an afterthought, but assumed throughout and thoroughly integrated in the approach to the material. Below are two small excerpts from the course which demonstrate how this works itself out in Old Western Culture.

 

Platonic Heresies and the Church (excerpt from The Philosophers).

Why the Aeneid Mattered to Early Christians (and still matters today!)

The Bitterness of Achilles (excerpt from The Epics).

Does Old Western Culture present the perspective of a specific denomination?

Wes Callihan, the author, makes this statement:

I teach explicitly as a Christian and in the light of the historic, universal Christian faith. In nearly every class I make connections to that faith and to the radically
redemptive character of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection and of the church’s mission for individuals and nations. I affirm three things as most important:

  1. the Nicene Creed as a faithful summary of the Christian faith,
  2. the gospel as declared in John 3:16, Romans 10:9-13, and I Corinthians 15:1-4.
  3. the absolute necessity of Christian unity and love in the bond of peace as expressed in Galatians 5:22-23 and throughout I John.

I am largely in agreement with the major Reformational Protestant confessions, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 39 Articles of the Church of England, but am deeply appreciative of and often sympathetic to the historic Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

None of this is required of students – the only spiritual requirements are a good attitude and a willingness to learn – but it should be expected that the teaching will clearly, explicitly, and regularly reflect a historical and classical Christian perspective.

If Old Western Culture is a Christian course, why does it include Pagan literature?

More on why you should study Pagan literature:
– Q&A with Wes Callihan: Why Should we Study Pagan Authors? (10 min video)
– Course Excerpt from The Philosophers: St. Paul alludes to Socrates (2:44 min video)

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Reading is romanticI recently read an article about why readers, scientifically speaking, are the best people to fall in love with. I agree! I married a woman who loves to read, and loves to learn! She read all the right books while growing up! (Incidentally, she took Wes Callihan’s Great Books courses online in high school).

The article points to several benefits that reading will bring a reader. It enables them to speak to someone in a meaningful way. It allows a person to understand other people; it teaches the art of empathy. And it gives wisdom that years of actual experience could never give.

Because reading is something that molds you and adds to your character. Each triumph, lesson and pivotal moment of the protagonist becomes your own.
Every ache, pain and harsh truth becomes yours to bear. You’ve traveled with authors and experienced the pain, sorrow and anguish they suffered while writing through it. You’ve lived a thousand lives and come back to learn from each of them.

This is very similar to what Wes Callihan says when he encouraged the reading of imaginative literature, which he called “bootcamp for life.”

Stories are Bootcamp for Life

So read often, read good books, and read varied books!

If you want to be guided through the reading of the greatest books, check out Old Western Culture!

History: A Moral Requirement

Quote

The study of history is a moral requirement for Christians. 
Think of the Israelites who were required to remember the past. 
Think of Paul in the NT: ‘These things were written for our instruction.’

– Wesley Callihan, Porch of our Fathers

History: A Moral Obligation