About thirty years ago I was in High School Freshman English Class. We were very much 14. We thought we were amazingly creative and funny giving our teacher blue toilet paper when we had discovered her birthday was coming up and her new bathroom was blue. We were immature to say the least. I was not ready to learn from The Iliad. I couldn’t get past the sexism. I could not overlook their strange reliance on horrible advice from fickle gods, or their thirst for war. I read the book but learned nothing from it. I was too busy mocking the prophecy they read into the flight of birds.
I’m older. Old enough to learn from people and cultures that are far different from my own. I’m old enough to learn from people who believe in different gods. I’m old enough to recognize that there are minds wiser than I that see and learn from the Iliad and just maybe I should humble myself and learn as well. I’m old enough to learn from people who have different opinions than myself. Old enough to admit that 14-year-old me might not be the best judge of good literature. I wonder if we read some classics too early.
I must admit the first chapter was rough. I still struggle to get past the way the Achaeans’ and Trojans’ view women, like a thing to be used and traded and dominated. Instead of using that as a reason to discount the story, I want to learn from it. Are there men in our culture who view a woman as a thing to be used and dominated? How does that affect all of us?
Then I find myself interested in the story. I’m more able to overlook differences and see similarities. Instead of wondering at their strange gods and why they would ever listen, I started considering the advice we listen to in this age. Are we any better? We self-diagnose on the internet or even Facebook and sometimes don’t take good rational advice like, lose a little weight or eat less junk. We ourselves like to sit around like gods, eating and drinking and using violence as entertainment putting in our two bits, sometimes increasing the violence and the drama for added entertainment factor.
I read books like the Iliad because when I am folding laundry and doing dishes, I want to have thoughts in my mind. Thoughts like: what does it take to be a leader? Do I motivate like Agamemnon or Ulysses? I want to spend my time driving wondering how the author makes little comments about some of the men who die–making their deaths more meaningful and war more obviously senseless. I like to think while I’m rocking a baby about what I’m reading and whether I worship or make sacrifices to things that don’t increase the peace. Perhaps not in prayer or at church, but maybe I worship with my time and praise, and the songs I listen to. Maybe I’m not sacrificing 100 goats, but instead my precious time towards increasing the fear and division in the world, instead of doing the much harder work of creating peace. Am I less foolish than the ancient Greeks?
I read because my mind demands that I use it. I read because I want my children to never stop learning. I read because my parents haven’t stopped learning yet. I read because I want to vote and act based on the wisdom of generations instead of the whims of the media. I read because I’d rather spend at least some of my life face to face with the greatest authors of all time than face to face with the television show of the moment.
So I’m reading the Iliad, because if nothing else I want my children to have a mom who can learn from people who don’t think exactly like her.
What are you old enough to read now?
Britt grew up in a family of six brothers and one sister and gained a bonus sister later. She camped in the High Sierras, canoed down the Colorado, and played volleyball at Brigham Young University. She then served a mission to South Africa. With all of her time in the gym and the mountains and South Africa, she was totally prepared to become the mother of 2 sons and soon to be 9 daughters. By totally prepared she means willing to love them and muddle through everything else in a partially sleepless state. She is mostly successful at figuring out how to keep the baby clothed, or at least diapered, though her current toddler is challenging this skill. She feels children naturally love to learn and didn’t want to disrupt childhood curiosity with worksheets and school bells. She loves to play in the dirt, read books, go on adventures, watch her children discover new things, and mentor her children. Her oldest child is currently at a community college and her oldest son is going to high school at a public school. She loves to follow her children in their unique paths and interests. She loves to write because, unlike the laundry and the dishes, writing stays done. Whenever someone asks her how she does it all she wonders what in the world they think she’s doing.