Classics [Western Literature]

[STUDY] CLASSICS-These are just posts where I mentioned some of the classics of western literature. Hopefully it will encourage people to become more familiar with the classics



The Iliad and Odyssey [Homer]
 I want to cover some of the classics of Western Literature- when I do the philosophy and science stuff- the purpose is to show how God- and ‘religion’ are an inescapable thread that we see all thru out history- and in fact- the rise of what we call ‘intellectualism’ did indeed come from the Judaic/Christian tradition [for instance- the modern day university system did come from the Church].

Ok- lets start with what most believe to be the greatest work from antiquity- outside of the bible.

These are 2 poems by Homer- the Iliad and Odyssey.

These poems were written in the 8th century BCE- and cover the Trojan war- which most believe was a real war- that took place in the 12th-13th century BCE.

In Homers works we read about this epic battle.

The war starts with- once again- a ‘woman’ issue.

Prince Paris of Troy steals Helen of Greece- from her husband King Menelaus [king of Sparta].

The Greeks- led by Achilles- lay siege to Troy.

In Homers telling of the event- the Greeks are actually defending the honor of marriage- and are carrying out a just retribution against an unjust act.
Sort of the same themes we read in scripture- when the sons of Jacob defended the honor of their sister Dinah- when she was treated unjustly by the pagan nation that took her- forcefully- to be the wife of a kings son.

The brothers meted out justice- by tricking these pagans to get circumcised- then- while recovering ‘from surgery’- the sons went in and wiped out the city- to their fathers dismay!

In the story- Achilles is a warrior- who displays extreme violence- and also the human traits of a man who acts out of selfish motives.

At one point in the war- he removes himself from battle- because he feels his honor was betrayed.

The only thing that brings him back is the killing of his close friend Patroclus- by Hector.
Achilles leads the Greeks to victory- and reflects the struggle between living a long life- or dying young- yet dying for a just cause.
One of the more famous quotes form Homer’s Poems- attributed to Achilles- is ‘I carry 2 sorts of destiny to the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life- left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.’

There has been some debate over the historicity of the war itself.

Some scholars believe it was Myth [I’ll get to this in a moment].
That is- they believe the war itself was not true- but a sort of Oral Tradition- that encompasses the reality of the human condition- and that Homers Poems are simply mythological ways to reveal the true condition of man.

Yet- much like the debate that took place in the 19th century German universities- over the ‘Myth’ of the bible- later on- the rise of what we now call Archaeology [because of the Industrial revolution- a new field arose- men started digging up the ground- for the primary purpose of extracting materials from the earth- and at this time we also discovered ‘lost worlds’- that is we could actually trace cities and lands that were once deemed fake].

So- as with Homers Troy- and bible lands- these archaeologists did indeed find Cities that matched the stories.

In 1870 the German Archaeologist Schliemann discovered remains that seemed to find the city of Troy- the area is known today as modern day Turkey.

This same thing happened with the bible- we did indeed find historical evidence that seemed to back up the historicity of the stories we find in the bible.

As a matter of fact- a famous doubter of the bible embarked on a search- to prove the bible was ‘myth’ yet- after researching carefully the historical names and places we read about in the book of Acts- he came to believe that the book of Acts- written by both an historian and doctor [Luke] was the most historically accurate writing that came from the first century [Acts has lots of names of political figures- court proceedings- stuff like that- and when doing research like this- it is quite easy to debunk the historical reality of a fake work- but- when these names and places were researched- from actual historical records dating back to the first century- it was amazing how the pieces fit].

The Trojan War is found in many works of Greek literature- and art.

But the most comprehensive account comes from Homer’s 2 poems.

Now- in Homer’s poems there are obvious references to Mythology- Goddesses- Golden apples- the Greek gods intervening in the affairs of men.

So yeah- we see that there are obvious mythological aspects to the work.
Yet- the ancient Geeks did indeed believe the war itself was a real war that took place at around the 12th century BCE.

Some believe that Homer never actually wrote the poems- but that he told the stories- like Oral Tradition- and they were later written down by others.

Sort of like the classic- Paradise Lost- by John Milton. Milton was blind- and told the story to his daughters [oral tradition] and the actual work was penned by those who heard it.

Jesus himself used this method- he never wrote a book- or letter in the New Testament- yet the gospels were compiled by his men after his death.

We read about this when Luke [who I mentioned above] gives the reason for his documenting stuff in the book of Acts [read Acts chapter one].

Luke also wrote his gospel a few years after the death and resurrection of Christ.

So- some believe the same thing happened with Homer- those who heard him tell the story multiple times- simply put it together later on.

Most scholars believe that Homer did indeed write the poems- and that the famous Trojan War was a real historical event.

Last year- when in North Bergen- my atheist friend Daniel said he watched a PBS show- and he said ‘even a priest said the bible was Myth’.

I explained to Daniel that when the more liberal scholars use this term [like in the writings of Bultman] that they do not mean ‘fake’- like Greek Mythology.

But they mean that some of the stories in the gospels might be a compilation of the many Oral teachings of Jesus- and they were put together as one story [some think the Sermon on the Mount was actually multiple teachings Jesus did- and they were compiled into one event].

Now- when I explained this to Daniel- he said ‘see- even you believe it was Myth’.

I told Daniel that no- I do not hold to this theory [not 100%] but that I was simply telling him that even those who use the term Myth- when talking about Theology- they do not mean Myth- as in fake.

So- I find it interesting that both the New testament- and Homers poems- got the same scrutiny.

In these poems we do indeed see the condition of man- which Homer depicts as one of constant war- not peace.

The letter of James in the New Testament says- James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4:2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Homers poems are considered by some to be the beginning of the great works of Western literature- of which there are many.

The great writer C.S. Lewis- who rejected Christianity for many years- later became a believer.

He attributed his conversion to the fact that he could not escape the reality of the Church- or Christian themes- found in all the fields of study.

Whether it was the classics- or history- philosophy.

He said every were he read- studied- he could not escape this scarlet thread that ran thru out all the fields of knowledge.

Yeah- in the end- his thirst for knowledge- his intellectual search- led him to the Cross.

Jesus- in a way- was a 1st century Achilles- he battled the forces of darkness- for the honor of a woman- the Bride- the church.

He- Like Achilles- chose a just death- for a just cause.

There’s a prophecy in the Old Testament- it speaks of Christ ‘the zeal of thine house has eaten me up’.

Jesus was a righteous warrior- a prophet, priest and king- and he had a zeal for the church- that far exceeded anything we find in Homers poems.

[1622] ARE THE JAPANESE DISPROVING FREUD? One of the narratives coming from the Japan disaster is the response of the Japanese people. In contrast to our Katrina tragedy the Japanese are very self reliant. Jack Cafferty [CNN] read an email from some elderly lady who contrasted the 2 responses. She called the Louisiana residents who looted, killed, complained and wined- she said ‘those scumbags’ [ouch!] What are we seeing in the Japanese people? The media are referring to them as Stoic’s- the philosophy [ancient Greek- one of only 2 philosophies mentioned by name in the bible- Acts chapter 17 mentions the Stoic’s and Epicureanism] that said the secret to life is living on an even plane. Don’t get too ‘up’ or too down- just ride the wave of life as moderately as you can. The other side of the coin is Hedonism- the philosophy of men like Freud- who taught that the problem with man is that he is taught to restrain himself [by religion] and that this restraint is itself a product of neurosis. Freud was a strange fellow, the father of modern Psychoanalysis; his ideas were actually quite weird. As a Jew [non practicing] he embraced the higher criticism of his day [a way of interpreting the bible as not being actually true- just good stories] and he sought to come up with an explanation for mans religious bent. So he came up with the idea of the Oedipal Complex- a strange view of man that said the real problems of man are they have this view of love and hate for the father figure- and the ‘real’ story of Moses and the children of Israel was the Jews killed Moses in the wilderness [hatred for the father figure] they then felt guilty about it- and out of this guilt they would eventually develop a ‘religion of the Son’ [Christianity] and Walla- that’s the real story. You would be surprised how many people hear silly stuff like this in life [or college!] and they never give it a second thought. Like Pope Benedict says in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ [1st book of a trilogy on the life of Christ] he mentions the theories of the critics [men like Bultmann] and he then responds ‘and how do you know this’? Bultmann [one of the famous liberal theologians of the day] would come up with ideas like this- and he would just espouse them. The funny thing about these critics was they were trying to challenge the historical accuracy of the bible- are the gospels true- stuff like that. And in their challenge they would ‘make up’ their own stuff [Oedipal complex] and simply expect everyone to believe it. So Freud taught that we need to free man from this neurosis of religion- this thing in society that says ‘restrain yourself’ and if we teach man to do and be all that he feels like doing- then we will have healed him of this destructive religious belief that developed out of a secret love/hate relationship of father. Wow. I can think of no greater philosophy to not live your life by than that. How did the Freudian experiment turn out? It was/is a disaster- I’m not just saying this as a Christian who rejects Freud’s atheism- but many of his ideas have also been roundly rejected by the psychologists of the modern day. Freud actually taught that when you counsel a person [yes- he was the originator of the idea of the patient lying on the couch while the counselor listens] that the patient is ‘transmitting’ psychic energy from himself to the doctor- and that’s what makes him better. Freud wrote Moses and Monotheism [his fictional account of the origins of Judaism/Christianity] Totem and Taboo- the fictional idea of the primitive religion of man- and Civilization and it’s Discontents, his explanation of the conflict between mans psychic life and the demands of society. The basic view of Freud [Hedonism] is a failed system that does not work in the real world. To live your life based on the philosophy of ‘if it feels good- do it’ does not work in any area of life- for the long term. In food, shopping, family life, marriage, sexual expression- the basic principle of self restraint and discipline [the Japanese response] is in great contrast to the ‘unrestrained’ view of life [as seen in some of the Katrina response- many of the looters and rioters were raised with a welfare mentality- they were dependant on the state/govt. to do things for them. When things went bad- they blamed the govt. for it]. In the end of the day- the society that practices self discipline- that teaches their children to be self reliant- those are the ones who have the most successful lives. Those who practice Hedonism blame stuff on everyone else.

(1332) Been doing some reading on church history/philosophy, it’s interesting to see the role that theology/Christianity played in the universities. Theology is referred to as ‘the queen of the sciences’ and philosophy was her ‘handmaid’. They saw the root of all learning as originating with the study ‘of God’. Many modern universities have dropped the term ‘theology’ and call it ‘the study of religion’. The study of religion is really the study of how man relates to God, his view of God; this would fit under anthropology/sociology, not under theology. Modern learning has lost the importance of the study of God and the role it plays in all the other sciences. The classic work of Homer [8th century BC] called the Iliad, has Achilles debating whether or not he should ‘stay and fight along the city of the Trojans’ and attain the legacy of a warrior; or to go ‘back to my homeland and live a long life’. He chooses to fight and lay his life on the line. The themes of the classics [courage, heroism, etc.] are biblical themes, even if God is not directly mentioned. The point being to try and exclude God from learning is silly, you can’t do it. Around the 17-18th century you had the philosophy of Existentialism rise up, as an ‘ism’ it really is a misnomer; ‘ism’ is a suffix that you add to the end of a word that makes it a system- ‘humanism’ ‘secularism’ etc. but existentialism is a word that means ‘anti-system’. Nevertheless the person who popularized this belief was a Christian, Soren Kierkegaard. The system he was rebelling against was the dead institutionalism of the Danish church, he felt that Christianity devolved into dead orthodoxy and lost all of its passion for true living and experiencing God. Nietzsche would pick up on this philosophy and apply it to atheism, and in the 20th century men like Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre would also embrace it from an atheistic worldview. They would say things like ‘man is a useless passion’ or write books titled ‘Nausea’ summing up the human condition. Though the 19th century atheistic humanists tried to give value and exalt the state of man, in their rejection of God and Christianity they were taking away the foundation for mans value. If you tell society that they arrived on the scene by some cosmic accident of evolution, and when you die you dissipate into nothingness, then how do you at the same time glory in his natural abilities to reach some point of Utopia? As the late Frances Schaeffer said ‘they were philosophers who had both feet planted firmly in mid air’. The point being when you neglect the reality and role that God and Christianity play in every sphere of life, you are then removing the foundation that these spheres were built on, true science and learning derive their basis from God. The greatest scientific minds of the past were either Christians or Deists, they were too smart to try and reject the reality of an eternal being.

(1346) In Luke’s gospel the parable of the pounds [money] has the master giving 1 pound to each servant and when he returns he takes the 1 pound from the brother who hid it and gives it to the other guy who made 10 more pounds with the first pound. Moral of the story, don’t squander your capital! One of the most influential works on human government was Plato’s ‘Republic’ Plato lived 4 centuries before Christ and in the famous work he has Socrates [his mentor] having a dialogue and discussing the elements needed for ordering a just society. The leaders must be educated and put the good of the people/community above their own personal desires. Leaders should be statesman and not politicians. As I was watching the news over the weekend they are still debating health care and both sides have stooped so low as to use the Haiti tragedy for political gain. On one of the Sunday shows, the person representing Bush was trying to be non partisan and praised Obama for his actions. Then the Democrat had the gall to contrast the quick response of Obama with the poor response of Bush to Katrina, these guys are never going to learn. Why are the Democrats willing to be the first party in history to push thru major legislation in secret meetings against the majority public opinion? They have calculated the cost, politically, of not passing something and have come to the conclusion that it would be better politically to pass something and take the heat, than to not pass something. Bill Clinton and others have openly said this, they have been found out on more than one occasion to have made this crass political choice. So in the minds of many of them it’s not a matter of telling many American workers ‘you are going to pay an extra 40 % tax on your health ins.’ and then tell the other worker, doing the same job ‘you do not have to pay the tax because you are a union member and we need your votes’ this is not statesmanship, this is political expediency- do whatever it takes to get your side to win, even at the expense of the public. President Obama [who I just finished praying for, and his family!] had lots of political capital at the beginning of the year, much more than any other president in recent history; but he took the ‘1 pound’ and squandered it, he blew it by making these terrible political calculations. As this new year begins it seems as if he really hasn’t made much out of the ‘pound’ that was given him at the start. It looks like the voting public is about to say ‘take from him the pound and give it to someone else’.

CLASSICS (1379) HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO UNJUST GOVERNMENTS? One of the most famous dissidents of the soviet era was Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Alexander was a simple school teacher who would serve in the military when Stalin was in power. He had written some critical things about Stalin in a letter to a friend and was put in the communist prison camps. While doing time he met believers and returned to his early faith as a Christian. In the year I was born [1962] he wrote the famous ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ it was a fictional account of a man in the prison camps and how he dealt with his captors. The main character would meet a Baptist believer while doing time and sort of represented Alexander’s own plight. Alexander came to fame when Khrushchev would permit him to publish his book, Khrushchev was advancing his own program of Destalinization and he underestimated Alexander’s criticism of all communist type systems, not just Stalin. He would also expose the evils of the prison camps in his other work titled ‘The Gulag Archipelago’. Eventually he was exiled to the U.S. [Vermont was his home] and received much notoriety as a prophetic voice who spoke out for justice. He gave a controversial speech at Harvard [1978?] and the western media came to dislike him; he was critical of loose morality and the evils of western society as well, he was not the sort of liberal crusader that they mistook him to be. Eventually he would return home to Russia and live to see the fall of the system he despised. History is filled with people who stood for what was right against all odds and impacted society for the better, Alexander was a school teacher whose life took a turn of events that he simply followed; he was not ashamed of the gospel and did not tailor his message to please the audience. I like that style; it reminds me of another revolutionary who gave his life to save the world.