FOUNDATION YEAR (1)
Why study the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome in the 21st century? What can we possibly learn from them?
The great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson once said that the man who has no real knowledge of any culture other than the one he finds himself living in ‘almost inevitably tends to accept the standards and values of his own society as absolute.’ Studying the great cultures of the past (including, of course, the Christian Culture of the last 2,000 years) is one way of broadening our understanding of the world in which we live now and, specifically, deepening our understanding of how we got to this point. It gives us a critical edge – a ‘cultural hinterland’, as it were – allowing us to absorb the wisdom and learn from the mistakes of the past, expanding our horizons beyond that which we see before us on a daily basis. It also fleshes out our historical studies and allows us to look in more depth at the people, ideas, achievements and mistakes of those whose cultures played such an important part in providing the structures from which our own civilisation grew.
With this in mind, the curriculum here follows a typical path of the study of Greek and Roman culture and civilisation, starting off with a very basic introduction to the great myths of these cultures, moving on to their history and finally studying their great works of literature. This complements the study of Latin and Greek, but could be studied simply for interest without the language study. It is actually possible to take Classics at A level without studying the Latin and Greek languages.
Primary Level Classics
I tend to start off with Aesop’s Fables for young children, and there are plenty of versions available very cheaply. We have ‘The Aesop for Children’ by Milo Winter, which has large print, engaging illustrations and is nicely written: it can be used from any age. Have a browse around and find one which suits your family.
Next we move onto Greek myths. Again, there is a lot available. Here’s a run through the some popular versions which we’ve used with ages 5 -10 and which you might well come across: ‘Favourite Greek myths’ by Bob Blaisdell, Dover has a quite dull text and unremarkable illustrations but is OK for an introduction and the text is simple enough for a new-ish reader.
‘Favorite Greek Myths’ by Mary Pope Osborne is an American book, very nicely retold with lovely illustrations, and a good choice of stories taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is recommended on almost every American Classical Education website I’ve ever seen, but I must confess I don’t like it much! Some of the drawings are very poor, and the text is uninspiring, but the book is at least thorough in terms of what it covers (gods, minor gods and heroes) so is worth having if you can find it cheaply (and the pictures match the text well, which is useful for discussion purposes).
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wonder Book , and his Tanglewood Tales are popular for this age group. They provide an odd, slightly twee ‘Victoriana’ take on the myths (late 1880s), retold as a story within a story, but Hawthorne writes very well. Due to the old-fashioned language, these would probably be a read-aloud for under 10’s. Sadly, there really isn’t much available when it comes to Roman myths or history for this age group, hence the emphasis on the Greeks. Geraldine Mccaughrean’s ‘The Orchard Book of Roman Myths’ is one of the few on the market for primary aged children, and has the advantage of being available as an audio book as well.