Friday, April 3, 2009

Really Old Classics Challenge

I’m glad I took this challenge. It was humbling because there were several books I started and could not finish, but it was heartening that the other books I tried were not only readable, but highly relevant to modern day questions. (This is the main point of Adler’s How to Read a Book.)

Aesop's Fables was the easiest and most enjoyable read with its timeless moral tales. Reviewed here.

Plato’s Apology was surprisingly simple in its writing style, yet profound in its comments on death and honor. “Virtue” (long-forgotten, yet lovely word) was used quite frequently in the text. How many of us can say as he did, “The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness.”?

He goes on to say that it is pretence to be afraid of death. “Death may be the greatest good.” That phrase struck me hard since I’d just read the same idea in George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key” (Now that you have tasted death, said the Old Man, is it good? It is good, said Mossy. It is better than life. No, said the Old Man: it is only more life. p. 42)

Alcestis by Eurpides was a play I read through It is written in simple, beautiful poetry and provided many a morsel of “brain food”. I should say “heart” food because the themes were love, loyalty and self-sacrifice. In this story Alcestis gives up her life to save her husband’s and he remains loyal to her even after her death; when another woman is brought to him, he says, “How could I lay this woman where my bride once lay? It were dishonour double-dyed.” I love language like that.

Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne was a retelling of Greek myths. Review here.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was, well, boring. But now that I’m reading a book about strategies in WWII, some of them are sounding familiar. The occasional Confucius-like sayings were the only thing that kept me reading:
1) To hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
2) Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest.
3) Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

I’m glad to be officially done with the challenge. I have two other books from the pre-Shakespeare time period that I’d like to try this year, but I’ll write about them later.


Kacie said...

Funny - my hubby has had "The Art of War" on his nightstand for years. Every now and then he reads a little more. He's a military history buff, so it fits his interest. Still, even he can only read it in small segments because as you say, it is...boring. :)

Rebecca Reid said...

Thanks so much for participating! Some of the old books are boring, agreed. Glad you got through Art of War all the same. I look forward to reading Plato; sounds worthwhile and interesting.