A Really Good Weird Story

“They were my bedtime stories,” my brother told me once of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

I imagine our Dad retelling the passage when Achilles dragged Hector’s body around the city of Troy for seven days and then saying, “Good night. Sleep well.”

Of course, there is much more to Homer’s works. For Western Civilization, Homer helped define what it means to be a hero.

But my favorite part of this remembrance is how Dad got the stories, to begin with.

Dad was 13 and one of 11 children recently orphaned. Some of the children were already grown. Others went to live with their grandmother. Dad found a home with two women who needed someone to do the man jobs around the house.

Division of labor by gender was big in the past.

One day he discovered his hostesses taking down curtains and washing windows. He asked what he could do to help and received this reply.

“This is women’s work, George. Go outside and play.”

But playmates were no longer around. He wandered off to the local library and inquired of the librarian for “some good books.”

She gave him Homer’s classics.

From Alan Jacobs: “To see the art of our ancestors can be an incredibly powerful thing; but we want also, we can’t help but want also, the human voice, to hear those who came before us speak to us.”

Jacobs points out that we hear those who speak our hearts, but we also learn from those who are different from us. The same in some ways but different from us is what we find in the writings of the past.

Even the story of dad’s guardians sending him away rather than inviting him into “women’s work” teaches us something of what the past was.

Learning about the past can lead us to ask how we got from there to here.

I’m finishing The Black Ships Before Troy with two groups of sixth- through eighth-graders.

I tell them that the Greeks didn’t marry the women they carried off after sacking a city. They didn’t settle into a life of domestic partnership.

And marriage wasn’t the primary life relationship for the ancients. The friendship between men was their top relational concern–as we see in the story of Achilles and Patroclus.

In class, I get to explain what the world was like before Christ–and how it changed for the better because He walked here on earth.

I explain that social groups become civilizations when they become writers. When oral traditions, stories, laws, and in the case of the Bible, inspiration take a written form.

Even so, we continue to pass stories down both orally and through writing.

My great-niece in Texas is teaching Homer’s works to her students. She is four generations removed from Dad.

And the story goes on from thousands of years ago.

But it won’t end here.

A seventh-grader last week couldn’t contain his enjoyment as we discussed Homer’s tales.

“This is a really good weird story,” he said.

Good enough to pass on to his own children someday?

And then he’ll tell them to sleep well.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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30 Replies to “A Really Good Weird Story”

  1. My 2nd son, Craig, asked me this past weekend how dad learned of these stories. Books and the library I told him. Nancy, dad also told of Horacio at the Bridge; a “true” story of a hero from early Rome. Don’t forget the stories of Sparta defending civilization from the Persians at Marathon and Thermopylae where the Spartans died rather than retreat. “Come home with your shield or on it”, was their motto. Later stories included civil war heroes and battles. Maybe this explains my interest in military history? Thanks for your stories and commentary.

    1. And the Spartans told them “Molan Labe.” We are talking about Greece and Rome here and there in class.

      We plan to read Sutcliffe’s version of The Odyssey next followed by them acting out a dramatic version of The Aeneid. I’m a few lectures into a Hillsdale class on the Greeks. Exciting times. Thanks, Jeff, and God bless!

  2. It sounds like your students have a great teacher! I love that you’re teaching lessons and things that make a difference in their lives to come, and not just facts. God bless you in your teaching and writing.

  3. I read Homer in high school and also thought they were “good, weird stories.” So glad your dad discovered them and shared his love with you and your brother!

  4. What a great description of Homer’s stories! I too teach in a Christian school and my children attended Christian schools, and my daughter now teaches in a Christian school! I’m so glad our children get introduced to great literature in these schools. Keep up the good work, Nancy! May your work be blessed!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this story. I have not read Homer but love how your family has shared it down the generations. I might have to check it out. I love the thought of a good, weird story.

    1. It’s amazing how many works since refer to Homer. I’m trying to hammer some of the pieces home with my middle-schoolers so they can recognize those moments later on. Homer gives us good, weird stuff to feast on. Thanks, Yvonne. God bless!

  6. Yes, indeed! It really is a good, weird story. My kids loved it most when I read aloud the stories of Homer and also Beowulf as well. The stories were from cultures with oral traditions, and the kids loved hearing them with the inflection and the explanations as I moved through the book. Your comment above about the importance for a civilization of writing the stories down explains why Greek became the dominant language for so long, even comprising the most important words ever written — the New Testament, written in the “street Greek” of the Roman empire. Thank you for sharing this, not only for the Greek, but for the glimpse back in time to when women did women’s work, and men got to escape to the library and read really good weird stories. 🙂

  7. I love hearing the stories from my parents’ lives and childhood. Though I know they faced great hardships, there are even times I wish I lived in those eras. May we pass on the best of what God has accomplished through us and our civilization to our children.

  8. I know for me, I love reading books about times and places that I have never been to. I also like reading about things I most likely would never do. We learn so much from those that are different from us. 🙂

  9. I love the title and this whole piece. We hear so much about creating and leaving a legacy, and that’s important. But this expresses your thoughts about story so well, “I explain that social groups become civilizations when they become writers. When oral traditions, stories, laws, and in the case of the Bible, inspiration take a written form.”

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