02 March 2015

Lingua Latina per se Illustrata

I really enjoyed the approach to Latin in Lingua Latin per se Illustrata. The idea of a "Dick, Jane, and Spot" kind of book as a way to learn Latin was fun. For those unfamiliar, Lingua Latina contains only Latin words. The glossary in the back is entirely in Latin, the footnotes are in Latin, the exercises at the ends of the chapters are in Latin. The program is based on the idea that, rather than memorizing charts and writing translations, the best way to learn Latin is by reading it and intuitively learning the meaning of the grammar and words. As a note, the ongoing story in the book was funny and actually made me laugh out loud a few times.

How successful was it? Well, the first half of the book went very well. As the book approached it's final quarter, I had to start reading with a dictionary beside me at all times. I admit this may be a failing on my part rather than on the part of the book, though. I don't think I'm ready yet to move on to the next book in the Lingua Latina series, so I'm planning on going back and looking at some other Latin programs as well before I move forward with more Lingua Latina.

14 February 2015

Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism

Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism by E. A. Budge. Now that that mouthful of a title is out of the way, on to the review. This book was written by Budge at the behest of Lord Carnarvon himself. The book was originally published in 1923, the year after King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and Carnarvon wanted Budge to write the book in order to dispel some of the crazier misinformation that had been circulating since the discovery. Budge wrote this book which lays out the information available about the development of the cult of Amun, the cult of Aten, and how the two interacted and competed from the time of Thutmose III to the time of Tutankhamen. Also at Carnarvon’s request, several Egyptian hymns were included, printed with the hieroglyphs alongside the translations.

All right, I suppose I should begin by dealing with the negative aspects of this book. First of all, yes, the material on Egyptian religion is wildly outdated. All of the standard spellings of names have also changed, which can make reading it confusing. What did you expect from a book that’s 90 years old about a subject like Egyptology that has developed so dramatically over the last century? However, it must be said that Budge was ahead of his time in many ways. He rejects the ridiculously over-the-top adulation of Akhenaten introduced by men like Breasted even if he does swing the pendulum full force in the other direction by asserting that Akhenaten must have been at least “half insane” as well as “intolerant, arrogant, and obstinate” and a “megalomaniac”.

The other problem is that King Tut gets the top billing both in the title and on the cover of the book, but he isn’t talked about all that much in the book itself. Thutmose III and Amenhotep II and III get most of the attention on the Amun side of things and the Aten side of things in the book is dominated by Akhenaten, for obvious reasons. Tut might have been the selling point, but I think it was a bit of false advertising to get people to buy the book.

However, outdated though it is, the book is still a good read. It shows a historical perspective on this period of the field, considered by many to be the golden age of Egyptology.  Seeing Budges relationship with Carnarvon and getting that personal connection through letters and anecdotes is great. Also, as I said before, Budge was ahead of his time on many points and some of the material is still solid today. Just be sure you don’t’ use it as your introduction to this period of Egyptian history. The book is well-written, it has tons of pictures (always a plus in a book about Egypt), it has some good primary sources included, and you can plow through it fairly quickly.

3/5 stars

11 February 2015

Red Land, Black Land

If you are a fan of ancient Egypt, then you must read Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz. It was pure pleasure to read this book detailing the daily life of ancient Egypt based on the archaeological record. Mertz approaches the issues in this book with all the scholarly reservations necessary to make her a trustworthy source, while at the same time writing in an informal style that feels like having a conversation with an old friend. I especially liked the way she wove anecdotes about various archaeologists and their discoveries and writings seamlessly with the historical information. I also appreciated that she continually explains which things are controversies among Egyptologists and explains the arguments for both sides of each issue. It's no wonder that this book has been continually in print since its writing over 30 years ago.

This would be a good book to supplement a historical survey of Egypt, as background for writing fiction about ancient Egypt, or for anyone who simply would like to spend some time looking at the lives of men and women in a long-forgotten past.

5/5 stars

09 February 2015

Quote the Iliad and Die

"Somewhere along the Ionian coast opposite Crete and the islands was a town of some sort, probably of the sort that we should call a village or hamlet with a wall. It was called Ilion but it came to be called Troy, and the name will never perish from the earth. A poet who may have been a beggar and a ballad-monger, who may have been unable to read and write, and was described by tradition as blind, composed a poem about the Greeks going to war with this town to recover the most beautiful woman in the world. That the most beautiful woman in the world lived in that one little town sounds like a legend; that the most beautiful poem in the world was written by somebody who knew nothing larger than such little towns is historical fact... [A]nyhow it is true that this, which is our first poem, might very well be our last poem too. It might well be the last word as well as the first word spoken by man about his mortal lot, as seen by merely mortal vision. If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die."

-from The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

06 February 2015

Still More Music for Grading

I was reminded today of my yearly tradition of sharing the music I've been listening to while grading papers.

Music for Grading

More Music for Grading

Since I just finished grading exams a week ago and now find myself facing about 70 papers, I think I'll go ahead and share some good music for grading. (Or driving, or eating dinner, or unwinding after a long day of work)

1. M. Ward, Transistor Radio

2. Jon Foreman, Limbs and Branches

3. She & Him, Classics

4. Beta Radio, Seven Sisters

5. Andrew Peterson, Light for the Lost Boy

28 January 2015

A Survey of Israel's History

A Survey of Israel's History by Leon Wood is an overview of Old Testament biblical history. It is written with good scholarship and lucidity. Some of the information in it is a bit dated, as it was last updated in 1986, but overall it stands as a good summary of the history of God's people in ancient times.

The opening chapter sets things up very well, and gives some good historical and archaeological background to the book. The following chapters on the patriarchs are adequate, but they really do little more than summarize the stories in the Bible. It does a little, but only a little to place the patriarchs in their historical and cultural situation. With the wealth of archaeological information about time period, Wood could have done a lot more here.

There is an entire chapter devoted to that dating of the Exodus. Wood argues for an early date (1446/1447) rather than a late date (1250). Even a few decades later this is still solid stuff. His discussion on the identity of the habiru is a bit dated, but otherwise this would be a good introduction to the issues surrounding the dating of the exodus.

The life in Egypt chapter is very good, and I think offers a plausible fitting of the exodus story within Egyptian history. That said, there are no absolute, agreed upon dates for Egyptian rulers (Egyptian chronology is notoriously hard to pin down absolutely), but rather higher and lower chronologies. It isn’t necessary for us to dogmatically assert exactly who the pharaoh was during the time of the exodus. For example, Hatshepsut is not necessarily the princess who pulled Moses from the river. The quest to find the pharaoh of the exodus or the pharaoh of Joseph’s day or even to exactly correlate Biblical and Egyptian history must be pursued with caution and without being too dogmatic. Also most scholars today disagree that Thutmose III harbored bitterness for Hatshepsut and see other cultural reasons for his effacing of her name from monuments.

The chapters on the wilderness wanderings and the conquest are adequate, but feel a little rushed overall. Chapter on the judges period is very good on the whole. My only quibble is that he calls the government at this time a theocracy in contrast to the future monarchy. This is a false dichotomy as both are clearly intended as theocracies in Scripture.

The chapters from here on in the book, covering the history of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the captivity, and the intertestamental period are excellent! They are informative without being too pedantic, and thoroughly cover the historical, cultural and biblical info.

Overall, if an updated version were produced, this would make a good textbook for ages 11-12th grade or a college undergrad course.

25 January 2015

2014 Book Awards and Reading List

January is almost over, and I have not yet upheld my yearly blog tradition of giving book awards. For those of you who are just joining us, every January I list the books I read in the previous year and name the best ones out of a variety of mostly arbitrary categories that I sometimes change from year to year but mostly keep the same. The only books I consider for each award are books that I have read for the first time this particular year, so rereads are not in the running. 

So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen: the 2014 Flying Inn Book Awards!

Best Fiction Book I Read this Year: TIE
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

Best History Book I Read this Year: TIE
Ghost on the Throne by James Romm
The Punic Wars by Adrian Goldsworthy

Best Theology Book I Read this Year:
Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck

Best non-history, non-theology, non-fiction Book I Read this Year:
The Life of the Spider by Jean-Henri Fabre

Best Book I Read Out Loud to My Kids This Year:
The Marsh King by C. Walter Hodges

And, as always, here are the books I read this year:

  • Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers 12/14
  • Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin, Jr. 12/14
  • The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp 12/14
  • The Hidden Stream by Ronald Knox 12/14
  • Captain Blood Returns by Rafael Sabatini 12/14
  • The Major Works by Anselm of Canterbury 12/14
  • The Persian Boy by Mary Renault 12/14
  • The Marsh King by Walter C. Hodges 11/14
  • Ancient Greece by Thomas R. Martin 11/14
  • The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson 11/14
  • Westminster Systematics by Douglas Wilson 11/14
  • Encyclopedia of Mysterious Places by Robert Ingpen and Philip Wilkinson 11/14
  • The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle 10/14
  • 1611 King James Bible 10/14
  • Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder 10/14
  • Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ by Alfred Edersheim 10/14
  • Western Civilization by Jackson Spielvogel 10/14
  • The History of England by Jane Austen 10/14
  • In Ole Virginia by Thomas Nelson Page 9/14
  • The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien 9/14
  • The Mason Bees by Jean-Henri Fabre 9/14
  • The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment by Herbert Livingstone 8/14
  • Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie 8/14
  • The Second One Thousand Years (John Richard Neuhaus, ed.) 8/14
  • A Primer on Free Will by John Gerstner 8/14
  • Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel by Paul Maier 8/14
  • One Shot by Lee Childs 7/14
  • The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe 7/14
  • Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead 7/14
  • Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien 7/14
  • The Life of the Spider by Jean-Henri Fabre 7/14
  • The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien 7/14
  • The Passionate Observer  by Jean-Henri Fabre 7/14
  • Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz 6/14
  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves 6/14
  • Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck 6/14
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas 6/14
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde 6/14
  • Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges 5/14
  • Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin 5/14
  • Greenmantle by John Buchan 5/14
  • The Punic Wars by Adrian Goldsworthy 5/14
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 5/14
  • The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin 5/14
  • Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson 4/14
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde 4/14
  • The Lightning Thief by Percy Jackson 4/14
  • First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde 4/14
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien 4/14
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield 4/14
  • Cover Her Face by P.D. James 3/14
  • Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson 3/14
  • The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (H.R. James, trans.)3/14
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie 3/14
  • The Narnian by Alan Jacobs 3/14
  • The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson 3/14
  • Crusades by Terry Jones 2/14
  • Arthur by Stephen Lawhead 2/14
  • The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul 2/14
  • The African Queen by C.S. Forester 2/14
  • A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes 1/14
  • Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire by James Romm 1/14
  • The Dragon's Tooth by N. D. Wilson 1/14
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 1/14
  • The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Herman 1/14

16 January 2015

Good Advice for Young Ladies

"I know what you're thinking about," said Mary; "and don't you be silly fools. Don't you listen to the lady novelists. You go down the king's highway; for God's truth, it is God's. Yes, my dear, Michael will often be extremely untidy. Arthur Inglewood will be worse--he'll be tidy. But what else are all the trees and clouds for, you silly kittens?"
"The clouds and trees are all waving about," said Rosamund. "There is a storm coming, and it makes me feel quite excited, somehow. Michael is really rather like a storm: he frightens me and makes me happy."
"Don't you be frightened," said Mary. "All over, these men have one advantage; they are the sort that go out."
A sudden thrust of wind through the trees drifted the dying leaves along the path, and they could hear the far-off trees roaring faintly.
"I mean," said Mary, "they are the kind that look outwards and get interested in the world. It doesn't matter a bit whether it's arguing, or bicycling, or breaking down the ends of the earth as poor old Innocent does. Stick to the man who looks out of the window and tries to understand the world. Keep clear of the man who looks in at the window and tries to understand you. When poor old Adam had gone out gardening (Arthur will go out gardening), the other sort came along and wormed himself in, nasty old snake."
- from Manalive by G.K. Chesterton

14 January 2015

The Dangers of Online Teaching

The greatest danger in the world of online teaching is that at some point, somewhere, some student is going to do something like this...

05 January 2015

Truth for Beauty's Sake

Classical education has become popular in many home school and private Christian school communities over the last thirty years or so. Like so many ideas when they become popularized, this means that many of the principles of Classical education have been misunderstood by those attempting to classically educate. Classical education is an educational philosophy developed in the 12th and 13th centuries and based on Greek and Roman principles combined with a Christian view of the cosmos. Classical education today, however, is seen less as a philosophy of education and more as a method of education. This distinction is key.

Classical education is built around 2 courses of study: the trivium (3 ways) and the quadrivium (4 ways). Together these make up the 7 liberal arts. Most classical educators today, both home school and private school, focus exclusively on the trivium to the exclusion of the quadrivium. The trivium is made up of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric. These were thought of as the modes of learning or skills or arts or disciplines, if you will, that equip a student to move forward into the deeper studies of philosophy and theology.

In 1947, Dorothy Sayers published an essay titled "The Lost Tools of Learning" that suggests that children have various stages of development at which they are especially suited for learning each of these disciplines. Younger children are particularly suited for studying grammar, young teens are particularly suited for learning dialectic reasoning, and older teens/young adults are particularly suited for rhetoric. Because of Sayers essay, which sparked the modern classical movement, many people today in classical education talk of the trivium as if it is synonymous with these stages. This is what I meant earlier by Classical Education becoming method rather than a philosophy. In earlier times, the trivium was not implemented in stages, and in many older classical schools that have been around since the 1800s, it is still not implemented in stages. The idea that the disciplines and skills of the Trivium can be implemented in this way is a good method, in my opinion, presented by Sayers, but only a method and not part of the core philosophy. In addition, because Sayers did not talk about the quadrivium (it was never her purpose to set forth an outline for a full-orbed classical education) many schools today ignore the quadrivium entirely.

All right, all that was just an introduction... Now on to the actual book I'm reviewing.

Truth for Beauty's Sake by Stratford Caldecott seeks to reintroduce the importance of the quadrivium and the seven liberal arts to education today. The quadrivium is made up of mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy. While these things are often taught in schools today, they have lost the depth and purpose with which they were imbued in classical education. Arithmetic, for example, is seen now as merely quantitative: useful for calculating practical things for purposes of counting, engineering, programming, etc. However, though this is all part of mathematics, Caldecott points out that in a medieval Christian view of mathematics, numbers have sacred and poetic meanings, and the contemplation of mathematics can lead to deep philosophical and theological considerations. He points out that this poetic focus of math creeps into modern physics and other studies, but is not recognized in a widespread way. Geometry, likewise, is charged with poetic and sacred meaning, from contemplations on the Trinity based on pi, to contemplations of beauty based on phi. According to one legend, the discovery of irrational numbers, for example, caused the Pythagoreans to murder one of their own members in ancient times. It would be hard to think of Geometry causing such passion in modern times. Music (or harmonics, which is the old term for the study) stems from Mathematics and Geometry, and ideas about beauty and music are intertwined with those disciplines. The golden ratio (phi) in geometry, for example, corresponds closely to the major 6th interval in music which is considered by many to be the most aesthetically pleasing interval. Finally Caldecott points out how medieval astronomy was often based, not necessarily on observation, but on symbolism and meaning. It would not bother a medieval to learn that the picture he painted of the cosmos didn't correspond to reality. Indeed, in a fallen universe, he would not expect reality to conform to his ideal conception of it. Nonetheless, Caldecott believes that there is no contradiction between the empirical astronomy of today and the possibility of rich human meaning in the cosmos. 

Along the way, he emphasizes that we should think of these things (mathematics, geometry, astronomy and music) not simply as servile arts (designed for practical purposes) but as liberal arts (designed to make us free humans able to properly contemplate the creation and our Creator). Math is very useful in day to day life, but is important for its spiritual qualities even apart from its usefulness. Geometry is a great help to architecture, but both are means of expressing other truths. Learning to play music is a good skill (although actual playing of music was not included in the medieval quadrivium), but the study of music or harmonics apart from actually playing it helps us to contemplate astronomy (the music of the spheres) and mathematics and geometry in a higher way as we seek harmony in our lives and in the world around us. Finally, astronomy is good for the practical things it tells us about the universe, but, perhaps more importantly, for the things it teaches us about God.

This is, admittedly, a difficult book to read. It is scholarly and packed with footnotes. It runs the gamut from science and physics to philosophy and poetry. Caldecott writes of and integrates all of these disparate sources as if he expects that we are as familiar with them all as he is, which makes some high demands of the reader. His theology is pretty wonky in places as well, but I'll try not to judge him for that. The important thing here is to appreciate the picture he is painting for a full-orbed classical education and for the kind of person it produces.

This book is a great corrective to shortcomings in modern classical education as well as to our hyper-reductionistic modernity. It is thought provoking and bold; it is erudite and scholarly. And best of all, it approaches classical education as a philosophy (regarding what sort of person it produces and upon what principles it is based) and not merely a method (follow these three simple steps to academic excellence). If you are a teacher, administrator, or otherwise involved in classical education, I highly recommend this book!