Question: I have questions about the study of Greek myths. I find many of the stories disturbing, and my children do as well. Can you please help me understand why we should require classical students to study the Greek myths?
Right now, Evangelicals often send their kids to public schools, praying that their kids survive, despite much of the current educational baloney. While we believe that the problems in public schools are so extensive that kids should not be there, we are not “fundamentalists” in the sense that we want to create retreatist enclaves: we still want kids to be culturally conversant with unbelievers and to have a knowledge of Western civilization and the context in which men like Paul, Luther, and C.S. Lewis wrote. This means knowing history from before 1776, literature from before Narnia, and theology from before Billy Graham.
We are not doing this because we like the Greek myths or because kids should adore the classics. They shouldn’t: Achilles in The Iliad pouts on the beaches of Troy for the majority of Homer’s epic. In The Aeneid, Aeneas gives colossally lame excuses for abandoning Dido after marrying her. The Greek myths include a lot of stories that are not for kids, as do Grimm’s Fairy Tales. You can see rape and gore in more mature tellings than ours, and we should rejoice that the Gospel has transformed the world. (On the other hand, many of the Greek myths are well told and have a fairy-tale quality, so they are not on the level of, say, Gilgamesh or Theogony).
When Christians inherited the classical culture, they did not throw out everything that was bad: they often transformed it, and great Christians like Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton (not to mention theologians like Luther and Calvin) make all sorts of references and allusions to the Greek myths. If you do not know these stories, you will be baffled by the vast majority of literature, not to mention a whole stream of culture that continues to affect us today. Right now, I am writing a literature textbook for high school students and several of the great works are simply unintelligible if you don’t know classical mythology.
We do this, not because culture is the be-all and end-all of everything: sharing the Gospel is more important than anything else we can do. However, people are usually not converted by monks or by the Amish. They are converted and convinced by people like them who are intelligent, good-humored, and culturally strategic, though of course God also uses the full-time preacher or evangelist. If we want to be bearers of light to the world, we need to speak their language; if we want to outwit them, then we need to have educations and to learn from the great minds of the past. And reading these stories to your kids WILL prepare them for that in spades.
Hope that helps. Thank you for a very enjoyable question!
Brian Marr, Canon Press