Trivium Pursuit

Reading the Odyssey?

Some people suggest reading Dante, Chaucer, and Beowulf in the second grade. I didn’t read these until high school. What do you recommend? C.S. I have your book Teaching the Trivium but I do not seem to be able to find any mention of your position on reading the Iliad/Odyssey. If you would recommend it, at what age? K.D.

These people probably aren’t suggesting you read the originals of Dante, Chaucer, and Beowulf in the second grade. They are suggesting you read re-tellings of these pieces of literature — abridged versions written for children. It is in the logic and rhetoric stages where they recommend you read the original versions.

The question I would ask is this — do I want to read Homer, Dante, Chaucer, and Beowulf at all and require my children to read them? The principles I have in the back of my mind as we choose and study literature are these:

1. I want to do what is pleasing to God. “Be not conformed to this world…” and “Keep yourself unspotted from the world…”

2. There is only so much time in the day.

3. Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it is good.

Canterbury Tales is full of gross, profane babble. I don’t believe it is fit for the eyes of a child, even in its abridged form. I’m sure there probably are sections that would be of some value, but I’ve got better use for my time than pulling on the chore boots and wading through the muck for a few pieces of corn.

Many years ago I had the children read Beowulf, in its unabridged form, and then had them write a paper on it. Hans’ paper was entitled “Beer-wulf: A Story of How God Used a Monster to Rid the Land of the Beer Halls.” Do you have a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in your house? I suggest putting it on a very high shelf.

There is no neutrality. If a piece of literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in my children, then it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in my children. Wasting time is anti-Christian. I can hear someone say, “Well, the Bible if full of stuff that describes the wicked sins of men.” Yes, true, but the Bible also tells you what to think about all that wickedness. There are sections of the Bible that we don’t read to young children. The Hebrews wouldn’t allow a young child to read the Song of Solomon.

Have you ever read any of the works by John Bunyan? These are wonderful pieces of literature you will want your children to read over and over. And how about Robinson Crusoe? The Waverly Novels? Or the histories of Josephus or Herodotus, or Xenophon’s Anabasis?

There is good literature and there is bad literature. Just because something is old and is required reading to get into college doesn’t mean it’s good. I would suggest that your family list the principles which you rely upon for choosing literature to read, and then stick to those principles. Don’t be swayed by peer pressure — classical homeschooling peer pressure. If someone shares with you the long list of classics their children are reading, don’t start to doubt and fret, but look back at your list of principles and stick to them. Should we, as homeschooling families, adopt the values and standards of others in order to fit in and prove to them that we aren’t in some way inferior. Are we looking for their approval? Is getting our kid accepted at Harvard our ultimate goal? Why do we desire our child to read at age five? Is it so that our own parents and adult peers will be impressed and give us their approval?

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