The Value of Ancient Books

By Eli Gemmill

May 28, 2021


If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life” (Plato). This quote from the Greek philosopher Plato is applicable to a modern conflict taking place in our schools. The ancient books, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, were all epic poems from long ago. The Iliad and The Odyssey were both written by Homer, a Greek author, while The Aeneid was written by Virgil, a Roman poet. All of these epics follow the tales of heroic characters from the Trojan War. These books are not frequently taught in schools now, unless you actively choose to learn them, or possess a private or homeschool education. The books are rapidly being replaced with modern literature, designed for easy reading, and for younger age groups. Those who are for, and against, this change can agree kids today should have a good education. Some teachers and parents are disgusted by this change, saying that these books must continue to be taught in modern curriculum, while other teachers state that the books are far too hard to read, or are unnecessary. These three ancient books should be read, as The Iliad teaches readers the effect of fury, The Odyssey teaches readers to value wisdom, and The Aeneid teaches readers to persevere.

The intro to The Iliad speaks of Achilles’ rage. “Rage-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds, and the will of Zeus saw moving towards its end. Begin Muse, when the two first broke and clashed, Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.”(77). Rage is a theme throughout the book, and is the catalyst for most of the conflict. This passage frames the rest of the book, and tells us what to expect from Achilles’ rage. Throughout the book, Achilles' rage causes an unnecessary increase in casualties. As the intro states, his rage “cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls” (77). If Achilles was not so busy moping in his tent, holding back his armies, perhaps the Achaeans would have won sooner. Lastly, Achilles’ rage causes the death of his close friend, Patroclus. “Hector waiting, watching the greathearted Patroclus trying to stagger free, seeing him wounded there with the sharp bronze came rushing into him right across the lines and rammed his spear shaft home, stabbing deep in the bowels, and the brazen point went jutting straight out through Patroclus’ back” (439). By sending Patroclus out to fight, Achilles dooms Patroclus. If Achilles had stopped raging at Agamemnon, and had gone out to fight alongside Patroclus, he could have saved him from Hector. Achilles’ rage hurts others even more than it hurts himself.

While The Iliad shows the dangers of rage, The Odyssey teaches us the value of wisdom. One of Odysseus’ first trials on his journey is being trapped by the Cyclops. Odysseus has to use his wit to escape the monster, and manages to escape with his crew. First, he gets the Cyclops drunk on wine, and when the monster is asleep, he strikes. “Now at last, I thrust our stake in a bed of embers to get it red-hot and rallied all my comrades: ‘courage-no panic, no one hang back now!’ and green as it was, just as the olive stake was about to catch fire-the glow terrific, yes- I dragged it from the flames, my men clustering round, as some god breathed enormous courage through us all. Hoisting high that olive stake with its stabbing point, straight into the monster’s eye they rammed it hard- I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home. . .” (223). By waiting for the proper time to strike, Odysseus is able to save the lives of himself and his crew members. Odysseus is also able to wisely use his tact to negotiate with the gods. Odysseus uses said tact when trying to get off of the nymph Calypso’s island. He lets Calypso know that although he wants to return home to his wife, she is no competition for the goddess. “Ah great goddess. . . Don’t be angry with me, please. All that you say is true, how well I know. Look at my wise Penelope. She falls short of you, your beauty, stature. She is mortal after all and you, you never age or die. . .” (159). Odysseus intelligently crafts his words, making sure never to anger Calypso, and this is how Odysseus treats deities throughout The Odyssey. Unlike other disrespectful individuals, Odysseus is always careful to treat the gods and goddesses with respect, which grants him the favor of several Olympians. Odysseus also has a strategic intellect. He scouts out Ithaca before announcing his return. He gets information from a swineherd, and makes plans before slaughtering the suitors who have invaded his home. “His voice rose while the stranger ate his meat and drank his wine, ravenous, bolting it all down in silence. . . brooding on ways to serve the suitors right” (305). By spending his time planning he ensures a victorious return, rather than getting massacred by the suitors.

While the Odyssey teaches readers to value wisdom, The Aeneid teaches readers to value perseverance. Aeneas and his crew persevere through their quest to found Rome. Nautes, one of Aeneas’ crew says, “Son of Venus, whether the Fates will draw us on or draw us back, let’s follow where they lead. Whatever Fortune sends, we master it all by bearing it all, we must!” (176). Even though there are many other places Aeneas and his people could settle, they continue in their journey to found Rome. Aeneas' determination is so strong, he even leaves behind his love to continue his quest. When Dido implores him to stay with her in Carthage, he states, “But not now. Grynean Apollo’s oracle says I must seize on Italy’s noble land, his Lycian lots say ‘Italy!’ There lies my love, there lies my homeland now. . .” (139). He could stay in Carthage with Dido, but he continues his journey, leaving behind his love. Lastly Aeneas and his crew persevere through the war. Although the Latins keep breaking their peace treaties, Aeneas and his people continue their goal to win the war. Even when wounded in battle, Virgil states, “Nor does Aeneas flag, though slowed down by his wound, his knees unsteady, cutting his pace at times but he’s still in full fury, hot on his frantic quarry’s tracks, stride for stride” (379). Aeneas and his crew weather through the war, and finally found Rome.

While some agree that these books are important to read, others would say that ancient books like the Homeric epics are unnecessary reading. One point some teachers and parents would raise is that time in school could be better spent learning other subjects such as science or art. This point is invalid, as by removing classical literature from schools, students will not be learning the values taught in these books. Literature throughout the ages has taught students the values of wisdom, perseverance, honor, and chivalry, and by removing ancient literature study from the school system, students will no longer see the value in these traits. Other teachers and parents say that kids in schools should be raised on modern literature, written for younger age groups, both for ease of reading, and for its modern relevance. Though modern books are easier to read and more contemporarily relevant than these ancient epics, an education system based solely on young adult fiction would suffer. Books written primarily for children and teenagers rarely have much use beyond entertainment, and often lack the literary depth that the ancient books have. Thus, while some teachers and parents would argue that the study of other subjects, as well as modern literature specific for school age groups, are more important than the study of ancient books, these reasons are inadequate, and would result in serious loss to future generations.

These three ancient books should be read, as The Iliad teaches readers the effect of fury on people, The Odyssey teaches readers to value wisdom, and The Aeneid teaches readers to persevere. This matters to future generations, as by removing ancient literature from standard education the morals and ethics of future society will suffer. These books, along with showing the rich culture of ancient people groups, teach us important values that should not be forgotten.


Works Cited

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York; London, Penguin Classics,

2010.

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York; London, Penguin

Classics, 2010.

Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York; London, Penguin Classics,

2010.