Ancient Literature


My September column prompted a reader to question me, “What is so great about all that ancient literature?” When I ask students to read, I want them to have several experiences in one. The text must present a viable theme, such as good conquers evil. I also like for the reading to show students how complex sentences create drama and lead the reader from page to page. These sentences often contain extensive vocabulary, another aid to advanced comprehension. These alone are hard to find in recent literature. Character development is also essential for good reading. The writer must present us with a complex person who has to make moral and ethical choices that come with consequences. We should live through the character and struggle in making these choices with him; then we suffer or enjoy the consequences along with him, which is an excellent form of vicarious learning. In good literature, the strong character will survive and conquer whatever happens to him. This resolution of issues by a character’s choices is an essential part of what constitutes good reading. Ancient classics such as The Odyssey by Homer or the plays of Sophocles contain these elements at the least. They also contain tremendous stories and adventures. What more could one want in literature? For teaching purposes, elements such as moral integrity, where Biblical right is always right and Biblical wrong is always wrong, and character integrity, where the protagonist chooses right over wrong regardless of the consequences, are desired. These elements usually exist even in ancient literature written before the Bible and life of Christ. I think it reveals that God was speaking and working to prepare the hearts of men even then. The conviction of these ancient writers could come from no other source. They may have mistakenly attributed it to multiple gods, but the idea that there is that authority was there. To me, it’s fascinating to find Biblical ethics in ancient writings. Think for a minute about a lawless and anarchist society suddenly introduced to the teachings of Jesus. God obviously prepared the way, even in the pens of ancient writers, long before Christ’s appearance.