Friday, February 8, 2013

Why I Read The Classics

... a post which could also be titled : Why I Like The Things Dead White Men Wrote.

My children were raised on myths and legends.  They read the books their mother read and the books their grandmother read.  They knew nursery rhymes.  I may have forgotten to teach Big Cuter the order of the months of the year - an oversight quickly remedied but never excused - but he could explain the Muses to his third grade classmates, including the pretty blonde Thalia in the front row.

We read new books, too.  Don't think I was unwilling to open new doors.  Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories inspired my license plate and added several memorable phrases to our family's shorthand.

We learned that bad things do happen to children in books ("Don't worry, Little Cuter.  Beth can't die. This is a kids' book," was one of the only times her brother failed her) and that kids are strong enough to overcome anything (Max roared his terrible roar and gnashed his terrible teeth and woke up in bed with a smile on his face).  We sobbed over Old Yeller and guffawed with Ramona and we made connections.

Haroun reminded us of Ulysses.  It's no wonder Big Cuter could regale his high school classmates with the story of the Odyssey, a living, breathing Cliff's Notes for the afternoon's English class, in either the long or the short version, as they preferred.  He knew about being between a rock and a hard place, Scylla and Charybdis, popularity and personal integrity.  Those dead white men told him about it, informed his thinking about it, molded the man he is today.

And so, when I was reading The Eumenides, the third piece of Aeschylus's trilogy, I was reminded of those evenings when reading aloud became living the tale.  I was siding with The Furies, harrying Orestes for matricide, refusing to give up their anger. They were righteously indignant and I felt it in my bones.  Clytemnestra, the mourning mother, the wronged wife, achieved vengeance only to be murdered by her son.  At least, that was her side of the story and she was sticking to it.  The Furies were her agents, and she never let them forget it.

It reminded me of how angry I was at our shooter.  It felt so good, so right, so unassailably my own. I'd been injured, loved ones taken from me, and I knew who was to blame.  I was allowed to be angry, expected to be angry, given permission to be angry.... or so it seemed.

But there was nuance in the process, and justice was served.  Along the way, I lost my mad and found the happy place.  While it's possible for homes to prosper without my blessing, I feel just as fortunate as The Furies who, upon giving up their hostilities, became the Eumenides, the well-wishers, the venerable ones. Like The Furies, the change didn't come easily.  I had to work it through, had to choose the light.  It was easier to stay the course, to be furious and proud of it, but letting go of the awful intensity of hate was liberating in a way I'd never imagined.

I was on Clytemnestra's side through two-and-two-thirds of the trilogy.  I just couldn't hold on to the anger any longer.

Like the Eumenides, I chose to look at the bright side.  I'm trying to make the world a better place, and I'm not finding much room for fury anymore.  I'm not at forgiveness, not even thinking about it, or him.  I'm remembering what needs remembering and concentrating on the good.  Aeschylus (and Athena) had it figured out a long time ago.  I'm glad they took the time to share.


  1. We read many of the Greek myths in my World Lit class my senior year of high school. That was one of my all-time favorite classes. I absolutely loved Dante's Inferno. We studied a lot of symbolism in that class. I was an English lit major for a while in college. I loved literature that much! But then I changed my degree program to Web and here I am. Part of me wishes I had finished with the English Lit degree, but I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make a living with it--no matter how much I loved the subject.

    Have a great weekend in your happy place! :)

    Megan xxx

  2. I learned something today. Interesting post, thank you.

  3. Nice to see a conversation about the Greeks, and that you read these tales to your children. And, wow, haven't you made a great leap! Good for you. It can be easier to hold on to the anger.

    I'm thinking of Ghandi - being the change you wish to see. Kudos to you!

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  5. Good Morning for Northern California and thanks for these insights and what they brought to me this am. Your writing is inviting and also delivers.. Sincerely, Peggy


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