Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pagan Puritans

I was struck today while reading through Book 16 of the Iliad with my 8th graders that as Christians, we probably have more in common with the mindset of these ancient pagan characters than we do with modern-day nonbelievers. What I mean by that is that these characters have a unified world. Everything happens for a reason. A storm is not merely a storm; it's an indication of the current emotional state of the gods. A bird is not merely a bird; it's an indication of how a battle will turn out. And regardless of how skilled one might be as a warrior, ultimately the success or failure of anything is, as Ajax realizes as he fights off Hector from the Greek ships, up to the will of the gods. I hasten to clarify that I am not implying that God treats us according to his whims or that we are ruled by an impersonal Fate. There are certainly deep distinctions between the God of the Bible and the Greek gods of the Iliad. In fact, I'll probably have my students write an essay on that very topic when we're done reading the epic. But today I was struck not by differences but by similarities -- that the world is not divided into neat little compartments as I so often tend think it is, but rather that everything is connected and that our individual actions and the events swirling about us and the will of a deity are wrapped up into one complex, yet unified whole.

In fact, I thought as I read the chapter, all of this reminds me of something from another class. It reminds me of the American Puritans that my students in 11th grade American Lit read. Those writers had the same habit of seeing God in absolutely everything. And I realized with a start, The Iliad is filled with pagan Puritans! It was a humorous, yet instructive, realization. And I think a couple of the 8th graders got it when I mentioned it. I think . . . . :-)


Post a Comment

<< Home