February 6, 2010

A Student's Guide to Classics by Bruce S. Thornton

This incredibly brief survey (92 pp.) will orient the interested novice to the general contours and situations of the Greek and Latin classical authors.  This volume is organized according to ancient genres and covers, among others, epic, poetry, drama, prose fiction, rhetoric, and history.  Each section introduces the major figures in Greek and Latin and often highlights one or two major ideas of their work or significant features of their legacy.  The student will not only encounter important authors but will become acquinted with important terminology which is defined in a non-technical manner.  Don't come to this book for detailed treatments of the relevant material; that is not its aim.  Students will find it useful as a starting point with regard to which books to read first in each genre.  The survey concludes with a section of recommendations for further reading which includes some secondary sources along with suggestions for preferable translations of primary sources.

One nice benefit is that Thornton sometimes points towards fields that overlap with the classics.  For example, students of American history will find it important to read the classical authors who influenced the founders of the United States and their ideas about government and liberty, which include but are hardly limited to Demosthenes and Polybius.  Similarly, by studying the classics Christians will find a great deal of material which provides a context for reading the scriptures, which were penned in the classical world.  An example would be Aristotle's treatment of hamartia  in his Poetics, the word that New Testament authors use for the idea of sin.  Christians will find it beneficial to contrast and compare the pagan and Christian understandings of sin.

The book comes in a series published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute called ISI Guides to Major Disciplines, which are "reader-friendly introductions to the most important fields of knowledge in the liberal arts" (back cover).  The "Guides" are part of ISI's Student Self-Reliance Project, which is "an integrated, sequential program of educational supplements designed to guide students in making key decisions that will enable them to acquire an appreciation of the accomplishments of Western civilization" (91).  Their web resources provide information on shaping a personal curriculum for self-study along with information on choosing the best colleges for studying the liberal arts.  It looks to be quite helpful material.

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