The Literary-Historical Cascade...

So I'm in the throes of trying to decide what literature to make my Highschoolers (freshman level) work on this year. We are also doing a World History overview. Very high level, broad strokes overview.

So I'm thinking Odyssey would be a good piece of lit to start with. And if you start with the Odyssey and ancient history, perhaps the Gilgamesh Epic would be a good thing to follow up with. But if you read Gilgamesh, you need to read Genesis along side it. After you read Genesis, it would be logical to just finish out the pentateuch followed by the other Old Testament Historical books. But if you are going to read those, you need to familiarize yourself with the Wisdom literature while you are at it. But if you are going to become familiar with Biblical Wisdom Lit. it would be good to read something like the Instruction of Amenemope for comparison.

And while we are at it, a thorough familiarity with Ancient Greek texts and philosophers would be in order.

And if one is studying Ancient Greek texts, it would be good to read up on how the Early Church Fathers used ancient Greek philosophy to defend the gospel. Styles of rhetoric could be compared. Chrysostom's sermons could be studied.

And as we move forward in time, some Medieval texts must be learned as well.


And then I remember these are High School students we are talking about, and not Master's degree or Ph.D. students. And just because I wish I'd been thus educated does not mean this is the right time or place...

And so after the Odyssey what should we study? Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, perhaps? Uncle Tom's Cabin? Who knows. Whatever. It seems there's no rhyme or reason to ANY of the lit lists I've looked at. But's just freshman year of High School.



Cody Vest said…
I used to teach Classical High School humanities, and taught through many of the books that you have mentioned here. One of the things that drove my choices and how we read them were a) What books define the culture we are studying the best, and b) a deep reading beats a brisk reading any day.
Based on that I chose The Bible for Christian context and contrast to the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, Oedipus Tyrannus, and The Aeneid etc. when we covered ancient humanities. My main goal was to deal with life's big questions and how character and worldview interact.
I also taught Medieval Humanities (which sadly was too wester focused then) and American Humanities.
If I can help I'd love too. I miss teaching everyday of my life, and miss the personal discoveries of the heart that come with reading classic literature.
elizabeth said…
Hmmm... Yeah. Hard to know what to choose! Perhaps thematic somehow... I took lots of lit courses in high school (I went to Christian schools for all of my education until the masters' level)... so I read Shakespeare, a bit of everything for AP English Lit in 12th grade; American novels... many things... the trick at the same time as this is to teach good composition skills...

I can imagine it can be hard to know what to choose... all the best with it!
Alana said…
My problem is, I don't have a strong background in this and I'll be learning as I go along.
Monica said…
God bless you and let me know if you really want a high school lit teacher's perspective.
Alana said…
Sure Monica, I'd love to hear your perspective.
Amy said…
We're studying Ancient History this year for freshman year, and I'm having similar troubles. Actually, I always have a problem knowing where to stop! We can't read everything, but somehow I seem to forget that each and every year.

Wish I had a slick and simple answer for the both of us! I think for myself we're going to focus bigtime on the Scriptures for the first three months, and then I'll do some evaluating and see how things are going.
thegeekywife said…
Edith Hamilton's Mythology would be a good companion to Gilgamesh, as would Beowulf and Grendel by Garner (think it's Garner).

Check out MIT's Open Course Ware for lit ideas and resources. Of course it might be too advanced, but it could steer you to some good resources for this year and future years. And there's always the reference librarian at the public library! Check out all those L'ville university websites for ideas, and intros, and explanations of literature. A lot of public high schools now have webpages for students and parents, so maybe those would be a good option too.
thegeekywife said…
There's also a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

Might have some ideas for future years and maybe even this year!
Monica said…
When I taught at a classical school, we did Ancient Literature for 9th grade: (Gilgamesh, The Iliad; The Odyssey; and I agree Edith Hamilton's Greek Gods is a good companion piece as are the books on tape you can check out of a library, since ancient epics were originally told orally, sitting around a fire for entertainment; Greek Drama: Oedipus series and Antigone; and the Roman Epic The Aeneid, which starts where the Iliad left off, finishing with Ovid's Metamorphosis - really edited to be Pg rated. That was about it for 9th grade, and my anchor textbook was the Norton Anthology of World Literature.

10th grade starts with the same text but moves into Volume 2: Western Literature, starting with Augustine, then progressing through the Middle Ages King Author stuff and Chivalrous Poetry; then Dante's Inferno, then the Renaissance & Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and 12th Night are good for this age; BBC does awesome Shakespeare cartoons and you can find them on YouTube), which was a revival of the ancient Greek stuff (which is why it's good to do the Greek stuff first); then the Enlightenment (Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and "Gulliver's Travels" and Voltaire's "Candide", then the Romantic Period (Don Quixote (the chapter about he the Lion is hilarious)Byron, Percy, Shelley and Keats; then the Realistic Period as a reaction against the Romantic(Madame Bovary, the short story "The Necklace"), then the Modern Period.

11th Grade was all those Periods again, but this time all American Literature.

12th Grade was all those Periods but focused on British Literature.

At the public school where I teach now, we don't do this. If I could homeschool I probably would. The only weakness, in my opinion, is that you don't get some of the remarkable "minority" literature when studying all those dead white guys (and a few women). Most of the great African, African American (hello - Frederick Douglass!) and Asian Literature I've read could fit in.

The big thing that clicks with me, but is not for everybody, is teaching the Literature withing the Time Period it was written, as a part of a larger picture of historical context. That way the themes make more sense. For instance, in the Realistic Period, society was rebelling against false "happy every after" endings because life actually has more pain than that, as was evidenced by overcrowding in immigrant neighborhoods in NYC, poverty, unfair business practices (labor laws were enacted during this time), etc.; therefore, most Realistic novels are depressing (Think: Of Mice and Men, Call of the Wild, etc.) If you didn't know the context you might just shrug them off as depressing, instead of a representation of the pain of a fallen world.

Okay, I've written too much now. Good luck!
Monica said…
One more thing: Norton Anthology is expensive, but has all the literature in it, along with great introductions to time periods and authors.

Oh, and we didn't always read all of every piece of literature. Some of that would just be too much.

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