Tag Archives: Herodotus

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5 (Greeks and Romans)

Welcome to my favorite reads of 2019…Part 5! I TAed this past semester for a class on early Western political thought which means I finally knocked off a lot of Greek writers from my to-read list! However, I will be the first to say that I only understood most of these books because I was taking a class while I read them. Accordingly, while these hit five stars and were favorites of the year, I don’t necessarily recommend just picking them up for fun.

The Histories by Herodotus

Basically, the book where we get the story of 300. Full of facts and legends, it really was an interesting read and fascinating as the first “history book” as we know the term today. I found it surprisingly fun as well as historically significant. 

Clouds, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth by Aristophanes 

Arisotphanes was an Athenian playwright who lampooned the Iliad-like honor culture of Greek society. I read 4 of his plays. They are extraordinarily vulgar, extremely astute, and quite funny. And considering 2,000 years have passed since he wrote this stuff, it is incredible that his poop jokes are still funny. I think Wealth was my favorite. 

Phaedo by Plato

 Plato’s account of Socrates last hours before his death. It is a final look at his philosophy towards life and the philosopher’s call. Brief but impactful. 

The Republic by Plato

An incredibly important book for Western thought and the more I study it, the more I realize how much it impacted the world we know today. I kept pausing to exclaim, “But that’s something C.S. Lewis says!” or “That’s straight out of Saul Alinsky!” or “This is foundational to a G.K. Chesterton arguments!” But of course, it isn’t a book a book that depends on Lewis or Alinsky or Chesterton, but rather the common background for all them. That said, definitely a philosopher’s book. It begs for debate, discussion, further analysis but it doesn’t entirely satisfy because it leaves much unanswered. 

Ethics by Aristotle

I actually read this one twice: first at the beginning of the year while in Thailand then for my class. It definitely made way more sense the second time through. Context does amazing things for your understanding. I particularly liked the section on Friendship. Quite thought provoking. 

The Aeneid by Virgil

I did not like The Aeneid as much as The Iliad, but it certainly deserves credit for historical significance. The Aeneid follows the fall of Troy through the founding of Rome. Tons of hilariously bad passages foreshadowing the glory of Rome and Caesar and whatnot. But also tons of familiar scenes that are part of our modern mythos. So, worth a read. 


Discussion Groups

Let’s recap: I am a TA this semester. I have never been a TA before. I have never had a TA. I do not really know what I am talking about most of the time because I have also not read any of these texts before, or, if I have, not read them academically.

But so far, I’ve been doing okay. Homer I already knew and could talk intelligently about. Herodotus and the PDFs we read about honor culture I could fudge well enough. Aristophanes I previously read for fun so I knew the principle players, so to speak.

But Plato is going to be the death of me. 

I read a passage from The Republic. It makes little sense to me. I show up to class and hear the lecture. Ah! Dimly, enlightenment begins to dawn. I go to the other TA with my big questions. Further clarity. I go to lecture again. 

Then I’m supposed to lead a discussion group where I explain what we read, foreshadow what will come, and answer questions I didn’t even think of. 

What a ride.

My first discussion group gets the brunt of this problem. I am a verbal processor so even if I get it, I need to say it out loud to really get it. 

My second group benefits from this. I speak a little more confidently; I already know what areas I don’t know. 

The third group gets the best version of me. I know what I want them to get. 

The fourth group gets the ‘I’ve been talking all day and now get this so this is all review and I skip the six questions that met with dead silence in the earlier groups but now I’ve got to somehow fill 10 more minutes’ version of me. 

Theoretically, though, I have to say…by the end of the day, I really know the readings inside and out!