This is the third and final in a series of articles describing Memoria Press’ history scope and sequence. My initial purpose for these articles was to give the reasoning behind our classical studies choices, and in particular to explain the sequence shown on our curriculum map on pages 20-21: 3rd grade Greek myths, 4th Rome, 5th Middle Ages, 6th Greece. This order, though not strictly chronological, fits well with the maturity level and available resources for these grades. As I explained in a previous article, there is no one correct curriculum map. The one we have developed and recommend is based on years of experience with many students of all ages.
In this article, I want to show how this classical studies program in grades 3-6 prepares our students to read the indispensable classics of a classical education. I want to inspire you to work toward this goal in your classical education. The scope and sequence I will describe here may seem overwhelming or unreachable for you or your school. But do not be discouraged. Reading the classics is like Latin—whenever you begin, whether age 8 or 80, is a good time. Just start and don’t worry about the age of your child or whether you or your school are behind the schedule I will describe below.
Our third through sixth grade classical studies curriculum prepares our students well to begin the study of the Iliad and the Odyssey in the 7th grade, and the Aeneid in the 8th grade. These three great epics of the ancient world are the sine qua non of a classical education. They are not only three of the greatest works of literature ever written—they are the indispensable foundation for an understanding of classical civilization and for the subsequent development of Western literature.
Our history selections in grades 7-8 are chosen to support the reading of these epics. In the 7th grade, ancient history (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, etc.) and a review of Greek history prepare students to plunge into the Iliad and the Odyssey. We take about eight weeks for each work, reading each in full, in class, with our comprehensive study guides. The Iliad and the Odyssey are foundational works that are more than worthy of the time we give to them, and they are a necessary precursor for the third great epic, the Aeneid, which students read in grade 8, but only after a thorough review of Roman history. Our history curriculum for these two grades is chronological, and our history resources are three books by Dorothy Mills, The Book of the Ancient World, The Book of the Ancient Greeks, and The Book of the Ancient Romans, all available from Memoria Press.
In grade 7, we also begin a non-denominational study of Salvation History that begins with the context of the Old Testament in The Book of the Ancient World and concludes with the inter-testament period leading up to the coming of Christ. In the 8th grade, we continue with the beginnings of church history in the book of Acts, Early Christian Writings, and Eusebius’ History of the Church, the latter two published by Penguin Publishers. Classical and Christian Studies go well together because the Old Testament intersects with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, and the New Testament intersects with Greece and Rome. Eusebius was the first historian of the church, chronicling the first 300 years of church history under the Roman emperors up to Constantine.
The interweaving of classical and Christian history and literature that occurs in the curriculum of these two grades is the culmination of the careful preparation that occurred in grades 3-6. It brings the ancient world and the origins of Christianity to life in a way that only an intimate knowledge of the ancient world can.
We moderns, adults and students, have a difficult time grasping the historical nature of Christianity. The reason is that we have such an inadequate knowledge of history, particularly of the ancient world. The events of salvation history happened in real time, in real human history, but most of us have a compartmentalized view of history: real history (hopelessly fuzzy) in one compartment and the Bible and religion (hopelessly disembodied) in another. No student who has completed our Classical/Christian curriculum in grades 3-9 will suffer from the two-compartment mentality that is nearly universal today.
Classical/Christian Studies continues in grade 9 with Greek drama, St. Augustine’s City of God, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Greek drama consists of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Three Theban plays of Sophocles, andTrojan Women and Medea of Euripides. Again, the issue of chronology appears in the choice of Virgil’s Aeneid in the 8th grade and the Greek dramatists who precede him by 400 years in the 9th. The factor of age-appropriateness, however, is much more important than chronology. Both the Aeneid and much of Greek drama continue the story of the Trojan War, but the themes of Greek tragedy are better suited for the older student, and even one year can make a huge difference at this age. The Aeneid is a romance, an inspiring story of a hero who overcomes many obstacles to lay the foundation for the city of Rome. Greek tragedies are, well, tragedies. (If you are reading through this sequence with older students, then age is not a consideration and you may want to follow Homer with the Greek tragedies rather than the Aeneid.)
Students study literature throughout their school years and often wonder about the purpose of literature. Why do we read all of this stuff anyway? Aristotle gives us the answers. Aristotle’s Poetics is studied alongside Greek drama. Aristotle uses Oedipus Rex as his example of a perfect play and explores the structure and purpose of poetry (literature) using Homer, Aeschylus, and Sophocles. It is a perfect fit because our students are at home in this classical world, know these works, and can understand the points Aristotle is making.
In The City of God, St. Augustine brings the ancient world to a close and provides the foundation for the new world that will rise from its ashes. One can justifiably ask how students can read Eusebius in the 8th grade and The City of God in the 9th. It is true that we do use editions that omit a lot of the side excursions that are so typical of ancient writers, but our students are engaged by the main narrative of each work because it is a world they are familiar with. Names, places, and allusions do not have to be explained; they can read and focus on the important content.
Dante’s The Divine Comedy has been described as the greatest work of literature ever written, surpassing in some ways even Homer and Virgil. It is the great Christian epic that illuminates the drama of the human soul as it makes its way toward its ultimate destiny, union with God. Consisting of 100 cantos divided into three parts, “The Inferno,” “The Purgatorio,” and “The Paradiso,” most students read only “The Inferno,” thereby completely missing the meaning and unity of the work. Again, our students spend one whole year with this work, reading every line with our comprehensive study guide. The Divine Comedy is a work that bridges the gulf between the ancient world and the modern. It is not to be missed or rushed over.
Students, of course, continue in their high school years with American and modern European history, English and American literature, more than ten Shakespeare plays, logic and rhetoric, Hollister’s Medieval Europe, etc., and much more. They read Caesar, Ovid, and Virgil in Latin. The sequence I have described in grades seventh through ninth, built on the foundation of our third through sixth grade curriculum, is the core of our Classical/Christian curriculum. It is well thought-out and has been tested with our students over many years. It is the model we recommend because we know it works. And remember, it need not be confined to the grades indicated. Indeed our seventh through ninth grade curriculum would be an outstanding high school course (or even college). In fact, there is not a college I know of that reads these works in their entirety as we do. It’s a superb education for any age.
The hope of this article is that you will be inspired to catch the vision, to see the destination of your classical education. Like Latin, it is attainable for homeschoolers and your school if you just begin and persevere.