Believe it or not, I have been reading books without a Star Trek label appended to them this week. Just recently I finished off Don’t Go There, a short collection of travel pieces that interested me with its mention of visits to Turkey, Chernobyl, and North Korea. The actual collection contains these along with trips to Israel, Ghana, China, and a few other places deemed ‘interesting’. The first piece, a visit to Istanbul that threw the writer and his girlfriend unwittingly into street protests and clouds of tear gas, sets the stage: the narrator has no idea what he’s doing or why, and seems to stumble into catastrophes just to get a good story to write about. None of Fletcher’s trips had any reason or planning to them, most developed miserable complications, and when his girlfriend threatens to leave him, the reader must be sympathetic. If one endures his laughable ignorance in visiting places like Jerusalem (he is annoyed by religious people and religious references, which would be akin to going to DC when one hates politics), and similar episodes, eventually he ends up in North Korea. It’s about what you’d expect, but he comes away believing the hostages of Kim are not as brainwashed as is commonly held, and that they would be more expressive if they could get away with it.
My other read during the last few weeks has been a volume called From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics. Markos opens the book with a remonstrance against the Protestant attitude that anything that predated Christ, or anything outside the Bible, is value-less. Although a Protestant himself, he regards the Catholic church favorably for its integration of the classic western tradition into its own tradition, in effect building upon and continuing the queries of Aristotle and Plato into the nature of the cosmos, ethics, beauty, etc. Markos’ conviction is the same of CS Lewis’ as expressed in The Abolition of Man, namely that while Christianity is the ultimate truth, basic truths are also available in other traditions. The aim of Markos in this volume is to see the truths which the Greco-Roman myths express about the nature of man and meaning. He then guides the reader through the works of Homer, selected works by Greek playwrights and historians, and ends with the Aeneid. As someone who has been removed from Western Literature I and II for far too long, I was interested in this chiefly as an accessible look at Greek literature, a reminder of its stories and writers. Markos reflects on the themes present in literature, like the struggle between familial duties and loyalty to the polis. Because the Greek dramatic tradition is in fact a tradition, Markos notes how differently the same myths might be use by different authors, and examines how the Aeneid is a deliberate Roman tribute to the Illiad and Odyessey, using its structure, locales, and elements. It was not a Latinized copy of the Greek epic, however, but one written with Rome’s own history in mind — and not ancient, but recent, as Aeneas’ story can be read as a tribute to Augustus’ victory over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. Markos also connects the classical heritage to Christianity when he can, argue at times that the Greeks are foreshadowing the advent of Christ. This is similar to Luc Ferry’s approach in Wisdom from the Myths, in which he argues that the Greek myths and plays constitute a coherent worldview — a Stoic one. Markos isn’t as insistent as Ferry, however, and the core of the book is merely in seeing what truths the old stories still tell us about ourselves and our relationships to our own polis and the cosmos.