Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Frustrated with Age of Fable

As you may know, the girls and I are working though a (tweaked) Ambleside Year 4, and I've already ditched Madam How and Lady Why.  (You can read my reasons for doing so here.)  Now I'm having serious reservations about Bulfinch's The Age of Fable, which features stories of Greek and Roman mythology.

Don't get me wrong.  I believe that a knowledge of classical myths is both useful as important.  As Bulfinch points out, literature is replete with classical allusions.  In fact, I enjoy how Bulfinch points out these allusions in other works.  If you don't know the backstory, it's hard to appreciate the reference.

And yet.

Last week, we read the story of Apollo and Daphne, victims of Cupid's ire, he for love and she against it.  In case you aren't familiar with the myth, the besotted Apollo chases the unwilling Daphne until she is exhausted and begs her father to save her.  And he does, sort of.  He turns her into a laurel tree, which becomes Apollo's emblem.

I was a bit put off by this.  Apollo is a stalker, and Daphne essentially loses her life.  All for "love."

Then yesterday, we learned about Pyramus and Thisbe, another pair of star-crossed lovers whose parents do not approve of their love.  The couple secretly whisper to one another through a crack in the wall that divides their homes and then plan to meet (secretly as well) one night.  I won't go into all the gory details, but they end up killing themselves, thanks to a misunderstanding.

So here we have two rebellious and disobedient teenagers full of angst who end up dead.  Again, all for "love."

Hmmm.  What do we do with that?  "See what happens when you disobey your parents?  You end up with a sword through your heart" seems a bit rash to me.

My children are nine and ten years old.  These sort of themes are, in my opinion, far too mature for them.  I didn't read this sort of thing until I was in high school, and I think perhaps that's a much better age.

So I'll be on the lookout for a more suitable (for my family, at least) mythology source.  I'll let you know what I discover!


  1. Ellen, have you been using AOs recommended mythology books for the other years? We are looking forward to reading more myths next year having read 'childrens' versions of the stories for the last two years. I plan on using the Bullfinch stories as a jumping platform to discuss some of the things you have mentioned. I agree that our children are young, but to me it is similar to Shakespeare/Plutarch and the rest - the themes are okay if they are handled sensitively IMHO. These stories come up everywhere. Jemimah already knows the story of Daphne and Apollo because of a sculpture in our local Art Gallery, for example.

    I am so glad that you're just that bit ahead of us so that I can glean your impressions and know what to be on the lookout for. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Hi Jeanne! Yes, we've been following AO's earlier mythology recommendations; in fact, we really enjoyed The Heroes last year. But Age of Fable is quite a jump, to my mind, anyhow. Regarding Plutarch/Shakespeare: the girls and I talked about how the Pyramus/Thisbe story is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. And yes, one can certainly strive to handle the themes in a sensitive way with one's children; moreover, as you say, the stories are everywhere in literature, and I do firmly believe a knowledge of them is critical. But I'm conflicted as to how much they should be introduced to such themes *at this age*, especially the lengths to which the characters go in the name of "love."

    Also, since the children are intended to make their own connections, I want to make sure they are making the correct ones, inasmuch as this is up to me, of course! But as I stated, what are we to make of two deceitful teenagers who stab themselves (thereby staining the white mulberries red with their blood, which is why mulberries are purple to this day)? Both my girls came away from the story with a "Well, THAT was a stupid thing to do"; perhaps not the best literary impression.

    But these are only my thoughts. Obviously, there are many redeeming qualities or the advisory would not have selected this text. Perhaps I should pick and choose among the stories instead of completely abandoning it. :-)

  3. we dropped AO because of these concerns if we are to 'think only on those things that are beautiful...' and 'be innocent of evil' then why introduce so much ungodliness to our children? we brought them home to bring them up in His way not the world's (an intresting post I read was the difference between a greek education and a hebrew AO is greek)We use some suggestions but don't bring ANY Shakespeare or adult themes until late year 7 (13/14years old and the more complex at around 16) If you want someone to be able to recognize a counterfit you make them totally familar with the true in our case there is enough wonderful texts to choose from without sowing distubing ideas at the wrong age THERE IS PLENTY OF TIME enjoy the lovely innocence of childhood and save this stuff for later or not at all (who says you have to know the greek myths or do shakespeare chinese christains don't and seem to serve God better than us) we start with as you like it in late y8 and they choose one other in year 10/11 we don't do romeo and juliet (like a bad soap opera) at all but discuss it with them and tell them why link this discussion to don't wake love and craziness of youthful attachments which is what they are true love doesn't do such stupid things how do we know that because God is love He is our standard and example. I hope this is a help Remember you don't have to do everything just the right things properly Happy schooling! In grade 4 we major on God's amazing world lots of animals nature study outside time poetry story writing nature journals growing bulbs world time zones (kids love working out who's awake and who might be eating and watching sunday sweap across the globe all the different churches starting!)For history we do the gold rush (follow it through to why would people come so far- famine in china at same time etc) it's great and following rabbit trails and field trips it lasts a year lots of arts and crafts in this.

  4. As I said before, I'm just glad you're ahead of me!!

    I'll be ordering AO4's books next week. So exciting, book buying!

  5. Thanks for your comments, Anonymous (wish I knew your name!). You make several good points. At the heart of it is: we have to choose what's best for our family. My misgivings may indeed be led by the Spirit, in which case I need to heed them, according to His purposes.

  6. Your comment in the AO list made me laugh outright! So, of course I had to come over here and read you on this subject ;)

    Here's my take for all that it's worth which I'm not claiming is much...

    I was feeling a little squirmish even under Heroes and so we kind of wimped on that one half way through... I definitely wanted to keep that as a read aloud to keep tabs on what they were hearing and processing through... we rejoined the reading with Iliad.

    My kids have already been exposed in real life to mature themes as suicide (also mentioned in Pilgrim's Progress) as well as extra marital affairs (also in the Bible), etc, so though the subjects make me blush a little, but very simply put, our faith is in a God who saves sinners, and condemns those who reject Him. These themes almost always bring up a discussion about how those people sadly didn't trust God... because they believed in false gods, look how they've wrecked their lives!!

    My kids seem to take these things in stride and have simple responses such as yours like, well, that was stupid! hahah. Sometimes we discuss them further, sometimes we just leave it.

    (I did skip some Shakespeare selections until later in AOy5... for sheltering purposes as well as because I also wanted to save the plots and such for later when they would better understand and enjoy it.)

    As a reference, my boys are 12 & 11 in AOy6...

    amy in peru

    PS. I'm glad to have found you, I'm collecting AO blogs... :)

  7. Hi Amy! I'm glad you found me, too! Thanks for your comments; I greatly appreciated the encouragement. Sometimes it's difficult to know what's the precisely right thing to do with certain material, and we all have viewpoints and opinions to express (which I enjoy reading!) and our preferences for our families. It helps me to know how others address these situations.

    For me, it's my children's ages. They are actually quite sheltered simply from being home educated, and I am in no hurry for them to discover the darker side of life. There's plenty of time for that. Nor am I in any hurry for them to learn about things people do in the name of lust, which both of these stories (that I referenced in my post) illustrate. As I've said to my girls, watch what goes into your minds.

    Now. This does not mean I am dismissing classical myths out of hand. Far from it! I'd just prefer my dc be introduced to these themes when they are older.

    Thanks again!

  8. This is a very interesting topic for discussion.
    When I found AO I was thrilled, and then your blogs too, and I´m quite committed to it, but I need to remember that AO shouldn't be our dictator but our slave.
    As Anonymous said, it's fine to have started with it and taken your own path because ultimately that's what suits your family.
    As you say, Ellen, if something tells you to drop that book, leave it until later or's fine. I also studied those myths in HS, and at the time I was an atheist, so now, not only it will be a matter of age to me, but I'll have to see those in a new light. As for Shakespeare, the same applies, I'll have to read it myself too and see. I'm familiar with the plots but I'll have to see what way we take.
    Everything is very personal to how your children are, your family values, and your decision. There is some fun and pride to me in finding substitutions, additions, or eliminating some readings to fit their education to your principles.
    My daughters are young and we go to funerals, visit the sick, and when we read the Bible (lately it was about Joseph and Potiphar's wife), I tell them the exact words such as murder, adultery, I did not say "rape" though, but I said that Potiphar's wife accused him of trying to hurt her and force her to do what she wanted to do to him. I don't think they got the whole thing, but as they grow they'll learn more because they'll ask more questions. Then you have children that at my girls age can't hear about killing, or dieing...
    I agree with Jeanne about the language, but even the language can be too much for children at different ages depending on their personalities. See how the other comment said how her children laugh about the myths and they don't seem to impact them or engross them in thinking about superfluous and lascivious conduct from those 'teen protagonists' of the myths.
    But I agree with the thought of keeping the focus on thinking about that which is beautiful, and submitting our curriculum choices to that and guarding our children. Karen Andreola talks a bit about this in her latest post
    Heather and I were also discussing something similar when we were talking about A Child's History of the World. She got rid of it because of the evolutionary first chapter, and I saw it is in AO year 2, I believe. I know there has been a polemic in AO list too about this. Many say it's fine, many will say not. She said she rather doesn't confuse her children. I agree I want them to have a firm foundation first, and when they are into the analytical thinking stage, hopefully around HS or a bit before, we will surely see the evolutionists arguments side to side with the creationist ones.
    But first and FOREMOST, I'm now developing a relationship with GOD and His Word, and the rest of the books are important to me but secondary and definitely my slaves.
    Sorry for the long comment, and yes, I'm looking forward to seeing your alternate reading.
    ;) I'm happy all of you are AHEAD of me, he he he.

  9. Saw your post on the Ambleside group and thought I'd hop over to recommend the Memoria Press articles on the purposes of a Classical Education. Many address this very issue:
    It's helpful to hear another family think this through to help solidify what we want to do in the future!


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