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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

History Revised

I read to the children today from Jean Fritz's Around the World in a Hundred Years (1994), a book about the great explorers. The book sets the stage by reviewing the history of map-making and exploration. In the midst of telling about Ptolemy's (second century A.D.) geography, Fritz then writes,
"Then suddenly all this wondering and figuring stopped. Christianity was a new religion, fighting for survival, and in A.D. 391 Christians burned the city of Alexandria and its famous libraries, which contained, along with many ancient treasures of scholarship, the work of Ptolemy. Christians did not believe in scholarship. They thought it was sacrilegious to be curious. Anything people wanted to know, they said, could be found in the Bible..."

Having just studied the history of the first millennium after Christ, this passage seemed odd. The issue of whether on not Christianity encourages science and curiosity will go on ad nauseam, I suppose, but blaming Christians for the burning of the city of Alexandria and its famous libraries was the charge that surprised me. If this was true, how'd we miss it in our studies of this time period? I wondered if our sources were slanted and didn't mention it.

However, a quick check shows that this isn't the case. The fact of the matter is that the much-lamented loss of the ancient library of Alexandria is a mystery of history without a firm answer. There are apparently three theories. The library may have been lost to Julius Caesar's military efforts against the city (48 B.C.), an idea rooted in the writings of Seneca and Plutarch. It may have been a victim of Bishop Theodosius' attempt to purge the city of paganism (391 A.D.), which would be the "Christian" attack, although the motives were against paganism, not scholarship and curiosity. Or, another major theory is that the Amr ibn al-As and his Muslim army destroyed the library in their attack on the city in 642 A.D.*

Jean Fritz's assertion that Christianity was the reason that science and scholarship went dark for nearly a millennium, as evidenced by the burning of Ptolemy's Geography in Alexandria at the hand of Christians is quite an assumption, but is presented as fact.

We love Jean Fritz's books, by the way, and will continue to read them, but with an eye for signs of revisionism.

*Three theories found in a quick internet search and mentioned in the collection What Happened to the Ancient Library of Alexandria? in an essay entitled "The Destruction of the Library of Alexandria: An Archeological Viewpoint" by Jean-Yves Empereur, p. 75ff. (See Google Books: What Happened to the Ancient Library of Alexandria? (2008).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The sea was wet as wet could be

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.*

Playing at the seashore might be routine for those of you living nearer the coast, but for us, it is a rare and special time. We have just returned from several days in Galveston, Texas, where we gathered with lots of extended family to celebrate my cousin's wedding. 

 The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The sands weren't all that dry, actually, as you can see in these pictures of cousins loving every messy minute. And there were plenty of birds flying overhead; the diving pelicans particularly impressed us Kansans.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

My cousin Melissa's new husband Brian is a resident of Galveston and was the perfect host for an afternoon at the beach. He was all set up with a tent, kites and flags, boudin sausage, snacks, drinks, and chairs. He even thought of the water jugs for cleaning feet before getting back in the car.

It seems that most of my pictures of the kids in the surf are of their backs! They spent hours playing, body surfing the small waves, and searching for shells.

With little Lydia in tow, I didn't get out into the water much.

Toby was all tuckered out! Grandpa gave him some love.

My second cousin, Britt, snapped a lovely photo of her grandmother (my aunt) Ginny and her husband Bill.

My mother took a walk with Sydney and Hope.

Hope and her cousin Haley found some hermit crabs.

On our last full day in Galveston, just hours before Melissa's wedding, we returned to the beach. This time it was just our seven and my sister's family of five. Lydia dozed in her beach tent.

*Opening stanzas of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll set off in italics.

American Girls

On our recent trip to Texas, we squeezed in a visit to the American Girl store, a first for all four Edwards girls. The American Girl brand has successfully captured the hearts of my daughters and, for the most part, I've not discouraged it. They eagerly expect the next catalog, pore over the pages, make out wish lists and add up prices. When they turned eight, we gave them a doll for their birthday, only insisting that they choose one of the historical dolls.

Sydney loves Molly, a girl from middle America in 1944, and Hope loves Josefina, a girl from 1820s Santa Fe. 

Unfortunately, Hope's Josefina doll has always had trouble with hair falling out. It was a tremendous blessing that the American Girl company agreed to cover the cost of Josefina's trip to the "Doll Hospital" for a new--gulp--head. This usually costs $39, but since her doll was clearly defective and not the victim of abuse, the company waived the fee.

Sydney thinks she would enjoy working at the American Girl store, especially in the doll hair salon. We smiled and enjoyed our trip to the store, but didn't feel completely at home. Outclassed, I suppose.

The girls told me this morning that their friend reports that there is a picture on the American Girl website of a girl with no less than fifteen American Girl dolls. (How many Compassion children could we sponsor for a year with the money spent on fifteen dolls?) This little anecdote gets to the heart of my inner conflict about the American Girl brand. The sweet historical dolls can help bring history to life, but the entire brand sows seeds of American materialism, helping young American girls along on their way to becoming American women who order their lives around shopping.

Yes, Sydney, if God calls you to work at American Girl, then go for it. But please seek Him in all things, especially your career choice. The joy of your life will not come to you by following your inner star*, but by following Jesus Christ wherever He takes you.

*The American Girl slogan is "Follow Your Inner Star," which seems sweet and uplifting until you stop to realize that sin is really all about deciding for yourself what is right rather than trusting that what God says is right and submitting to Him. Teaching girls to submit to God just isn't the sort of thing that sells, naturally! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Henry at Agincourt

This week we've been reading about the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, King Edward III, King Henry V and Lady Katherine, and Pope Boniface VIII.

I've been looking forward to the day I could introduce my kids, boys especially, to the Agincourt speech that Shakespeare put in the mouth of Henry V. I'm sure my reading on Tuesday didn't do it justice, but last night they saw Laurence Olivier rally his troops with the speech and it was impressive.

Our history reading prepared the kids to be able to follow fairly well the story of Henry V, even with Shakespeare's wonderful, but challenging, English. It was only because we had read, for instance, about Henry's claim to the French throne and the Salic law of France that they were able to keep up with the exposition in the first act. Thanks to our history reading, they knew exactly what it meant to the outcome of the battle that the French knights had to be hoisted onto their horses with ropes because of the weight of their armor. When French horses galloped onto the battlefield, pounding their hooves into wet earth, they knew how this handed another advantage to the outnumbered English. As the English archers let their arrows fly, they knew that this represented a strategic warfare advance for which the French were unprepared.

The Olivier version of the play because the movie begins showing a production of Henry the Fifth in the Globe theater of 1600, but as the play progresses the viewer is drawn in, until finally the action of Agincourt is no longer on the stage but in the field. The movie concludes for the final curtain back on the stage of the Globe. It is a nice touch, particularly for students.

(There is also the Henry V film with Kenneth Branaugh in the title role, which is also very good, but we'll save it for later. )

Monday, October 4, 2010

Robin Hood

The girls are busy imagining themselves to be medieval ladies rescued by Robin Hood and his men. A sweet neighbor girl who is about nine years old came to the door and asked to join them.

"Sure! We're playing 'Robin Hood.' Do you know the story of Robin Hood?"

"Uh. Not exactly."

"Oh. Well, there's this guy named Robin..and Little John, except he isn't actually little, and Will Scarlett, and we're playing that. . . "

Meanwhile, the boys are outside running around being Robin and Robin, because neither was willing to play second fiddle to the other.
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