The Well-Educated Mind

A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had 


1. Books and reading. 2. Best books. 3. Reading. 4. Literature—History and criticism. 5. Self-culture. 6. Education, Humanistic.

The Well-Educated Mind- A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had
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Book Details
 436 p
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 2003 by Susan Wise Bauer


The Age of Epics
The earliest Western poetry is that
of the Greeks, and the earliest Greek
poetry is epic poetry—sprawling oral
tales of heroes and battles, finally
written down by Homer around
8oo B.C. In the Iliad, the warrior
Achilles falls out with his commander,
Agamemnon, and manages
to turn Zeus against his own army;
in the Odyssey, Odysseus tries to
get home after the Trojan War has
ended. Incident-filled, plot-driven,
centered around the failings and
strengths of men and women: These
epics seem much more like novels
than poems. Why, then, are they
considered the first great poems,
rather than the first great tales? And
where is the "personal presence" of
the poet in these stories of bloodshed
and sea adventure?
Poetry, for the Greeks, was a
term that covered a much broader
territory than it does today.
"Poetry," wrote Aristotle, "is more
philosophical and more worthwhile
than history, for poetry
speaks in general terms, while history
concerns itself with detail." In
other words, poetry was language
that sought to demonstrate univer-
Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus's
son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans
countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so
many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies
carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds,...
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and
clashed, Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
—Homer, The Iliad, translated by Robert
Fagles (NewYork: Penguin, 1990), book
I, Unes 1-7.

In the list that follows, poets are organized in chronological order of their
birth date. When you read a novel, you read a work; when you read a series
of poems, you read a life. So in many cases I have recommended a collected
"greatest works" rather than a particular volume published during the poet's
lifetime. Because poems are meant not to be read once, but returned to again
and again, the list of recommended editions is aimed at helping you build a
poetry library. There are many other editions of most of these poets available;
I have listed some "Be sure to read" poems so that if you wish to use another
edition, you can still experience the poet's most characteristic works.
You can go as far as you please into investigating a poet who seizes your
fancy; for the collected poems, I have suggested a brief list of poems that
you should be certain to read. If you find this hard going, you don't necessarily
need to read on: A poem, like a spice, is not going to suit every taste.
The recommended poems are not necessarily the poet's "best" (an impossible
judgment by any means), but they are that poet's most commonly
referred to, criticized, and quoted poems. Reading them will allow you to
understand the place the poet occupies in the larger world of poetry.
As with fiction, some of these poem collections are available in much
cheaper editions, if you're willing to put up with small print and narrow
margins. For ancient works, I suggest that you use the recommended translations,
rather than the out-of-date or anonymous versions often used in
cheaper paperbacks.

Table of Contents
Acknowledgments 9

Chapter 1
Training Your Own Mind:
The Classical Education You Never Had 13
Chapter 2
Wrestling with Books:
The Act of Reading 24
Chapter 3
Keeping the Journal:
A Written Record of New Ideas 34
Chapter 4
Starting to Read:
Final Preparations 41

Chapter 5
The Story of People:
Reading through History with the Novel 57
Chapter 6
The Story of Me:
Autobiography and Memoir 114
Chapter 7
The Story of the Past:
The Tales of Historians (and Politicians) 163
Chapter 8
The World Stage:
Reading through History with Drama 240
Chapter 9
History Refracted:
The Poets and Their Poems 307
Permissions 405
Index 407

The Well-Educated Mind- A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had
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