An Invitation to Narrative

By Steven Roberts 

Steven Roberts has been a member of Online Great Books for a little under a year now. Steven graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in Classical Piano Performance and is attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York starting this August. Living on Long Island, he enjoys reading the Classics, distance running, and listening to and making music.

There is a “flatness” to modern life. When driving past a church and graveyard, one sees not one graveyard, but two. One for the people, and another for their old sense of self, their culture, and in the mind of many, their god. Yet, we are haunted by that latter ghost, when further down the highway we switch through radio stations and hear a Bach fugue. We are startled by the otherworldly, spooked into considering if there is more than merely physical, the material; an enchanted world, sparks of the divine.

Individuality is the Western spirit. You and I are on our own path, our own destiny, autonomous and buffered from outside forces, Zeus’ lightning bolts get stuck in the atmosphere. With the advent of Modernity and now Post-Modernity, we lack a common reference story, a myth that groups us together.

I see The Great Books as an invitation to narrative and adventure, to consider not a flat world, but a world governed by forces beyond our powers- Athena, Hera, Apollo. We deeply need stories, to such an extent that Jordan Peterson has argued it’s impossible to derive moral judgments without one.

In progressing through the Western Canon, we start with the massive epics, The Iliad and Odyssey, moving through Aeschylus and Euripides and onto Plato where I am currently. Not only are they entertaining, but they tell us our story as people.

For those who celebrated Easter last month, we participate in what C.S Lewis pointed out nearly a century ago, that the Christ narrative was prefigured and embodied these ancient stories, making for what some have called the greatest story. In becoming human, Christ The King becomes a beggar to save his kingdom from immoral imposters like Odysseus. On the cross, he voluntarily accepts suffering for humanity, pointed to by Prometheus, and finally resurrects, reclaiming his kingdom, like Odysseus’ rightful slaughter of the suitors.

For me, Intellectual Linear Progression is the growth of intellect in the ancient sense – a growth of the spirit. An invitation to look at the ghosts of the past, to enter into narrative, seeing if there are still divine sparks glowing in the world.

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