Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Return to the Argonauts

Howard Davie illustration for The Heroes by Charles Kingsley depicting Tiphys the cunning helmsman stood silent, clenching his teeth, till he saw a heron come flying mast-high toward the rocks, and hover awhile before them, as if looking for a passage through. Then he cried, 'Hera has sent us a pilot; let us follow the cunning bird.

Last year, we read Hawthorne's Greek myths, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales.  Although they are scheduled as Year 2 free reads, I decided to stretch the two books over the course of the school year, a bit per week, so that we could savor them.  And savor them we did.

This year, Kingsley's Heroes is scheduled for Year 3, and in that book, we have been revisiting some of the myths we first encountered in Hawthorne's volumes.  Our reading for this week has us at the climax of the Argonauts' dangerous voyage.

I was struck last year by a particular moment in Jason's journey--the setting sail of the Argo.  Hawthorne's telling was so vivid and poetic.  I was surprised to find myself similarly struck with Kingsley's version.  You would think that the story would get dull when heard twice, but far from it: one can appreciate the craftsmanship of the writer all the more hearing them side by side.  The tales remain fresh and exciting in the adept hands of each author.

From Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales:
Immediately the fifty heroes got on board, and seizing their oars, held them perpendicularly in the air, while Orpheus (who liked such a task far better than rowing) swept his fingers across the harp.  At the first ringing note of the music, they felt the vessel stir.  Orpheus thrummed away briskly, and the galley slid at once into the sea, dipping her prow so deeply that the figure-head drank the wave with its marvellous lips, and rose again as buoyant as a swan.  The rowers plied their fifty oars; the white foam boiled up before the prow; the water gurgled and bubbled in their wake; while Orpheus continued to play so lively a strain of music, that the vessel seemed to dance over the billows by way of keeping time to it.  Thus triumphantly did the Argo sail out of the amidst the huzzas and good wishes of everybody except the wicked old Pelias, who stood on the promontory, scowling at her, and wishing that he could blow out of his lungs the tempest of wrath that was in his heart, and so sink the galley with all on board.
From Kingsley's Heroes:
And at last the ship was finished, and they tried to launch her down the beach; but she was too heavy for them to move her, and her keel sank deep into the sand.  Then all the heroes looked at each other blushing; but Jason spoke, and said, ‘Let us ask the magic bough; perhaps it can help us in our need.’
Then a voice came from the bough, and Jason heard the words it said, and bade Orpheus play upon the harp, while the heroes waited round, holding the pine-trunk rollers, to help her toward the sea.Then Orpheus took his harp, and began his magic song—‘How sweet it is to ride upon the surges, and to leap from wave to wave, while the wind sings cheerful in the cordage, and the oars flash fast among the foam!  How sweet it is to roam across the ocean, and see new towns and wondrous lands, and to come home laden with treasure, and to win undying fame!’
And the good ship Argo heard him, and longed to be away and out at sea; till she stirred in every timber, and heaved from stem to stern, and leapt up from the sand upon the rollers, and plunged onward like a gallant horse; and the heroes fed her path with pine-trunks, till she rushed into the whispering sea.
Then they stored her well with food and water, and pulled the ladder up on board, and settled themselves each man to his oar, and kept time to Orpheus’ harp; and away across the bay they rowed southward, while the people lined the cliffs; and the women wept, while the men shouted, at the starting of that gallant crew.
This is why I love educating my children using Charlotte Mason's "living books," full of real ideas and literary language.  The poetry of the writing, even in these elementary years, feeds my mind just as much as it feeds theirs.  I am not the teacher here, in these moments--I am a fellow student, sitting at the feet of literary masters, learning and loving alongside my children.


  1. Oooo, thank you for the reminder to do this, Celeste. I saved the idea after reading that you scheduled in Hawthorne in this manner last year but neglected to do so when I actually created the schedule. We start Y2 January 1:). Did you turn it into a Literature reading, then? If you happen to have your schedule handy I wouldn't be opposed to you sharing it:)...

    1. I basically turned it in to a "scheduled read aloud." I say that because I didn't have them narrate it, as I would a Literature selection. We're doing the same thing this year with At the Back of the North Wind and The Water Babies. (And we have scheduled independent reads each year as well--just some of the free reads that I want them to read stretched over the course of a year/term rather than all in one bite. ;)) And I didn't do any special scheduling for these--just added up the pages from both books and then divided by gave us about 8-9 pages a week to get through, in the versions I have. :)

    2. Ahhhh. I like it. Thank you for the timely reminder to incorporate this into our Y2, Celeste, and the helpful "how to" - as always!:)

  2. Wow, Celeste, this makes me want to read Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales. I never got to it with my daughter, but have a chance to remedy that with my son and hopefully she will listen in. Thank you. Shelley Dorman

    1. Oh, I do hope you're able to fit it in this time around! It was one of our very favorites from last year's studies.