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Ancient History from Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline

Publisher: Trivium Pursuit
Author: Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
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Long-time advocates of classical education, the Bluedorns have come up with a way to make classical education less costly in terms of both time and money. Using primary sources whenever practical is a hallmark of classical education, but generally that means many trips to the library, searching for out-of-print books, hunting on the internet, and otherwise going to a good deal of trouble to get the resources. And once you've found a resource, what do you do with it? Do you have your child read the entire book? How can you know which parts are valuable and which would be better skipped?

Ancient History from Primary Sources should be used along with Primary Literary Sources for Ancient History, a companion product from Brainfly that come on a 4GB portable thumb drive. The thumb drive contains the complete text of more than 1,200 works from 98 different authors of ancient times. About half the works are in plain text and half in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format; the latter limits users' ability to manipulate the text. Also, translations of works that were selected seem to have all been chosen by virtue of being in the public domain, which means these translations are more than 75 years old. Consequently, the translations might not be the best available or the most easily readable for students. Nevertheless, most translations will do for your purposes since students will most often be reading small parts from selected works. That's where the book itself is so valuable.

The Bluedorns have created a timeline that is also subdivided into columns for the ancient civilizations of the Near East and West. "Hebrew and Christian" civilization is one column while the others are Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman. The Hebrew and Christian column primarily lists biblical events and references but also includes sources from authors such as Josephus, Augustine, Eusebius, and Clement of Rome. Each listing is very specific as to chapter and verse unless the work is too short to require it. For example, among Greek listings for the period 425-400 B.C. is one for Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution 32-40. So students would read only sections 32-40 of this piece. The numbering identification system for ancient works might seem a little tricky, but the Bluedorns explain how it functions in the beginning of the book.

Because the thumb drive and other sources now provide easy access to so many ancient sources, you will find many more listed in the book than you might imagine. Of course, parents are free to select which of these to use. The Bluedorns have been fairly selective about works they've listed in their timeline even though complete works are on the thumb drive. They tell us, "we have taken care to cite better examples of literature, but even in some of the best literature, an author will sometimes insert an occasional (and unnecessary) comment which many parents will not find acceptable…. So we recommend that a parent or teacher read the literature first, then make an independent determination regarding its acceptability" (p 14). They avoid Homer, Virgil and other poets, satirists, tragedians, and comedians because of "questionable and graphic content." The Bluedorns explain their criteria and which authors fall into a number of categories to help parents be aware of potential problems. All sources referenced in the book are not included on the thumb drive, so other possible sources, including a number of internet sites, are provided in the introductory chapter.

After the timeline, another valuable section lists authors alphabetically under each civilization. For each there is a brief biography, list of extant works (sometimes with commentary), and locations of significant excerpts.

As you would expect, the primary works were written for adult audiences and remain so in their translations. However, the Bluedorns suggest using them with students about age 12 and older. They allow that students down to age 10 might read them, but younger students should read limited passages then "give oral narration, do copywork, or write from dictation" while older students might read more extensively and write essays (p. 18).

Ancient History from Primary Sources is not intended to be a complete curriculum, but it should serve as a valuable reference for parents and teachers trying to provide a classical education.

The book is broadly available, but the thumb drive is available only through Brainfly. (click here)

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  • Ancient History From Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline

    Ancient History From Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline

    Instant Key

    • Suitable for: guide and source for primary source readings in the classics
    • Religious perspective: Protestant

    Publisher's Info