Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 12: Edith Hamilton Day

Today is the birthday of Edith Hamilton whose writings on ancient civilization and mythology have been read by generations of students.

Born in Dresden Germany in 1867, Hamilton immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. At the age of seven, she began studying Latin and committing biblical passages to memory. She completed her education in classics at Bryn Mawr College in Baltimore where she later became headmistress. She gained a reputation as an excellent teacher, story teller, translator, and interpreter of Greek tragedies. Encouraged by her friends to write, she published her first book, The Greek Way (1930), in her 60s.

Hamilton continued writing into her 90s, writing a total of nine books. Although she wrote about ancient Rome and Israel, the civilization she seemed to admire the most was ancient Greece:

The fundamental fact about the Greek was that he had to use his mind. The ancient priests had said, "Thus far and no farther. We set the limits of thought." The Greek said, "All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought."

Hamilton's best known and most widely read book is Mythology (1942) which she wrote as an overview of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. This book is known by generations of middle school and high school students who read it as a primer on the myths.

Prior to her death in 1963 at the age of 96, Hamilton received several honorary degrees in the U.S. and was also honored internationally as an official citizen of Athens, Greece in 1957 (1).

Today's Challenge: Words from the Gods
Many common English words spring from the stories that Hamilton told of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Given the eight clues below, see if you can name the words.

1. This word for any grain, such as wheat or oats comes from the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.

2. This word for a repeating sound comes from the name of a nymph who loved Narcissus.

3. This word for maintaining health and preventing disease comes from the name of the the Greek goddess of health.

4. This word for psychically induced sleep comes from the name for the Greek god of sleep.

5. This word for being full of happiness and playfulness comes from the name of the most powerful Roman god.

6. This word for being changeable or volatile comes from the name for the Roman messenger of the gods.

7. This word for sudden fear comes from the name of the Greek god of fields, forests, and wild animals.

8. This word, used to refer to something that induces sleep, comes from the name of the Roman god of sleep.

Today's Quote: It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. --Edith Hamilton

Answers: 1. cereal 2. echo 3. hygiene 4. hypnosis 5. jovial 6. mercurial 7. panic 8. somniferous

1 - Sicherman, Barbara. "Edith Hamilton." The Reader's Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by Houghton Mifflin Company


DrPezz said...

I use her Mythology as the primary source in my Mythology class for high school students. Great post today!

Brian Backman said...

Thanks. I also use her Mythology book. It covers a lot of territory. I think this year I am going to have my students do a "Mythology ABC" book, where they write about 26 characters from mythology.

DrPezz said...

I have done that! It was excellent, especially for the students who enjoy a bit of creativity. The first time I did it as a formal report and then I had them create an ABC book for elementary students. For an extra bonus they could arrange to read it to kids at one of the elementary schools. A few kids translated theirs into Spanish (both languages on the page) and went to our ELL kids to read them. Great stuff!

I use the ABC methods with lots of courses and units. It's a great review.