Friday, February 10, 2017

Plutarch, Polio, and Philopoemen

Morning lessons at TBG/The Hive
I have mentioned that in 2010 on the way to L'Harmas in Canada, I had the privilege of sitting next to Ron Stroud, a Classics Professor at UC Berkeley. He noticed that I was reading Howard's End is on the Landing (a delightful book about books) and we struck up a conversation.  Well, I asked most of the questions when I found out what he had spent his life studying and I was particularly interested in his experience with Plutarch.  He shared with me how he encountered Plutarch as a student and how that helped him choose his career path.

Artist study
This past week, I sent him an email.  One never knows if one will hear back from someone they met 7 years ago, especially if that person is, shall we say, elderly. To my delight, he responded and was happy to answer my question about Plutarch and the influence Plutarch had on his life. I shared this with my children (13,15, 17) and they all LOVED it.  Actually, they said, "Awwwww!  Mom, you have to share that!" And so I will.


Dear Nancy;
I am very sorry to disappoint you but I have lost all memory of Plutarch changing my life, but I can tell you about the Latin teacher in Toronto who first introduced me to Plutarch when I was in high school. He had been a student at the University of Toronto, active in sports such as swimming and bike riding, when a severe polio epidemic hit that city in 1938. At that time there was no Salk vaccine or the like and thousands of people were left maimed and crippled, if they recovered at all. He was put in irons from his neck to his ankles and told that he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was able to finish his B.A. in Classics and went on to a year at Ontario Teachers' College where he completed his certification to teach high school. He got a job at the high school in my neighborhood and taught for a few years in a wheelchair. By the time I encountered him, he had abandoned the wheelchair and got around on a pair of crutches. He was still in irons and had to prop up his writing arm whenever he wrote on the board--and his handwriting was beautiful. Every Friday morning in Latin class he would take 15 minutes off for a "commercial." He was recommending the Great Books and that was when I first met Plutarch. My teacher's name was Lorne Smith and he used to ask us, "How can you live another year of your life without reading Plutarch, Plato, Dante, Gibbon, .... " It was through him that I was led to read the Parallel Lives in the old North translation when I was 16-17. He was a most remarkable man and one day he said to me, "Ron, Latin is really fine, but a truly educated man knows Greek." Well, my high school did not offer Greek, but he agreed to teach me early in the morning before the school day began and late in the afternoon after the last scheduled classes were over. He even corrected my Greek exercises in the summer when I was up 900 miles north of Toronto working on the railroad. Through him I was able to get enough Greek to enroll in the Honour Classics program at the University of Toronto.
A truly great man.       
All best wishes,  
I began our lesson at TBG/The Hive today with reading that note. Needless to say, our Plutarch lesson went well as the students narrated about Philopoemen breaking the javelin that had pierced both his thighs by moving his legs and then moving on to lead his troops into battle. They mentioned many ideas of courage, determination, and valor that Philopoemen demonstrated, how he refused to compromise, and how he took a rag-tag group of soldiers and worked with them until they could move like a murmuration.

I think Ron's note inspired them.

Teaching from Peace,
Explaining her diagram of an internal combustion engine (Physics)
Simple experiment with cyclic motion (Physics)
Written narrations regarding great speeches and Queen Elizabeth I (Great Speeches)

Annual Valentine exchange - I love that the high schoolers still like to do this!


  1. That is phenomenal, Nancy. How incredibly cool. I actually remember you talking about this episode - ie talking with this man on a plane ride! How can that be? Did you write about it? Talk about it in the immersion session I attended at CMI in 2014? Regardless, reading this triggered the memory. How lovely to have continued the conversation!

    PS - I recognize the pretty girl in the first picture:). Hey there!

    1. Happy Valentine's Day, Dawn! Yes, I did mention it in a post a while ago. Can you imagine understanding the internal combustion engine as a 15-year-old? So thankful for this large room and rich banquet!

  2. I also remember you talking about the man on the plane! :) Very neat letter! I appreciate this peek into TBC/BH...it's always encouraging and inspiring. Bless you. Happy Valentines. <3

    1. Thank you, Amy. And Happy Valentine's Day to you, too!

  3. I'm so glad that your children encouraged you to share this. It just made my day! My daughter loves Latin and has slowly warmed to Plutarch as well. Now that we do it together with her brother, it seems to generate more lively discussion.

    1. Dear Tracy,
      Yes, the more minds involved in the Plutarch discussion, the better it seems. And he does rather grow on you, doesn't he?
      Happy Valentine's Day!

  4. This fills me with hope for the high school years, Nancy! Thank you!

  5. thank you for sharing this Nancy! It brought tears to my eyes, as I thought about him and his teacher, and even as I thought about the little bit of story that you wrote from Plutarch. I also thought about one of the other stories that you read one time at the LER from Plutarch, and cannot help being struck by the thought that, it's these kinds of stories (like Plutarch's) that inspire men and women to do what is right or courageous, or to keep going even when it's hard. That is so different than the kinds of twaddle where the girl thinks she is strong and can do anything, yet in the end needs prince charming to save her - and of course he is utterly enamored with her. I see such a difference because the first (Plutarch) is not focused on self, but on a greater cause, and determines to simply do what he can for it. But the second (twaddle) is focused on self, and thinks highly of self, yet in the end realizes self can't do it all, but at least someone else things she is the greatest thing ever. Does this make sense? The first is more selfless, the second is more selfish. I hope my student enjoys Plutarch when we start it! - Charissa