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Omnibus | 4 Minutes

Helping Girls Love Thucydides

Written by Ty Fischer
Helping Girls Love Thucydides

This is the flip side of a two-part series. In the first post, I discussed three tactics a wise teacher could use to help boys love Jane Austen’s works—these works were chosen as a token of what one could call “girls’ books.” Austen is not a “girls' book.” Her work is probably more necessary for men than women, although I would admit she has more fans in the fairer sex.

Girls can have similar challenges dealing with “boys’ books.” These books often focus on war and fighting. Sometimes, it is challenging for young women to see books that contain battles and, often, insane actions of proud men as enjoyable reads. Still, Thucydides claims to be “not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time” (book 1). If it is that, we are diminished if we don’t understand the lessons of this massive war that shook the Greek world to its foundations. We should want more for our girls. Here are three tactics that I have used to help girls love books like Thucydides—books that deal with subjects that often fascinate men and boys.

Tactic 1: Take the Time to Unpack the Motivation

Boys, at times, can be okay with battles—even battles that make little sense. It helps girls understand why people are doing what they are doing. Girls need to understand the heart. When Pericles gives his famous Funeral Oration, why does he focus on whether the city of Athens and its paideia (formative nurture that creates a certain kind of person) is worth dying for? Why would the men of Korcyra turn on each other as revolution sweeps through the city and the Spartan and Athenian parties attempt more audacious and immoral plots to destroy their enemies? Why would Alcibiades abandon Athens and eventually lead the Spartans to take critical steps to wreck his home city? Why would the Athenians open a second front in the war, sending ships against Syracuse? Of course, the boys need to understand this, too, but do not rush through events without getting into the characters' hearts if you want to keep the young ladies engaged.

Tactic 2: Give the Girls an Open Window into the Hearts of Great and Sinister Men so That They Can Understand the Difference Between the Two

Boys often struggle with pride as they relate to girls because they can usually count on being stronger and can almost always count on being able to win games of strength and agility. Many young men grow out of this pride into the humility of mutuality. In our days, however, it is clear that some don’t. These wolves tend to view women as things to be conquered or used rather than spouses or partners to be loved and respected. Our task in the last post was to start helping young men down this path toward marriage and fulfillment.

Girls can struggle with pride in relation to boys as well. You might hear this phrase, “Boys are SO stupid!” Of course, this is not always true, but no one who has spent time with the typical 8th-grade boy has thought these words loudly if not said them. I’ve often said, “What were you thinking,” only to realize that I have put my finger on the problem: he wasn’t. So, there is some measure of truth to this pride—just like there is to the male pride of strength. Proud girls who never learn the value of worthy men end up self-focused, using men for emotional thrills and as providers to whom they are not committed.

Reading the Scriptures and books like Thucydides can help young ladies learn to see and understand the value of masculine virtues applied by a single-minded man. Leonidas from Herodotus is a wonderful example. Outnumbered by a million at Thermapolyae, he does not abandon his post. Marrying David, a man after God’s heart, is a joy (most of the time); Marrying the immensely gifted Alcibiades is not. Using comparison can show the difference between the actions of a virtuous male and a male who looks fair but is foul. Beginning to understand this difference can help save girls from bad choices.

Tactic 3: The Edition Matters

The final tactic helps both boys and girls. You have to invest in the right edition. The Landmark Thucydides is worth the investment. It helps you unpack the motivations and the spatial relationships between different parts of The Peloponnesian War. It provides copious special features, helpful notes, cogent summaries, and beautiful maps. This edition was transformative for me and can help you teach this content better to all students, but because this is a steeper climb for young ladies, the edition can make all the difference.

Mankind is made in God’s image. God created male and female. This mutuality is glorious. When asked if it is more important that men and women are similar or different, the answer is “Yes!” My wife is like me, but different. My wife is different than me, but close enough that she is both fascinating and terrifying (in the best way). Great Books like Austen and Thucydides can help young men and women build up the skills needed to understand, respect, and enjoy the differences between the sexes to the glory of the One who made them male and female.