Rouse: Stories of the Old Greeks

W.H.D. Rouse, founder of ARLT, was a practising teacher. In his 1935 book ‘Stories of the Old Greeks’ he writes as he would have spoken to young boys, sharing his love of the Greeks and their myths and history.

This is the kind of introduction that young people need. The good stories are there, with no source criticism, no cynicism. Plenty of time for that later. There are just one or two brief comments from Rouse’s own visits to Greece.

Naturally the writing comes out of its time. The Royal Navy keeps world peace. No political correctness. There are still ‘savages and barbarians in his world:

They also naturally abhorred certain kinds of cruelty, such as torture
and cutting off limbs; and they were the only race in the world which
hated such things. It is quite a short time since we in England have
been as wise as the Greeks were so long ago. Torture was used in
England at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, and on the Continent to the
time of Napoleon, and it is still used by savages and barbarians.

One wonders whether waterboarding would have been classed by him as used only by savages and barbarians.

But to concentrate on these matters would be to miss the beauty of this book. In 17 or 18 short chapters Rouse gives the young reader (or preferably listener) a survey of the Greek world, from Minos of Crete to the Successors of Alexander, as the Greeks themselves saw it.

As Rouse writes in his Preface:

These stories are intended to show the character of the Greeks, and to recount the chief events in their history … Not every item can be substantiated by historical evidence; it may not have been the Myceneans that destroyed Crete, and Solon may not have visited Croesus; but at all events, every Greek believed the story of Croesus, and such things were part of his mind. For the present age, so preoccupied with mechanical toys, it is important to know what real civilisation is…

And, from the chapter on The Seven Wise Men, a similar thought:

There have never lived better [men and women] than the best of the Greeks. They had no machinery and knew nothing about steam or electricity, so they did not travel far from home. But you need not be conceited and think yourself wiser then they. You know more, but you did not yourself find it out; and whatever we know, the Greeks either found out or put us in the way of finding out.

I have put the book on line for the first time today. The publishers have long since been taken over, and their successors tell me they do not have the copyright. If anyone claims to have it, and objects to the work being on line, please get in touch. But as the publishers’ representative said, it is unlikely that anyone will begrudge the organisation which Rouse founded giving wider circulation to his work.

Today’s teachers could not read out the book as it is. Today’s young people do not have the vocabulary, or the command of syntax, to understand it all. But as a guide to what our younger pupils need to know, and as an object lesson in making it clear, it is in my opinion a valuable work.

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