Freshmen and sophomores (and upperclassmen with straggling credits) are now waist-deep in our beloved Core. A valiant band have, through strong discipline and unfailing nerve, kept up with the reading. A few haven’t. While upperclassmen may seem to laugh over these struggles of youth, they are actually rooting for you — they want you to discover what a gift it is, as they did, not so long ago.
We all love the Core. Or at least we love/hate the Core. However, returning to it requires an adjustment.
C.S. Lewis describes Heaven as “an acquired taste” and perhaps the same could be said of our curriculum. It is obviously good, but not quite our customary reading fare. In a world where the marketing industry is taught to communicate in short, simple sentences, we can quickly lose our desire to persevere when we find ourselves flipping pages looking for a period.
How do we make this material relatable? Chances are that if you came to the University of Dallas you know the intrinsic worth of the Core. But acknowledging the worth of the Core and loving it for its daily impact on our lives are two different things. This isn’t an easy conversion, and sometimes it is an entirely post-Lit Trad I conversion. But I can now honestly say that the texts, thoughts and discussions that surrounded my study of the Core play a daily (and almost hourly) part in my thoughts and conversations today.
The secret of the Core, for me at least, lies in the understanding that the human person really hasn’t changed. At all. Ever. The same virtues and failings that we see in the Iliad are still prominently present in our bosses, colleagues and classmates. Hubris did not die with Achilles. The death of Odysseus did not bring the demise of his specific brand of so-called cleverness. Sir Gawain was most certainly not the last man to fall to the wiles of a woman.
But neither was Dante the last man on earth to experience and embrace a mid-life conversion. Aeneas is not our last example of an epic hero who defeated the odds. Though we live in a world filled with Crime and Punishment, it is not a world that has entirely forgotten how to forgive.
The greatest lesson the Core taught me was about human nature — about our failings and strengths. You see, we all, living and dead, have experienced pain and suffering. We have also all experienced some form of love. So, at our “core,” we really aren’t that different from the great heroes of ages past – which means we can learn from them how to deal with tension and love, frustration and joy.
While there is no simple solution to the troubles or pleasures of daily human life, through studying the classics we begin to understand the depth and complexity behind our daily encounters with the bearers of these emotions — who, whether clad in shining armor or Birkenstocks, can still be best understood in the light of the Core.