Why, when, and how to study ancients

Dear Reader,

I have posted in the past on why we began with American history and how we have approached our study of ancient history, but I would like to talk a little now about why we study ancient cultures at all.There are two main questions I have heard from homeschoolers when it comes to ancient history. The first is should my littler ones be exposed to pagan cultures? I never found this to be an issue though we did begin with American history just because it is closer to home (lots of it literally here in New England). My children never showed any confusion about what we believed when we discussed ancient myths and deities. Nor did they ever seem tempted to worship other gods because of our studies. If anything, I think they find the religions of Egypt and Greece (for example) very unattractive and  a bit silly. A lot of this may come from the way I present things I suppose (see below).

The second question I have heard is why study the ancients at all? I don’t know if the people asking this question really mean to skip the historical events or just the myths and beliefs of these peoples. The question as I have heard it is usually in regard to Greece though I think it could apply as well to Egypt, Mesopotamia, or others. Here are the reasons I would give for why we study these ancient cultures:

1. They heavily inform (Greece in particular) later literature and language. We still for instance speak of someone’s Achilles’ heel.

2. Mesopotamian thought and culture influences the views and practices of the biblical characters. Abraham was from Ur in Mesopotamia. The errors the Israelites display are often adopted from their neighbors. We can better understand what they are doing and why by knowing what their neighbors did and believed.

3. The ancient myths teach us about ourselves. When I read a myth from Greece or Egypt or Babylon, I find myself thinking not “what an attractive belief system” but “wow, how human these characters are.” All these cultures seem to put a lot of humanity’s own failings into their gods. We learn about jealousy and love. It is amazing how people are always trying to remake the divine in their own image. We do that too!

4. We learn what concerned ancient people’s from their myths. Egypt’s myths are for the most part much more peaceful than those of Mesopotamia. This is because Egypt lived a fairly isolated peaceful existence with a stable regular climate for many centuries. But in chaotic Mesopotamia, where the weather and other nations are constant threats, the myths are also full of battles. We can better understand their history by studying their culture along with it (and culture often means religion and myths).

5. We learn religious truths. Or at lest truths about ourselves. Like how all people have feared death and come up with ways to deal with that fear. But we also see that there is a kind of morality that all people subscribe to, and that they have often (or always?) based the idea of life after death on one’s conduct in this life.

6. We learn how unattractive other options can be. My children and I have been struck by how hard it is for the ancients to appease all their gods. To have not just two but often hundreds of masters is a very scary way to live. You cannot please them all.

When we discuss the beliefs of other cultures, I often ask my children “what do they believe that we also believe?”and “What do they believe differently than us?” If there is any confusion as to what we believe. this opens the door to further explanations. And to opening our Bibles to see why we believe as we do.

That’s what I’ve come up with. Do you have any others? Arguments against?


3 responses to this post.

  1. I think if we don’t study ancient times and beliefs, we miss out on really understanding how every culture has yearned for God and how eternity has been written on all our hearts. Ancient religions had enough truth to them to make them believable to adherents, and I think it’s important to teach our children how to tease out the truths from the lies, because the truths point back to God. Eventually, these children are going to need to confront a lot of falsehood. Might as well start them out now. ;0)


  2. […] have posted before about out studies in ancient history (see here, here, and here). Overall, I have not been happy with the curricula we have found. I wanted something that would […]


  3. […] reason for us to study the ancients and their stories (see my post on why to study the ancients here). We must not be so self-important as to think that we have nothing to learn from these people just […]


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