Read Along with the C.L.S.C.

Much like the on-line college degree courses we have now, The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.) was a method of self-education people could obtain in the privacy of their own homes. Isabella was a graduate of the C.L.S.C. program and actively promoted in articles and stories.

Every three months C.L.S.C. students received “The Chautauquan,” a 400-plus page “magazine of system in reading” with articles and lessons that covered various topics such as:

The Rehabilitation of the Democratic Party

Food, the Farmer, and the City

Polar Exploration and Moral Standards

Women in the Progress of Civilization

A Reading Journey through Egypt.

History and classic literature were also major components of the curriculum. Bishop John H. Vincent, Chancellor of the C.L.S.C. believed:

The study of classical literature, art, and philosophy supplies a training of the mind based upon models which have stood the test of time [and are] considered universal.”

Aside from obtaining the books for reading, the only other tools required to complete the course were a pencil, some paper, and a good dictionary. 

But while the tools were basic, the coursework was not always easy. In 1909 students were required to read Homer’s Iliad. If you’ve ever tried to read this epic poem about the Trojan War, you know what a challenge it can be!

Illustration of two Trojan soldiers fighting. Both wear casques and capes,, and carry shields. Behind them is a portrait of Helen of Troy.

Not to worry; the C.L.S.C. published the following tips to help students successfully complete the required reading:

  • Think of this volume as a story book and read it for the sake of the stories.
  • Keep in mind the tales woven about Achilles and Odysseus are typical of the passionate rivalry of war and the steadfast love of country and family we identify with today.
  • Don’t make reading these stories hard. Relax yourself to the swing of them. Let them carry you along as if you were hearing them recited by a story teller.
  • These are tales of valiant deeds and daring adventure from beginning to end— “action stories”; and there is no easier reading in the world.
Illustration of Achilles and Paris in battle. Paris has a long spear and shield. Achilles holds a long knife while an arrow protrudes from his right heel. Behind them is the outline of a stone fortress over the top of which is the head of the Trojan horse.

Bishop Vincent knew the value of reading Homer’s Iliad, because he recognized the influence Greek history—and Homer’s epic poem, in particular—had on the formation of the United States and the development of our constitution.

Those influences are still visible today. A mural in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. depicts one of the stories in the Iliad after Achilles’ mother disguised him as a school girl and sent him to a distant court so he would not be enlisted in the Trojan War. Wily Ulysses set out to find Achilles; dressed as a peddler, he displayed his wares. The girls chose feminine trinkets, but Achilles was attracted to a man’s shield and casque, thereby revealing his identity.

Mural depicting Achilles disguised as a girl admiring a man's shield and casque. Behind him, Ulysses, watches as other girls sit and examine the trinkets displayed on the floor.

Greek history and mythology influence many murals, statues, and architectural design throughout the U.S. capital.

Have you read Homer’s Iliad? Did you find it difficult reading?

If you haven’t read Homer’s Iliad, you can get a taste for what this reading assignment was like. Click here to read an 1891 version of the epic poem, which would have been similar to the version Isabella and other C.L.S.C. students read.

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