Cancel Culture Comes for Odysseus

I took a couple of years of classical Greek in college from “Doc” Charles, a senior member of the Wabash College faculty. One year we read Homer’s The Odyssey; the other year we read Plato’s “Apology” and the Greek New Testament; I don’t remember for sure which we read first. But I think we read The Odyssey in the second year, when I was the only student in the course. I got credit for taking the course; but with only one student, Doc Charles did not get credit for teaching it. One of my abiding regrets is that I never took the time in later years to thank Doc Charles. When our daughter Jenny’s middle school class read a little bit of an English translation of The Odyssey, I grabbed my own copy of the English translation and read her a few paragraphs that I thought she would like. Jenny is partial to the dachshund breed of hound dogs. The paragraphs I read were about Odysseus finally entering Ithaca after 10 years of fighting the Trojan War and another 10 years of struggling to return home. After 20 years’ absence the first humans he meets do not recognize him. But an old hound dog who was his puppy when he left Ithaca, rises to its feet and wags its tail in greeting. The Odyssey is about loyalty and resilience and loving your hound dog. Created many centuries ago, it connects us to ancestors with whom we still share values, challenges, and hopes. Odysseus was a flawed hero but he was a hero. We should defend our right to read the story of his struggles.

(p. A15) A sustained effort is under way to deny children access to literature. Under the slogan #DisruptTexts, critical-theory ideologues, schoolteachers and Twitter agitators are purging and propagandizing against classic texts—everything from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dr. Seuss.

. . .

The demands for censorship appear to be getting results. “Be like Odysseus and embrace the long haul to liberation (and then take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash),” tweeted Shea Martin in June [2020]. “Hahaha,” replied Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence (Mass.) High School. “Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” When I contacted Ms. Levine to confirm this, she replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.”

For the full commentary, see:

Meghan Cox Gurdon. “Even Homer Gets Mobbed.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 28, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Dec. 27, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Do You Have to Be a Human to Have a Soul?

I cannot prove it to the skeptical, but after observing and interacting with our dachshund Willy almost every day for about 10 years, I strongly believe that he thinks and feels in ways that show he has a soul.
And I have no trouble believing that if a dachshund has a soul, then an elephant has one too.

(p. A21) Caitrin Nicol had an absorbing essay in The New Atlantis called “Do Elephants Have Souls?” Nicol quotes testimony from those who study elephant behavior. Here’s one elephant greeting a 51-year-old newcomer to her sanctuary:

“Everyone watched in joy and amazement as Tarra and Shirley intertwined trunks and made ‘purring’ noises at each other. Shirley very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus, and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part.”
Nicol not only asks whether this behavior suggests that elephants do have souls, she also illuminates what a soul is. The word is hard to define for many these days, but, Nicol notes, “when we talk about it, we all mean more or less the same thing: what it means for someone to bare it, for music to have it, for eyes to be the window to it, for it to be uplifted or depraved.”

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “The Sidney Awards.” The New York Times (Fri., December 27, 2013): A18. [National Edition]
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 26, 2013, and has the title “The Sidney Awards, Part 1.”)

The article praised by Brooks is:
Nicol, Caitrin. “Do Elephants Have Souls?” New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society 38 (Winter/Spring 2013): 10-70.

Mary K. Fox

Jenny’s fourth and fifth grade teacher, Mary K. Fox, ended a long battle with cancer on January 30, 2006. Here are our “Guest Book” entries:
February 1, 2006
You were a great teacher. I will miss you very much. I remember the first day you met Willy (my dog). You liked him very much. Willy will always remember you, and think of you as Jenny’s teacher.
Love, Jenny (and Willy)
Jenny Diamond (Omaha, NE )
February 1, 2006
We admired Mary’s strength and determination; her patience and good will.
Art & Jeanette Diamond (Omaha, NE )

Willy and His Balls


Willy is a miniature dachshund. Willy’s veterinarian has from the start urged us to have him neutered, but we have so far resisted the temptation to follow the politically correct practice.
I did not attend Willy’s most recent visit to the vet, but I am told that he was placed on the counter and given two shots. Little Willy was not fond of this activity, so after receiving the second shot, he lifted up a hind leg and peed on the floor. Observing this, the vet said ‘that’s what you have to expect from an intact male.’
Willy’s favorite activity is to chase after a ball that you throw for him. His favorite balls are racquetballs, because they are small enough for him to easily carry around and because they have a lot of bounce. But he is also happy to chase tennis balls, and when he sees a soccer ball, he goes beserk with enthusiasm. (When my daughter and I practice soccer in the backyard, little Willy switches to whichever side is most in need of help.)
Our miniature dachshund is a loyal, intelligent, rascally, affectionate, stubborn critter. My advice to little Willy: don’t ever let them take away your balls.