Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 17, 2018

Too Little Have I Travell’d in the Realms of Gold, Evidently

If I’d had a proper education, I would’t have to be doing this now.

I’m applying to be officially certified as a “Well-Versed and Knowledgable Student of Western Literature.” After all, I’ve been at this literature game a long time, and I’m ready for some recognition. I started strong, from the first page of We Look and See and its thrilling, epic sequel, Fun with Dick and Jane. Granted, there have been peaks and valleys since first grade. I’ve had sustained periods of intense reading, followed by — shall we say — caesurae in pace and focus. I can’t apologize for not reading classic literature every single day of my life. I’ve had some distractions to deal with; making a living comes to mind, among other inconveniences.

I’ve also gone down some reading byways that haven’t bolstered my resume. For example, none of the legendary and now-classic Marvel Comics of the 1960s I absorbed will count with the committee, nor will my fruitless attempt to make any sense whatsoever of E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ourobouros and his succeeding Zimiamvian Trilogy.

I’m relatively certain that few — if any — of the 25-cent paperbacks I ordered through Scholastic Book Service in my pre-teen years will count for much, either. Old Yeller, Jim Kjelgaard’s Fire Hunter, the Danny Dunn stories. Nor, likely, even those Hardy Boys mysteries, starting with the very first in the series, The Secret of the Old Mill. In the eyes of the committee, those will have been wasted hours, however enjoyable they were.

The Process Begins: One List to Rule Them All

Prior to being subjected to a thoroughgoing evaluation involving interviews and written essays, one must qualify for consideration. Qualification is straightforward: You check items off a list. The list is twenty-four printed pages long (not yet digital — the Committee are rather traditional).

The items on the list are (in the Committee’s view) the landmark works of western literature, in chronological order. There are required works, in boldface type, and an even larger number of works which aren’t strictly obligatory. The implication is that one had better be able to claim — and substantiate during the interviews and in essays — to have read and absorbed not only all of the required works but some substantial number of the others.

Yes, I checked. Old Yeller, Fire-Hunter, The Hardy Boys? No sign of ’em on the list.

The List Begins

My problem starts with the very first item of The List, at the dawn of western literature. Here are the first few works.

Western Literature reading list

Naturally, the Iliad and the Odyssey kick things off. That’s my problem. I haven’t read them.

I Blame the System

Is it my fault that not one teacher or professor ever put the Iliad on a syllabus, required- or suggested reading list? A certain university gave me a degree in English language and literature, but at no time did anyone require me to read Homer. My accomplishments were good enough for them, why not this committee?

I know they simply assumed I’d done it on my own, maybe during the summer between 8th grade and high school. I never actually claimed to have read it, nor did I fake my way through anything. No instructor ever turned to me, asking something like, “Mr. Nixon, certainly this passage in (work of literature here) recalls Homer’s famous simile for ‘wine-dark sea,’ wouldn’t you agree?” Nope. Never happened.

Can I Dodge It?

I’ve considered submitting my qualification survey with those first two items left blank. I’ve read a lot of books, poems and plays, after all. Maybe I could shine so incandescently during the examination that they’ll let it slide.

But, playing it out in my mind, I pictured the situation. There’d be some uncompromisingly demanding scholar of impeccable reputation …

Perry crop

I imagine the interview going something like this:

Eminent Scholar: So, Mr. Nixon, am I correct in understanding that you had several years of college education?

Me: That’s right. Yep.

ES: And is it true that part of your field of concentration involved the study of epic Medieval poetry?

Me: Yes, in part.

ES: That must mean you’ve studied Beowulf, of course, and the Nibelungenlied, the Norse and Icelandic sagas, the Song of Roland, El Cid?

Me: Yes. I’ve read those, as my qualification survey indicates.

ES: So, according to your application, despite this purportedly impressive education, at no time during your course of study — in class discussions, during a lecture or in any assignments — was there an expectation — not even a reference implying you should read it — to the foundational epic poem of western literature, the Iliad … nor the Odyssey, either?

Me: Um, I know it might seem strange, but I ….

ES: And if, as you claim, some of those professors were world-renowned scholars in their own right, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’d have gone to some lengths to draw relationships regarding theme or style or form between the epics of the Middle Ages and Classical Greece?

Me: I know it seems like it, but really ….

ES: And do you truly expect this Committee to believe that you spent years studying literature in a serious academic setting, unaware that you absolutely should have read those poems —that any reasonable professor would rely on a student of even moderate ambition to have made certain to know the original works on which much scholarly criticism of the genre is based?

Me: Okay! Yes! Stop! I admit it! I knew I should read it — both of the Homer poems. I just didn’t do it. I meant to, seriously. I even owned a copy of it. I just … I didn’t read the Iliad! Give me another chance. I’ll read it!


So, I’m reading the Iliad. It’s good. Great battle scenes. Wonderful descriptions — those similes! The gods are a pain, but, well, you already knew that.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. At last! one up on you – I’ve read the Iliad. Enjoyed some of the language, but found the storyline disappointingly tedious. To use some dialogue from Spamalot:
    Robin: “So it isn’t just dressing up and dancing?”
    Lancelot: “No, it’s mostly fighting”.

    Needless to say, I never got to the Odyssey, even though that’s probably the one that’s got a lot more dressing up and dancing in it. Maybe next year, then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Each time Homer reuses one of those stock epithets or phrases (a lot) it makes me think of the tiny slice of mental time and energy it bought the oral poet to spend thinking of what came next. Perhaps I’ll weary of it. Agreed, very little dancing. Straight on to Odyssey is the plan, so get cracking.


  2. Brad, Brad, Brad…


    • Thanks, Paul. Drive out to the old deserted ranch and see if there’s anyone there. If there is, we’ll know it’s not deserted.


  3. This was required reading in my high school English class. So, I guess I’m done! 👍😀


    • See what I mean. I’m the victim of inadequate education. If Mrs. Drake had assigned it, I’d have read it … he said.


      • Don’t be sad. You’ve covered a lot of ground. 🚜

        I mean, if you go to the Musée du Louvre and see the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory, everything else is fluff, right? 😎


      • Um … not exactly everything.


  4. Ok, I’ll throw in the winged bulls of Khorsabad in the Richelieu wing. Are we good now?


    • You’ll have to find a library as well as an art museum.


      • The Louvre works. 🇫🇷


  5. Have you considered the possibility that your teachers and professors never read the Iliad or Odyssey, either? Perhaps they were loathe to assign something that might lead to embarassing questions from a student who actually fulfilled the requirement.


    • I doubt that. Obviously, I’m being tongue-in-cheek here at the expense of some excellent teachers (many no longer present to defend themselves). Some number of the professors probably had read it in Greek, or at least a sample. I never took a course in “classics,” per se, but it was reasonable for a professor teaching graduate students in Medieval epics in their original language to expect those students to at least know Homer in translation. Just part of the background ambience.


      • Oh, my. I was being tongue-in-cheek, too. I’ve never used emojis and really am not fond of them, but perhaps one would have been in order here!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oops. My bad. I should’ve been more attuned to the non-Shoreacres-like inflection I read into your comment. Noted. I killed the possible fun in your comment. What I get for responding in haste.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: