From Achilles to Christ by Louis Markos (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, December 15, 2007

From Achilles to Christ by Louis Markos (Book Review)

"The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact." -C.S. Lewis

I was reading Louis Markos' From Achilles to Christ while subbing (i.e., babysitting) for a high school class, and one of the students asked me what I was reading.

Me: It's a book about Jesus and know, the Greek and Roman stories.
Her: Is it any good?
Me: Yes, definitely...if you like literature and epic stories, like Homer's Odyssey.
Her [wrinkling her nose, nodding condescendingly]: Oooh...
Me: Fine, just forget it, alright?

And just like that, I had an accurate demographic snapshot of the type of person who will love From Achilles to Christ. They are probably not high school students--and if they are, they're the unusual ones who love reading the classics and will later go on to earn an English major and then struggle to find their place in the world. However, once you leave the confines of high school, Louis Markos' genius becomes a lot more marketable.

Markos is an excellent scholar, but he's also an admirable writer, which makes him a pretty rare hybrid. His thesis is that, unknown to their authors, God infused the early pagan myths with astonishing foreshadowings of the coming Savior:"Though the fullness of deity is found only in Christ and the fullness of revelation in the Bible alone, the shadow of the Almighty yet hovers and broods over the yearnings of the pre-Christian world" (22). And with very accessible writing and a love for great stories, Markos brings this assertion to life.

He enters the writing of Homer, Virgil, Sophocles, and others, walking through Troy and Italy, sailing the wild seas of the Odyssey like an insider. He guides us through tangled histories of characters like Achilles, Hector, Helen, Odysseus, and Aeneas, revealing startling storylines that point to Christ--the greatest hero ever, and one who was not confined to, but attested to, in the pages of a book.

As I finished From Achilles to Christ (Did you know that the "wrath of Achilles" was a result of his futile longing for immortality?) I was moved to worship God's merciful creativity, as I considered the "hidden" meanings in the old Greek and Roman myths. I had the random thought that had C.S. Lewis read Louis Markos, the former would have made his way to Jesus sooner. It was Lewis, after all, who was led to Jesus via the Christ-haunted roads of pagan mythology (and Lewis does make an appearance near the end of the book).

I award Markos an A, and recommend From Achilles to Christ to those who want to be amazed at how God prefigured the coming of his own son in ways that would eventually help many Greeks and Romans toward Jesus, the invincible warrior, the dying God--who leads us at last to the immortality we all long for.

Yes, this myth-enlightening book has taken its rightful place on the mythic Master Book List.

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Benjamin said...

Woot! I would've fallen into the "oddball High schooler" category last year, 'cept I've been moved from English major toward a Ministry degree by our gracious Lord.

Thanks for highlighting this read; I took a Humanities course on the Foundations of Western Civ and we often discussed parallels between Greco-Roman mythos and Christ. I'm glad to hear about an engaging book on the topic, though I felt Achilles was too self-absorbed (withholding support to his Greek brothers for nearly half of Homer's tale) to be a strong Christ figure...I'd be interested to read Markos' counter-argument. -Ben

Will Robison said...

I took a course in college on Plato and Christianity and I found that I really didn't agree with the premise that Plato preceded Christianity and was its forerunner. While it didn't give the obvious connection (all Christianity was is a retelling of Plato's stories) it suggested as much. I never thought about turning that argument around on its head and suggesting that Plato and other ancient writings were foreshadowing of Christ. That's absolutely brilliant. I will definitely have to find this book.

By the way, I'm the even rarer duck who liked classics in High School and never ever wanted to be an English major (in truth, I really hate the subject!)

Ariel said...

Hey Benjamin, congrats on escaping the existential desperation that so often follows us English majors...

Markos doesn't really point to Achilles as a Christ figure. Instead, he points out that "the wrath of Achilles" (the theme of Homer's Iliad) has at its root the fact that Achilles desperately wants immortality and feels that the gods have treated him unjustly (as they have). He goes on to argue that Achilles prefigures our predicament, but that unlike him, we possess the "hope of glory."

Will, Markos excels at drawing out the veins of truth in mythology and in Plato. Amazing--I think you'll really enjoy this one. And yes, you are a rare duck, but we already knew that. It's why we like you.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife