A Dry Book About the Doings of the Greeks

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, April 12, 1912:  It rained this afternoon. I got rather wet coming home from school this evening. I’ve started to digest a dry book about the doings of the Greeks.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What book was Grandma reading? This diary entry sent me searching for an old book on the Greeks.

I found a dry –I want to call it mind-numbing–book called Greek and Roman Civilization by Fred Morrow Fling, Ph.D. that was published in 1902.

Amazingly on the inside cover there was a stamp which indicated that it once had been in a public school library (though the library was in the wrong state). But  it provides an indication of the types of books that were in high school libraries years ago.

No. 1800           Price _____

Public School Library

Dawson, Minn.

Library Rules– No person shall have more than one book at a time, nor keep that more than two week, and if kept longer a fine of five cents shall be imposed.

If a book is lost or injured, the price of the book or set shall be charged.

Here’s how Chapter 1 begins:

THE HOMERIC AGE

Homer probably never lived, and the Iliad is evidently a national product, not composed by one man at one time, but by many men at different times. As a record of the Trojan War, the poem has practically no value. Its real value to the student of history is due to the fact that it unconsciously reveals to us the manners and customs of the age in which it was composed. While the imagination may construct wholes that are not really, the real elements with which the poet or novelist works are drawn from experience. It is possible, then, for the historian to sift out these elements and make use of them. . .

8 Responses

  1. One book at a time! To think, nowadays we can take out many books at a time and keep them for several weeks…

    • I had the same thought. I currently have multiple books that I got from the library at home–and little time to read them. I’ll end up skimming some and taking others back without reading them. Books were so much were precious a hundred years ago. Sometimes I think that I’d get more out of what I read, if I only had a few books and savored every word that I read.

  2. I have several of my mother’s old school books from 1916-1918. They are quite different from what we study today. They often do seem to be at a higher level -I wonder if student were at a higher level or just didn’t ‘get’ it!

    • I also think that high school students were at a higher level years ago. It seems like students’ education is now spaced across more years than it once was. When my grandmother was a student–she was the exception. Many students ended their education at 8th grade (and went on to successful careers). When my father was young, most people got a high school diploma. When I was young, many got a bachelor’s degree. And, now many young people feel like they need a masters’ to be competitive in this tight job market.

  3. School libraries might have different rules for checking out books because they don’t have as many books. Of course in my highschool there wasn’t a rush to check them out either. I would NEVER have checked out that book on the Greeks!

    • Your comment makes me think that maybe Grandma decided to read the book on the Greeks because she’d already read most of the other books that her school had.

  4. What a great series of posts. I just finished a Women’s History course focusing on diarists and have been reading my Great-Aunt’s collection of diaries. Helena’s diary has quite a bit of detail and gives a strong impression of her feelings about things she did. Very interesting! I look forward to reading more! Jane

    • The Women’s History course sounds really interesting. Often history has ignored the voices of average people. One thing that I really like about the diaries that Grandma and other women kept years ago was that it enabled them record their stories in their own voices.

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