Great Books III

Why Great Books?

This marks the third year of a four-year sequence in which the great works of Western Culture are intently examined.  The purpose for such an endeavor rests on the assumption that history has a flow to it, that God is captain of the Story of the World, and that a solid grasp of this flow—or “Great Conversation”—is a vital part of what it means for a young man or woman to gain an education.   Investigating the great works is, in large part, what is meant by the phrase “classical education” today.  Continuing with examples of the most pivotal literature produced in the Modern period and beyond, students will become acquainted with some of the crucial chapters in the Great Conversation.  The readings will be challenging and class discussions will be designed to aid in understanding essential segments of the texts.  There will also be an emphasis on learning to write essays according the models used by the Greeks and Romans. Students are advised to purchase the recommended versions of the texts we will be studying.


Shorter writing assignments will be assigned at times in order to allow the student to interact with the readings.  Some of these will be read aloud by the student to the class.  Essays will be assigned subsequent to the completion of several of the books.  Using the format employed by classical writers, these essays will provide the opportunity for the student to think and write critically about important issues raised by the readings.

Cost and Registration

The cost for this tutorial is $330 per semester.  Registration is reserved for families of Alexandria Tutorials until March 20th, at which time registration is open to all families.  Class is limited to 15 participants.   To register, you may follow this link.

Checks are made payable to Matthew Turnbull and a non-refundable deposit of $50 to reserve your seat is required in order to confirm your registration, the remainder is due the first week of class. This deposit is part of first semester tuition. Second semester tuition is due the first week of that semester. Tuition is not refundable after the first month of the semester. This is a year-long class; please register only if you are able to take both semesters. 

Please email ( Mr. Turnbull for his mailing address.

Set up information can be found here.

Course Schedule

This class is currently planned for Thursday mornings from 8:45-10:15 a.m., Pacific time. This course will begin in early September.   We will break for a week during Thanksgiving, and we will break for Christmas after class in mid-December. Class will resume in early January, and end on the last week of May, with a break for a week in April.  This schedule allows for approximately 34 class periods. This is a year-long class. Please do not register for the class if you are not able to complete both semesters. A withdrawal fee will be assessed for students who withdraw in the middle of the year. 

Generally, the tutor is able to meet each week, although there may be exceptions due to illness, or family emergencies.  If you know you are going to miss a class, please e-mail your tutor to give him warning.  If a student misses a class, since the tutor sends a link to the recording of each week's class, the student can watch the recording to stay current with the material. Since this is a tutorial the tutor will not issue final grades but will provide comments and feedback on work. 

What it Means to be in a "Tutorial"

Since this class is a tutorial, the student is the one pursuing the education and performing the majority of the mental labor.  The tutor guides as the student investigates.  In this way, there is a wide difference between a traditional “class” and a tutorial such as this one.  In the traditional classroom, the teacher is often responsible not only for providing the learning environment and the instruction, but also for imparting much of the motivation to learn through the dread of things like grades and tests.  While these can be helpful ingredients to learning and instruction, they are not a part (or at least a big part) of a tutorial.  In a tutorial, whether or not the student learns is completely his or her decision.  This is one of the primary assumptions behind a tutorial: the student is the scholar; the tutor is the guide.   That means that what a student learns from the Greeks is directly dependent on the student’s approach, persistence and commitment to gain an education.  In a culture such as ours, where people are clamoring for their needs to be met, I challenge you, as a student, to decide, with God’s help, to make your mind grow.  It will require work and labor and perseverance.  But, as is the case with any noble endeavor, all of the sweat and suffering along the way only deepens your satisfaction in the end.    



Greek Literature is the one of the very primary sources from which the river of Western Culture flows.  To study the classics produced by the Greeks is to see first-hand the laying of the stones upon which so much of our thinking and understanding rests. However, as Greece was pagan, so was the worldview of its writers.  That means that we will encounter, at certain points, "mature themes" in some of the writings.  For example, in "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles, Oedipus, through a strange twist of fate ends up marrying his mother.

Why should young men and women study literature that contains such elements?  First, a perusal of the Old Testament will yield many examples of immorality.  Yet we study the Old Testament precisely because God states in Romans 15:4 that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."  Thus, we have examples presented to us in the Old Testament; some are to be imitated, and some are there to illustrate the deleterious consequences of disobedience.  We read of righteous and wicked men alike, and by reading and studying the life of Ahab as contrasted with Josiah, we gain instruction and ultimately learn to hope in God and live accordingly. 

Second, a play like "Oedipus Rex"—just like Shakespeare's "Hamlet"—though it contains some mature content is such an example of Art in writing that it warrants study.  The point of the play is obviously not those elements we might consider immoral, but the timeless ideas and central conflicts that form some of the big questions that human beings have pondered and wrestled with for centuries.  Moreover, the form of Sophocles' play, itself, is the paragon of tragedy.  Aristotle considered it to be the perfect model of tragic plot. 

Third, as with all of the books we will read for this class, a work like "Oedipus Rex" is a classic. That is, countless writers and thinkers over the past two millennia refer to the ideas in that play, and assume that those they speak to are familiar with it.  In other words, that play is part of the body of writings considered essential to a liberal (in the classical sense) education.  As we do with other pieces of literature that contain similar material, our class discussions and student writing assignments will be conducted with a view to gaining instruction and, of course, we will relentlessly seek to consider that which is "true and honorable and just."


No man except this One ever gave to God what he was not obliged to lose, or paid a debt he did not owe.  But he freely offered to the Father what there was no need of his ever losing, and paid for sinners what he owed not for himself.  Therefore he set a much nobler example, that each one should not hesitate to give to God, for himself, what he must at any rate lose before long.— St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo