"...the devil has no stories. Satan is not creative but can only parody and ape and distort and misshape the true story. Even the stories that the devil appears to have are not properly his. Hesiod and Homer, Aeschylus and Aristophanes, as much as Moses and Samuel, are "for Christ." We must exercise great care and pray for wisdom in our studies of this literature. We must never embrace enemies as friends or treat "Greek wisdom" as sound and true. Yet, it is fully within the rights of Christians, to whom, in Christ, belong "all things" (1 Cor. 3:21-23), to plunder these stories and make use of what we can. Because some treasures of Athens, purged with fire, may, like the gold of Egypt, finally adorn Jerusalem."
-Leithart, Heroes of the City of Man
I am reading Heroes of the City of Man and I find myself offended by Leithart's attitude towards the Greeks. But I may be one of those who has embraced my enemies and put too much confidence in Greek wisdom. Therefore, I examine myself as I read through the book. Leihart is the expert, while I admit I am the amateur, "the lover." But I want to attempt to articulate my complaint here if only so that I can better understand my own response to Leithart.
Leithart's lack of charity and humility toward the Greeks is probably what most offends. The Greeks may be dead, but they are still human. They may be lost, but they are still great. His use of metaphors of plunder is certainly appropriate to the subject matter. The Illiad, Aeneid, etc. are all stories of blood, violence, and conquest. But Leithart is not writing as a Greek to Greeks. He's writing as a Christian to Christians, so these metaphors are unfitting. God has not called His people to relate to their enemies with swords these days. There is a New Testament, a New Covenant, and the Crusades are generally agreed to be a mistake. Christians carry crosses now. We serve and even love our enemies.
And loving is a fearful, dangerous business. One can't love without humility towards the beloved. One must be open to relationship with the Other. One must be vulnerable in order to love. So it seems to me that we must approach our neighbors, even our ancient, dead, Greek neighbors with more humility, more willingness to be in relationship, more openness to loving them than Leithart shows. I think people can actually practice how to love their living neighbors by reading books written by dead neighbors with great humility and charity. If my students approach any text with the desire to remain superior to the ideas or totally aloof from the author, if they desire to simply see what could be put to use in a text, I rebuke them for pride. That's not how human beings ought to relate to other human beings- even dead ones.
I agree with Leithart that the Greek stories could be said to be ours by right of Christ's conquest, but following Leithart's conquering metaphor all the way back to Rome, if these stories (or their authors) were actually brought home to us in subjection to serve us and to teach our children, I do not think they would or even should remain merely slaves, because they are fully human, the stories and their authors. If the Greeks were actually slaves in our homes, they would likely hold a place of responsibility, respect, and esteem. They might even grow in our affections over time, naturally, because they, too, are made in God's image, and they, too, fitfully reflect His glory. The Greeks who were actually brought home to Rome were said to grow into the Romans' affections. Even so, these stories and their authors should be given at least a humane place in our Christian esteem.
I came to these stories a while ago and with a childlike spirit, before I had read Leithart's warning, so I have let myself love them a long time in a way that Leithart might not approve. But in my defense, Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, "To the pure all things are pure," and through Christ, we can handle serpents. Where the Greeks get it wrong, I can simply say, "Get the behind me" and keep walking with them. The Greeks saw so much, yet fearfully, wonderfully, awfully, "the world, in its wisdom, did not know Him." So reading the Greeks in humility has taught me how to relate better to my living neighbor with humility. My neighbors can be so good, so beautiful, they can see so much truth, but some of them still can't see Truth. So all neighbors, dead or alive, deserve more humane respect, more true charity, more piety from those of us who can see, by God's grace, what they could not/ cannot.