Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Edith Hamilton!

Most folks are happily settled into retirement by the time they’re 90, but in 1957 a 90-year-old Edith Hamilton traveled to Greece where she was awarded the Gold Cross of the Legion of Benefaction and made an honorary citizen of Athens. This nod of approval from the people of Greece was in recognition of Hamilton’s impressive body of writing that has since introduced several generations of students to Greek history and mythology.

Long before she became a writer, Edith Hamilton was appointed the first headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD, in 1896 where she served as both a teacher and an administrator until her retirement in 1922. In those years, Hamilton became an excellent teacher and was able to inspire students with her own enthusiasm for learning. Although she had a knack for education, it was Hamilton’s retirement from teaching that allowed her to pursue her successful career in writing.

After getting to know Hamilton socially through friendly meetings in New York City, Rosamond Gilder, the editor of Theatre Arts Monthly, suggested Hamilton write about Greek tragedies for the magazine. At first Hamilton refused, but was finally persuaded, and the articles she penned for the magazine were compiled into her first book, The Greek Way, which was published in 1930 when Hamilton was 63 years old. From there, Hamilton went on to write eight more books including her celebrated work, Mythology, which is used in classrooms worldwide.

"I came to the Greeks early, and I found answers in them,” Hamilton said in a 1958 interview. “Greece's great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don't really act as if we believe in the soul's immortality and that's why we are where we are today."

Perhaps even more remarkable than her age, is that, unlike other authors who have written on mythology, Hamilton had never set foot in Greece prior to her visit in 1957. Her writings were based entirely on the literature of the classics and the parallels between life in ancient Greece and modern life that she was able to draw from them.

Hamilton’s love of teaching is readily apparent in all of the books she has written, and her ability to convey information in a way that is accessible to readers is unriveled. So today, on her 142nd birthday, we celebrate one of the great contributors to the literary canon. Happy Birthday, Edith!

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