Posted in Book Lovers Community

Roman Roads Media: Old Western Culture Technical Details

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In a previous post I talked about the effect that Roman Roads Media’s Old Western Culture course had on my family’s trips to see my classics-loving grandfather, and our trip to The Field Museum in Chicago to see the National Hellenic Greeks exhibit. In short, Wes’s storytelling inspired my imagination and enriched those two special visits in meaningful ways.

In this post, I want to help people understand what is included in their OWC purchase. There is more than meets the eye on Roman Roads Media’s website and it is easy to miss out on valuable nuggets.

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When I purchased my first course from RRM, I purchased The Greeks: Epics because I had been listening to CiRCE Institute’s “A Perpetual Feast” with Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan. I knew that I wanted an armchair mentor like Wes to walk me through Homer. His enthusiasm for the ancient poet was palpable and his knowledge of the subject matter is incredible.

Old Western Culture is a study of the great books of the Western world from a Christian point of view. I have not capitalized “great books” because this is not a walk through Hutchins and Adler’s University of Chicago Press “Great Books of the Western World“. In the course orientation, Wes explains that Hutchins and Adler did commendable work but that they made quite a few editorial decisions to leave out critical texts from the Church Fathers and other major stories (like Beowulf). In part, Adler and Hutchins were constrained by the need to rely on public domain texts. In part they were motivated by ideology. In part they were motivated by a specific intellectual and post-Enlightenment thread through “The Great Conversation,” and many of their omissions did not contribute to the rational point view they wanted to focus on. Whatever their reasons, Old Western Culture seeks to recast that that into a Christian mold. Without compromising “The Great Conversation” in any way, Old Western Culture merely focuses in on the cultural implications of the rise of Christendom and it’s complicated story.

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Old Western Culture is designed, primarily, to be a high school level 4 year journey through The Greeks, The Romans, The Medievals/Christendom and The Early Moderns. The essential value of these courses is the beautiful mentoring from Wes Callihan which was filmed in his personal library. The intention of this post, however, is to make sure that buyers don’t miss all of the supplemental goodness.

Note: the videos are accessible and engaging for students and adults alike. The content, however, really is for students aged 12 and above. My 8 year old is able to follow Wes’s storytelling without missing a beat, but many of these texts have adult themes in them and so these conversations should wait until he is a bit older.


Each year of the course is broken into four terms (of nine weeks each). For example, in the first year, The Greeks are divided by: Epics, Histories, Drama & Lyric, and Philosophers. When you purchase OWC, you purchase each term individually. So if you want the Epics and the Philosophers, you are not locked into buying Drama and Lyric and the Histories. It is very a la carte and each term is self contained. Obviously, some of these conversations build on each other naturally, but the course is laid out in such a way that you won’t have any real holes by not buying certain terms.

There are several purchasing option on the site… here’s what they mean:

1. The DVDs/Blurays are the course itself. Purchase of that product will result in the physical media being sent to you while simultaneously you will gain instant access to the streaming of the same content plus access to the materials page which is loaded with resources.

2. You may choose the workbook option to add a physical copy of the workbooks to your order. The pdf version of this resource is automatically included in yourDVDs/Blurays purchase. So unless you require a professionally printed spine, the books are unnecessary or redundant.
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Once you have purchased the course itself (in dvd/blu ray format), you will be able to stream the video content from any browser. Roman Roads is trying to build an app that will make this even more useful but at the time of this review, it is still only in the development phase.

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Once you have completed your order, don’t forget to check the Materials page which is a treasure trove of supports. As you purchase a course, the materials for your course are loaded into your materials page. Included in that page are the following:

-Powerful workbooks & answer keys for each course
-Exams for each course
-PDF/e-Text readers of the course readings
-Hyperlinks to Amazon with the correct translations/editions of the course readings in print

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Friends have asked if the reading load in these courses will dominate their high school student’s reading time and leave no room for other goodness. As a former high school teacher, I confess to being impressed by the layout of the course and the breakdown of the work. If you plan to use this with a student and intend to require all of the work included in the workbook and tests, this is the study plan recommended:

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Roman Roads has a “Samples” page that is absolutely loaded with a rich look inside. You can look at the entire workbook for The Greeks: Epics, there are several full length video lectures to preview, all of the Greek Epic exams are available for preview as well as their e-readers. Check out this powerful samples page here.

If you want to learn more and want to talk to others who are currently using OWC and/or wish to see behind the scenes of OWC, consider joining their curriculum chat Facebook group. Customers and RRM staff populate the friendly discussion group.

On a personal note, I am Catholic. I mention this because I wanted to speak to Catholic readers who are understandably skeptical of history curriculum produced by non-Catholics.  I have watched a few lectures in several of the Church Fathers units. My take is this: this is one of the most respectful approaches to all orthodox/traditional Christian creeds I have seen. Their intention is to be inclusive and non-offensive. In one lecture, Wes remarks that the books of the Apocrypha are not canonical. He goes on to defend their worth and the traditional view that they are excellent food for the pursuit of holiness but he does refute the Catholic claim that they are part of the biblical canon. There are many ways to hear what he has said and not all Catholics will agree with me when I say that I thought this was a non-issue. I do not look to Wes to be my biblical mentor. I believe that his respectful approach is sufficient to me being able to separate his nuanced belief from my acceptance of church teaching. In point of fact, because his personal faith falls into the traditional camp, I think that there is little to “fear” from his nuanced beliefs.

Disclaimer: I have not yet done the unit on The Reformation – I suspect that it will be a fair assessment of that period of Christian history and I look forward to growing in my faith as I wrestle with those terrible times. It is important to note that while Luther has a big place in the Reformation unit, Dante and Aquinas have even bigger emphasis in their unit.

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Roman Roads Media: Old Western Culture Review

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This review is part one of two and will deal with the efficacy of Roman Roads Media’s Old Western Culture. The second review will unpack the technical aspects of this powerful resource.

In the last year my life has been transformed and blessed by the CiRCE Institute and their partners. Specifically, God placed Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest in my path at a time when I desperately needed permission to return to a classical way of thinking, teaching and mentoring the souls in my care. Sarah’s little (truly, short and sweet) book cut through the noise of my homeschool anxiety and guilt and second guessing like a chef’s knife. The Holy Spirit spoke through her words and left me with a very clear sense of who I am and what I am called to do. I am a child of God. A sacred tabernacle for Him. He was whispering to my soul. Rest. Lean in. Trust. Obey.

In the early years of homeschooling, I bounced around like a ping pong ball trying to wrap my head around this unexpected life choice. We had no intention of homeschooling and so the decision to do so found us unprepared and feeling behind. We tried a number of styles and models on for size and learned a lot from many of them. One of the greatest things I learned was from Thomas Jefferson Education, that places a huge emphasis on me modeling a lifelong love of learning by pursuing my own scholarship. While we have ultimately discerned that we are really called to a relaxed classical approach, there are principles of TJEd that have left us wiser, more confident and more prepared to meet the challenges of our particular vocation.


One of my favorite CiRCE Institute podcasts is “A Perpetual Feast” with Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan. And boy, I am not alone in my love. My Facebook schole book clubs (Potato Peel Pie Society and Symposium At Parnassus) boast not a few fans of Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan. Like the bookish geeks that we are, we all rejoice when a new podcast is posted.


Like any good organization, CiRCE is sponsored by partners who share their core values. I began to notice one partner in particular popping up again and again: Roman Roads Media. I was curious and started following their Facebook page. Then they advertised a special price on their Old Western Culture: Greek Epics course. I was sold. I wanted someone to hold my hand and help me fall in love with Homer.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 9.45.45 AMI am a mom. A homeschool mom with laundry, dishes, lessons to prepare, fights to break up and orthodontist runs to make. I am busy. My mind is often distracted. I often wonder if my true scholarship days are behind me.

Wes Callihan is an incredible mentor. His style is that of an armchair story teller. Instead of breaking down the technical nuances of a text (and the Vandiver Great Courses Company Course on The Iliad does that beautifully), he invites us into his personal library,  shows us his well-worn Lattimore text and then proceeds to tell us stories.

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As I read my Fitzgerald and my Lattimore Iliads, I found myself lost in the poetry and contemplating the philosophical questions that were so curious to me. What I did not think that I was doing was really learning the details of the story – whatever detail I learned was to support the questions I was pondering.

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This past weekend, my family and I drove 3.5 hours to the Chicago Field Museum to see  The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great exhibit. This temporary exhibit was on loan from the National Hellenic Museums of Greece. The exhibit had over 500 artifacts and more security guards than a presidential escort. IMG_1876

As we ventured into the exhibit, I felt a bit disoriented and apprehensive. How much would my young family really get out of this experience? It was expensive and we had moved heaven and earth for two months to make this trip work. Would it be worth it?

And then I saw the burial mask of Agamemnon and I knew what it was. As we moved through a few artifacts, a museum docent and several bystanders started moving with us. At each interesting artifact my eight year old and I would talk about what we were seeing with some knowledge. I had taken Wes’s advice in March and shared Rosemary Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy (renamed The Iliad) with my kids while I was studying with OWC. My 8 year old hears everything and so, while I was not doing the OWC course with him, he was certainly listening in while I was folding laundry or watching with me on the ipad while I prepped dinner.

12968029_10153577954296375_2192978825520834356_oAfter we began to contextualize what we were seeing in terms of The Iliad, the docent started pointing out to us the little things that we would appreciate but otherwise might miss. We studied replicas of chariots, bronze swords, helmets that were sized to fit men with heads comparable to that of my 8 year old. We marveled at the pottery which showcased scenes from Homer. We talked about funeral pyres and Achilles dragging Hector tied to the wheel of his chariot. In short, I discovered that Wes’s story telling had absolutely stimulated my imagination and all of those stories were just waiting for me to need them.

Two days before our trip, we travelled across the state to see my 92 year old grandfather. He had 4 years of Latin in high school and 2 years of Greek. He memorized whole sections of The Iliad and 70 years later still considers it to be one of the most beautiful things he has loved. He is a big advocate of our homeschooling and loves the classics.

Helmet similar to the helmet of Achilles that Patroclus wore into battle.

As we talked about the role the Greeks had in building Western Culture we specifically talked about how the Iliad and the Odyssey compared to Indian ideas. We talked about the similarity of funeral pyres in both cultures, gods and Western ideas of the dignity of life. My son was playing with his snap circuits in another room. Any time one of us got a name or a detail wrong from Homer, he would chirp up with the correction. Clearly, the Greeks have made a home in our shared vernacular and they provide 4 generations of family a shared experience to discuss, debate and wonder at together.


I am profoundly grateful to Roman Roads Media and Wes Callihan. There is a strong possibility that I would not have fallen in love with The Iliad if I have been left to muddle through on my own. I cannot wait to see where else Wes takes my imagination and my learning!

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