Great Literature in a Nutshell

Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales in a Nutshell

The backdrop to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett, one of the most popular pilgrim sites in the whole of Christendom until its destruction by Henry VIII. It consists of a General Prologue, in which Chaucer introduces the fictional characters who are travelling together on … Read more


The Divine Comedy in a Nutshell

The Divine Comedy is arguably the greatest poem ever written. It is also profoundly Catholic to its theological and philosophical core. Its author, Dante Alighieri, spent over ten years writing it, completing it a year before his death in 1321. It is fitting, therefore, that we should celebrate this finest of poetic masterpieces on the … Read more


Beowulf in a Nutshell

Beowulf, the Old English epic, probably dates from the early eighth century, a golden age of English Christianity when the land was awash with saints. The Beowulf poet, who was almost certainly a monk, was a contemporary of St. Bede the Venerable, a Doctor of the Church, and St. Boniface, the English apostle to the … Read more


The Aeneid in a Nutshell

Along with The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid is one of the three epic pillars on which the edifice of western literature rests. These three works are, therefore, foundational. Written by Virgil a few decades before the birth of Christ, and at least seven centuries after the time of Homer, The Aeneid owes its … Read more

Oedipus at Colonus

Oedipus at Colonus in a Nutshell

As we saw in the previous essay in this series, Oedipus Rex presents the riddle of man without offering any solution. It seems to beg innumerable questions on the nature of man and on the mystery of suffering without giving any answers. It would, however, be a gross and grotesque error to conclude from the … Read more


Oedipus Rex in a Nutshell

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is more than merely a tragedy. It is a profound meditation on the relationship between fate and free will and on the consequences of that relationship with respect to the mystery and meaning of human suffering. Its plot is convoluted and provocative. Oedipus becomes King of Thebes after answering the riddle … Read more

Antigone in front of the dead Polynices

Antigone in a Nutshell

Sophocles is probably the greatest dramatist in the history of civilization, with the obvious exception of Shakespeare. He lived for ninety years, his life spanning almost the entirety of the fifth century B.C., from 496 to 406. During his long life, which seems to have been spent entirely in Athens, he witnessed both the rise … Read more


The Odyssey in a Nutshell

As with The Iliad, Homer begins The Odyssey with a prayer to his Muse, the supernatural spirit of creativity, for the inspiration to tell the story of Odysseus well. He begins by recounting that Odysseus’ men “were destroyed by their own wild recklessness” and then sets the theological scene for the whole epic in the … Read more

Achilles and the body of Patroclus

The Iliad in a Nutshell

Sing, Muse, of Achilles’ anger and its devastation…and of the will of Zeus which was accomplished. The opening lines of Homer’s epic The Iliad say it all. In these first few words, the Poet betrays his purpose and unpacks the deepest meaning of his work.  He begins with a prayer to his Muse, the goddess … Read more

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