Lou Markos

The City Podcast: How Dante Can Change Your Life

by Timothy Motte on April 20, 2015

Life Lessons from Dante's Divine Comedy

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a perfect example of a book that many people mistakenly think is too hard, or that it’s not for them.

And yet, it is a work of literature that has changed, is changing, and will continue to change innumerable lives.

Featuring: Dr. Louis Markos, Dr. Holly Ordway, Cate MacDonald

The City Podcast. Smart. Sane. Spiritual.


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Email us at podcast@hbu.edu with your thoughts, questions, or suggestions.

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A to Z with C.S. Lewis: Z is for Zeitgeist

by Lou Markos on July 17, 2013

CS LewisZeitgeist is a German word that means “spirit of the age.”  The zeitgeist of Periclean Athens was self-knowledge (supremely embodied in the thought of Socrates), while that of the Middle Ages and Victorianism was hierarchy (Dante) and progress (Tennyson), respectively.  As for the darker zeitgeist of modernism, marked by relativism and subjectivism, though Lewis did not embody it, he understood it better than many of its most ardent supporters.

In a sense, all of Lewis’s books offer a critique of modernism, but the one that does so with the deepest insight and the greatest prophetic power is The Abolition of Man.  In this brief book, which bears the rather intimidating subtitle of “Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of School.” Lewis predicts (with woeful accuracy) what the outcome will be for a society that trains its youth in accordance with the principles of aesthetic subjectivism and moral and ethical relativism.

At the core of the modern zeitgeist, Lewis locates a refusal to abide by any fixed, transcendent standards of the Good, the True, or the Beautiful.  Everything now is subjective.  The old verities are up for grabs.  No longer do our beliefs point back to a divine law code or an essential, in-built sense of good and evil; they exist only and solely in the eye of the beholder.

Lewis begins his analysis of this deeply-entrenched relativistic zeitgeist by highlighting an elementary textbook that teaches children that the so-called sublimity of a waterfall does not rest in the waterfall itself but in the perceptions of the one looking at it.  Though this distinction may seem unimportant, Lewis shows how such a subjective view of the power of a waterfall leads in time to a subjective view of all judgments of value.

What happened in the 20th century is that we went from relativizing all matters of beauty and sublimity (not only in nature but in the arts as well) to relativizing all matters of right and wrong.  Thus, whereas modern schools revel in scientific facts and sociological statistics, they ridicule “old fashioned” notions of courage, patriotism, and honor.  And yet, ironically, at the very moment we have thrown out traditional values, and the super-natural standards on which they rest, we cry out desperately for the very duty and self-sacrifice that such values make possible.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity,” warns Lewis, “we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

For thousands of years, parents and teachers have ensured the maintenance of civilized life by training their children and students not only to understand and obey the God-given, conscience-approving standards of right and wrong, but to nurture proper feelings vis-à-vis those standards.  Thus, we teach young people to feel an inner sense of pride and self-respect when they perform a virtuous action and an inner sense of shame and disgust when they chose instead the way of vice.

The sign that our society is disintegrating is not to be found in the wildness of teenagers (that has always been with us), but in the fact that when those teens commit immoral actions, they feel neither guilt nor remorse.  Such chest-less young people are the vanguard of a new Dark Age.

A to Z with C.S. Lewis: Y is for Youth

by Lou Markos on July 10, 2013

youthC. S. Lewis dedicated the first of his Narnian fairy tales, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to Lucy Barfield, the daughter of his good friend, Owen.  In the dedication he offers this sage advice: “My dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.  As a result you are probably already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still.  But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Near the end of That Hideous Strength (a novel to which Lewis added the wonderful subtitle, “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups”), the male hero, Mark Studdock, comes within inches of selling his soul to a demon-run secret society with plans to take over the world.  As part of the initiation rite, he is thrown into a lop-sided room which is intended to destroy within him any last vestige of his belief in goodness, truth, and beauty.

Mark almost gives in, but then a still small voice within him rises up and asserts the existence of something normal and right and whole, of which the lop-sided room represents the perversion.  Saved by that sudden illumination, Mark runs for his life.  In his flight, he hides out in a small country hotel, where he rests for a moment in a quiet sitting room.  In the room, Mark notices two shelves filled with bound copies of a periodical known as The Strand.

“In one of these he found a serial children’s story which he had begun to read as a child but abandoned because his tenth birthday came when he was half way through it and he was ashamed to read it after that.  Now, he chased it from volume to volume till he had finished it.  It was good.  The grown-up stories to which, after his tenth birthday, he had turned instead of it, now seemed to him, expect for Sherlock Holmes, to be rubbish.”

Most modern academics who read the above paragraph would criticize, if not ridicule, Lewis for his “puerile sentimentality.”  They would, of course, be wrong to do so.  Lewis was unique in the academia of his day for championing (along with his good friend, J. R. R. Tolkien) children’s literature and fantasy novels as serious genres deserving serious consideration.

Rather than dismiss youthful innocence and joy as immature emotions to be cast off on the road to adulthood, Lewis treasured (as did Jesus!) that child-like view of the world that opens itself to faith and hope and that can discern magic and wonder in even the most mundane of things.

Lewis found nothing wise or mature or even realistic in the cynicism and skepticism of his academic colleagues.  Indeed, because he was not too proud to look for them there, Lewis discovered great insights in Aesop’s Fables, The Wind in the Willows, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and the children’s stories of George MacDonald and E. Nesbitt.

In fact, though it is not well known, we have Lewis and Tolkien to thank for the post-1950’s resurgence of children’s literature and fairy tales.  Both genres, which were strong and healthy during the late Victorian Age, had fallen out of favor in the first half of the 20th century.  The success of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings helped restore the reputation of these discredited genres, thus enabling moderns to draw on their innocent wisdom.

Announcements from Lou Markos

by Lou Markos on July 5, 2013

Dear Friends,

I’d like to share with you some exciting news:


I have just published a new book titled Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition. Here is a quick synopsis of what it covers:

For thousands of years, philosophers, theologians, and poets have tried to pierce through the veil of death to gaze with wonder, fear, and awe on the final and eternal state of the soul. Indeed, the four great epic poets of the Western tradition (Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton) structured their epics in part around a descent into the underworld that is both spiritual and physical, both allegorical and geographical. This book not only considers closely these epic journeys to the “other side,” but explores the chain of influences that connects the poets to such writers as Plato, Cicero, St. John, St. Paul, Bunyan, Blake, and C. S. Lewis. Written in a narrative, “man of letters” style and complete with an annotated bibliography, a timeline, a who’s who, and an extensive glossary of Jewish, Christian, and mythological terms, this user-friendly book will help readers understand how heaven and hell have been depicted for the last 3,000 years.

This book is my follow up to From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (IVP, 2007). It can be purchased through my amazon author page.


The Honors College at Houston Baptist University (for which I’ve taught the Greco-Roman freshman curriculum for the last four years) is about to make an exciting change. We will be moving to an Oxford/Cambridge model in which I will give nine 100 minute lectures per semester on literature-history-philosophy to supplement 4 hours per week of intense Socratic dialogue in classes of 15 or fewer students. I will be giving my lectures on Tuesdays from 4:20-6:00pm. We have chosen that late time to accommodate high schools (especially classical Christian academies) and homeschoolers who would like to sit in on one of my lectures. In the Fall, I will lecture on ancient Greek myth, epic, tragedy, and history with specific lectures on the Iliad and Odyssey; in the Spring, I will lecture on Roman myth, epic and history with specific lectures on the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses.



On Thursday, July 18, at 6:30pm, I will give a talk titled “The Foundation of Rome: The Frescoes of the Capitoline Museum” for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The speech is part of the MFA’s artful Thursday program and is free and open to the public. In the speech I will tell the history of ancient Rome from Aeneas to the Punic Wars, illustrating the stories with slides of Renaissance frescoes housed in the Capitoline museum in Rome.


In the Fall of 2013, I will teach a special class on The Lord of the Rings at HBU. Here is a description:

Although The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are both undergirded by a Christian worldview, the links to Christianity are less clear and direct in Tolkien’s great epic fantasy. In this class we will explore how Tolkien, while reviving the reputation of the fairy tale and sub-creating a medieval-like world that runs by its own codes and values, found a way to integrate his rich creativity and love of language with his deep Catholic faith. We will further discuss how The Lord of the Rings, together with The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, were influenced by Norse mythology, Beowulf, and Tolkien’s friendship with C. S. Lewis.
Because the class will be raising issues of broad and perennial interest, HBU has granted me special permission to open up the class to the wider Houston community. The class will meet every Monday from 4:00-6:30pm from August 26 to December 2; however, there will be no class on September 2 (Labor Day) or October 21 (when I will be giving my midterm).

Sign up for the class at a cost of only $150 (which is 1/3 the normal auditing price).


On Wednesdays, October 2, 9, 16, and 23, 2013, from 7-9pm, I will offer a four-week class on The Iliad for the Rice School of Continuing Education. Register for my class online. (note: the catalog for the Fall is not yet up on the website but should be by August).

Thanks and blessings for the summer,

Lou Markos


A to Z with C.S. Lewis: X is for X-Ray

by Lou Markos on July 3, 2013

Pilgrim's RegressOf all the books that Lewis wrote, the most difficult and obscure must surely be The Pilgrim’s Regress.  In this strange, esoteric allegory of his journey to faith, Lewis introduces us to an everyman character named John who grows up in the legalistic, pharisaical land of Puritania, where everyone wears masks and the people are burdened by laws they cannot follow.

One day, however, John catches a glimpse of a distant island populated by bearded enchanters in a deep state of meditation.  The vision provokes in John a sweet desire for goodness, truth, and beauty, and he sets off on a pilgrimage to find the source of that desire.  Sadly, in seeking out the source of his joy, John continually takes wrong turns and falls off the true path.

As in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, each of the temptations that John faces along the way is allegorized as a person or place.  The difference between Bunyan and Lewis’s versions of the road to faith—and the thing that makes the former infinitely easier to comprehend than the latter—is that whereas Bunyan’s pilgrim faces such spiritual traps as sloth, despair, and vanity, Lewis’s pilgrim faces a score of intellectual dead ends (stoicism, idealism, materialism, aestheticism, scientism, and so forth) that lie outside the experience of the average reader.  Indeed, what makes Lewis’s work particularly challenging is that many of the “isms” he critiques have been abandoned, even by the secular humanists who once championed them.

Generally speaking, John faces two types of dangers—a cold rationalism (identified with the north) that kills joy and desire, and a hot hedonism (identified with the south) that causes joy to sicken and desire to grow perverse.  In his journeys through the north, John is taken into custody by Sigismund Enlightenment, who, in the manner of Sigmund Freud, tries to convince him that his desire for the island is an illusion, an adolescent form of wish fulfillment.

John is then thrown into a dungeon where he must face a giant whose eyes pierce through him like a merciless x-ray machine.  The giant’s eyes, writes Lewis, “had this property, that whatever they looked on became transparent.  Consequently, when John looked round in to the dungeon, he retreated from his fellow prisoners in terror, for the place seemed to be thronged with demons.  A woman was seated near him, but he did not know it was a woman, because, through the face, he saw the skull, and through that the brains and the passage of the nose.”

Lewis shows great insight in comparing the giant to an x-ray, for the enlightenment theories of Freud, Marx, and Darwin have had just that effect on modern man.  Though the writings of these founding fathers of modernism vary widely, they are alike in being, at their core, reductive.  By reducing human love, joy, religion, and art to a product of unconscious urges, or economic forces, or the struggle for survival and reproduction, the theories of Freud, Marx, and Darwin have emptied humanity of its freedom, its dignity, and its purpose.

Meditating on the destructive force of the Enlightenment X-ray, Lewis closes his book, The Abolition of Man, with these prophetic words: “You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To see through all things is the same as not to see.”

The City: Summer 2013

by Benjamin Domenech on June 25, 2013

The Summer 2013 edition of The City has arrived. This week will bring the Supreme Court’s ruling in two major cases concerning the definition of marriage in the United States, and this issue is focused on the challenges to marriage, the post-modern view of sex, and the importance of religious liberty.


Contents include:

Ryan T. Anderson on Twelve Theses About Marriage
Susan McWilliams on the Missing Debate About Marriage
Fred Sanders on Wendell Berry Wavering on Marriage
Paul D. Miller on Sex & Modesty in the Modern World
Andrew Walker on Why Neutrality is Not an Option
A Conversation with Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer and Religious Liberty

In our Books & Culture section, you’ll find pieces by:

John Wilson on Ross MacDonald
Geoffrey Fulkerson on Carl F.H. Henry
Wesley Gant on Purpose & Prosperity
Christopher Hammons on the Forgotten Founder

You’ll also find Louis Markos finishing his run through A-Z with C.S. Lewis, as well as the latest Republic of Letters by Hunter Baker, Poetry by Robert Rehder, and The Word by William Tyndale.

We hope you enjoy the issue!