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The Classic Texan – April 21, 753 B.C. and A.D. 1836

All classicists know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the founding of Rome.  According to legend, Romulus founded Rome after being driven into exile from a cruel uncle, deprived of his rightful place as heir in that kingdom.  Romulus becomes the first king of Rome, a small village of ruffians that would become a golden republic and later an empire.

All Texans know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. This was the final battle in the fight for Texas Independence from Mexico and the forces lead by a cruel dictator Santa Anna.  Sam Houston came to Texas through his own exile of sorts, driven from a prominent career path as the governor of Tennessee, a favorite of Andrew Jackson, and a potential heir to the Jacksonian Democracy settled in the White House.  Sam Houston became the president of Texas, a rough territory that would become a sovereign republic before agreeing to annexation for statehood within the United States of America. As for empire, well the story of Texas isn’t over yet.

These may seem like loose connections to some readers of this blog, but the story of Sam Houston and his work for Texas has numerous ties to the Classics.  Did you know . . .

  • Sam Houston would often run off from school to join the nearby Cherokee village. He most enjoyed spending his afternoons under a shade tree by the river reading his favorite book The Iliad.
  • Throughout the Texas Campaign Sam Houston kept two books in his horse’s satchel: a Bible and a copy of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.
  • During the Texas Campaign Sam Houston imitated battle strategies used by Fabius Maximus in the Second Punic War (also used by George Washington in the Revolutionary War). The plan was to draw the enemy out on long marches, far from home, to stretch their munitions and supplies, and weary them with small short raids.  Then, choose battle only when best suited for your side.
  • Sam Houston’s wife Margaret was a Latin scholar in her own right and taught all of their children Latin at home.

Several years ago I read through The Raven, a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Sam Houston.  I could hardly put this book down. Although a sixth generation Texan, a graduate of the University of Texas, and a former Texas History teacher, there were many facets to this giant man that I had never known. His tale is truly that of a modern Odysseus or Aeneas beset with a torment that forces him from his home and sends him wandering through the wild west.  Eventually, Providence would guide him to Texas where his destiny and that of the land he came to love became forever inextricably linked.  The author Marquis James writes this work within just two generations of Houston’s own life and was able to talk to the sons of men who knew the reality of this legendary figure.  His writing is compelling and betrays the mind of one who is trained in the classics.  I found this book to be such a valuable read that as the Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Grace Academy of Georgetown I included it in the U.S. History course as part of a unit on Texas History. It has become a favorite of teachers and students at our school. I truly cannot recommend this work highly enough.  Those who love the history and culture of the Lone Star State will really enjoy this book, but those who love the imprint of the classics will absolutely love it.



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