A few months ago, I read The Divine Comedy for the first time. It was a long, complicated book, but a fascinating read. I understood some of it, but much of it was confusing to me partially because of the way it is written and partially because it references a lot of culture and literature of that time. Because of such, I realized I would need to do some background reading before I could completely understand Dante's masterpiece.
Logically, the Aeneid would be the place to start, since Virgil (author the Aeneid) is the guide of Dante through Hell and Purgatory. However, the Aeneid, to my understanding, is based largely off of Homer's Iliad. In order to fully comprehend the background of the Aeneid, I should read Homer first. That is why I am now listening to the audiobook version of The Iliad. It is an interesting read, uh, listen (but that's a whole other blog post).
Another thing I am reading is Deuteronomy. It is the fifth book of the Bible and is largely a recap of the first four books before it. It tells of how Moses led his people out of Egypt and of Israel's wandering in the wilderness as well as the laws God handed down for the Israelite people. Most people would consider this difficult reading (and I agree). One might be more willing to read the New Testament, as it is more theologically relevant and more interesting. However, in order to truly comprehend the New Testament, one must have background. Just as I need to comprehend Dante's literary background before embarking on the Inferno (and the other two books of the Divine Comedy), I must comprehend Jesus' Jewish background before truly understanding the Gospel he teaches. Context is important, not just the textual context, but the chronological context as well.
I've found this is true in my writing as well. As I look back at what I've written through my lifetime, it is interesting to discover much of what I've created corresponds to what I've read or learned over that time. If I am studying Greek mythology, my novels tend to have dashes of gods and heroes thrown in. If I am studying deep theological issues (such as free will or penal substitution atonement theory) my writing also seems to touch on those topics. In order to to deeply understand my writing, it helps me to look back at what I was going through or thinking about at that time.
What about you? Has learning the context of a story helped you to understand in better? Can you see this same idea working in your creative life? Comment below and tell me about it!