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Jennifer Quinn dismisses the Classics

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http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/16/tragedy-classical-languages-privileged-few-state-schools?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

 

I disagree completely with the following statement where she denigrates the cultural value of the classics "Not, I think, for one of the reasons given by Camden School for Girls on its sixth form website, that “the achievements of the Greeks and Romans have had an enormous influence on nearly every aspect of our own culture”. It is a common argument for the study of classics that the Greeks and Romans are our cultural ancestors, that we carry their legacy, and that understanding our classical roots will somehow help us to understand ourselves. But even if we take “our culture” as narrowly as the traditional cultures of the British Isles, this is a dubious claim. Our languages are Germanic and Celtic, our major religions originate in the Middle East, and our political institutions owe little to those of the city-states of Greece and Rome beyond the empty name of democracy."

 

English may be Germanic in origin, but it is much different now than the languages in the Germanic lowlands. It is much less inflected and has many Norman French words, as well as words from the original Latin

 

Her comment about our religion ignores the fact that Christianity was not only of Hebrew origin, but also integrated many Greco-roman philosophies. For example our conception of the soul came from Socrates

 

She goes on to say that their only value is the language itself as an exercise in critical thinking. Well, I personally don't read Latin or Greek but. I enjoy reading many of the Classics in translation. We can thank Ben Franklin who encouraged translations

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I've been typing up Numerius of Apamea's works the last two nights, as a Neo-Pythagorean, he is a massive influence on Christianity. They even built basilicas that look very similar to Christian churches.

 

St. Bede and Alfred the Great were deeply indebted to the classics, as well as William of Ochkam. I don't actually know of any British philosopher who rejected the classics.

 

However, however bad her presentation ultimately was, I have to agree with part of her ideal. It's important to study a wide range of classics. I've read several Upanishads and Vedantic works, works on statecraft from India, China, and the middle east, and am a strong supporter of reading Arabic and Persian philosophers. This doesn't mean I'm not critical of them, I'm critical of everything, but I go out of my way to learn as much as possible as if every society was my society. That's the Cosmopolitan ideal.

 

I would not recommend decreasing time spent on the classics, but rather a push for greater awareness that other civilizations produced great thinkers worthy of inclusion into our core of study.

 

It's something well near impossible to sell these days, no one is interested in learning new things, we specialize and hide within cubby holes of expertise.

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People are interested in learning new things, as long as they're new. That doesn't mean these areas of knowledge are comprehensive, useful, or even desirable in any sense, but fashion and cultural mindset plays an important part. Look how the government is almost forcing computer studies down youngsters throats these days - most will never usefuly use these devices other than for social media, entertainment, and a few less desirable aims. Very few will enter into IT, a fast moving and intellectually intensive field, and devices in industry can be taught - in my workplace, handheld scanners and their software are used by the dumbest idiots allowed on the premises as a matter of course. The vast majority have never been taught computers at school. I do agree that classical studies can benefit people - but not everyone, and that needs to be understood.

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For completeness' sake, I should point out that English is just one of the languages traditionally spoken in 'Britain'.  The other widely spoken language is Welsh, which stills owes a lot to Latin (or Llattinn, which is no doubt Welsh for Latin - joke.)  The same could be said of Cornish (no longer spoken as a native language) and Scottish Gaelic (rarely spoken as a native language, if ever).  presumably, this is due to the westward displacement of the Roman-influenced Celtic natives by Anglo-Saxon invaders.

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However, however bad her presentation ultimately was, I have to agree with part of her ideal. It's important to study a wide range of classics. I've read several Upanishads and Vedantic works, works on statecraft from India, China, and the middle east, and am a strong supporter of reading Arabic and Persian philosophers. This doesn't mean I'm not critical of them, I'm critical of everything, but I go out of my way to learn as much as possible as if every society was my society. That's the Cosmopolitan ideal.

I would not recommend decreasing time spent on the classics, but rather a push for greater awareness that other civilizations produced great thinkers worthy of inclusion into our core of study

I agree that the Greeks and Romans are not the only people we should recognize, but we are fortunate that we still have so much of their original writings. Other people like the Carthaginians may have had equal cultural significance, but unfortunately we have virtually none of their literature.

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I don't think Carthage did, primarily for two reasons.

 

1) They were a colony, with its mother country still intact and influential, speaking a presumably very similar tongue. In addition, it was a merchant society, and the ocean currents in the Med Sea along North Africa push West to East. It would of been very easy for Carthage to spread its ideas East, influence say, the Gaza or Alexandrian Philosophers, and left a greater literary impact.

 

2) Active populations, in Alexandria, Athens, Pergamum were very open to foreign philosophers and ideas. Very little till late came in, and what did come looked pretty heavily influenced by Greek thought.

 

Sorry. I really do wish it was otherwise. Their Gods were widely worshipped, even in Asia Minor. Just, nobody much cared for their intellectual capacity. Sorta like Thailand, popular religion that makes inroads around the world, but people don't exactly come running to Thailand anytime an international crisis occurs and great foresight in planning and leadership is needed. They aren't known for this. Doesn't mean they exist in a void, but relative to some other countries they are definitely hurting in this category. But I doubt either Carthage or Thailand could care less, as its not their focus.

Edited by Onasander

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Came across this thread while looking for something else.

 

Some points which the critic of the classics seems to have missed ... firstly, they remain hugely influential today. Two hundred years ago the second most popular book in North America was Plutarch's Lives. (The first was the Bible). This is one reason why the US constitution bears more than a passing resemblance to the Roman Republic.

 

Secondly, the classics contain archetypes, from the flawed hero (Achilles) to the femme fatale (Medea) who resound through modern literature and TV programmes today.

 

Thirdly, early modern literature was hugely influenced by the Classics - think of Ulysses who was the subject of works by Joyce and Tennyson. Even works by writers such as Kipling, which show no direct influence, have the cadences of Cicero and Vergil as these were uviversally taught and used as models.

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