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---- --- - ~ --~- - - -·WHY STUDY THE CLASSICS IN THIS BUSY WORLD? G. M. A. GRUBE T HE study of the ancient Greek and Latin classics is far too often praised somewha,t apologetically merely in terms of the edu· cation of the individual student. Because a Classical education used to be considered1 . in the nineteenth century and before, as the only education for a gentleman-rather like the grand tour of Europeit is still defended or attacked in much the same terms> with only slight changes in terminology. But that, in our different twentieth century, is not enough. Besides, many fine gentlemen never travelled across Europe, and many a fine citizen and community leader today knows no Latin and less Greek. It is not enough to show that the study of the Greek and Roman civilizations provides a good education for the individuaL If we expect modem governments to expend the money, time, and talents required to make Classical studies readily available for those who want to pursue them in the public systems of education, it is necessary to show that Classical studies have definite social value and are necessary to the community as a whole. For without governmental sup-port1 Classical studies will die out or become (perhaps I should say remain) an esoteric possession of the privileged few. That this would be a tragedy I have no doubt, for I am convinced that a widely diffused knowledge of the classical authors is essential to the community, that if the classics are neglected our society will suffer from that neglect. And, li such a belief may seem to some to be expected from a professor of Classics in any case, I can only reply that the more closely I have observed, and participated in, public affairs over the years, the more fum that conviction has become . It has been strengthened in the market-place, not. in the classroom . What is a Classical education? Clearly it is far more than the study of Latin and Greek. That study itse1f is not lacking in educational values, even if, essentially, they are only the to~ls with which to do the job. It is too often forgotten that from -the fall of the preGreek civilization of Crete, around 1400 B.c., to the-fall of Constantinople which brought the Byzantine empire to an end in the fifteenth century A.D. lie three thousand years of European history during the major part of which any civiJization that existed in Europe was Greek 8t 82 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY or Roman, and during all of which Latin and Greek were the only major languages, the only languages through which European culture currently expressed itself. In space, the Greco-Roman civilization (for it was one) extended far beyond Europe; in time, the use of both Latin and Greek contillued long after the fifteenth century. Greek and Latin hold the key to the study of that Western civilization of which we in North America are a part-to the study of its thought, its literature, its art, and its religions. We can appreciate the vast area covered by the classical languages if v/e reflect that Chaucer lived less than six centuries ago. Homer had lived for eight hundred years before Virgil loved and imitated him; the last "classical" Greek poet, Musaeus> came six centuries later. Six hundred years of uninterrupted philosophic study lie between Plato and Plotinus, the founder of nee-Platonism, which became the last bulwark against the onset of Christianity. And Christian thought itself used Latin and Greek exclusively for fifteen centuries. Our debt to Greece and Rome in their more strictly "classical') periods is often recognized, but less attention is g~nerally paid to this obvious fact-no doubt because it is so obvious-that for twentyfive centuries Greek and Latin were the universal languages of Western culture. Can modern man,· by neglecting these languages entlrely, cut himself off from his own history? Can he understand himself by himself ? Many seem to think so, and they generally point to the great scientific achievements of the modem Western world to prove that we live in an entirely different age. Yet that great scientific advance does...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 81-92
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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