restricted access Chapter 15a Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies
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815 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 1 5a Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies What was called the people in the most democratic republics of antiquity hardly resembled what we call the people. In Athens, all citizens took part in public affairs; but there were only twenty thousand citizens out of more than three hundred fifty thousand inhabitants; all the others were slaves and fulfilled most of the functions that today belong to the peopleandeven to the middle classes. So Athens, with its universal suffrage, was, after all, only an aristocratic republic in which all the nobles had an equal right to government. a. 1. That the ancient societies always formed true aristocracies, despite their democratic appearance. 2. That their literature was always in an aristocratic state, because of the rarity of books. 3. That their authors show, in fact, very much in relief the qualities naturaltothose who write in times of aristocracy. 4. That it is therefore very appropriate to study them in democratic times. 5. That does not mean that everyone must be thrown into the study of Greek and Latin. What is good for literature can be inappropriate for social and political needs. In democratic centuries it is important to the interest of individuals and to the security of the State that studies are more industrial than literary. But in these societies there must be schools where one can be nourished by ancient literature. A few (illegible word) universities and literary (illegible word) would do better for that than the multitude of our bad colleges (YTC, CVf, p. 16). 816 study of greek and latin literature You must consider the struggle of the patricians and the plebeians of Rome in the same light and see in it only an internal quarrel between the junior members and the elders of the same family. All belonged in fact to the aristocracy and had its spirit.b It must be noted, moreover, that in all of antiquity books were rare and expensive, and thatitwashighly difficulttoreproducethemandtocirculate them. These circumstances, coming to concentrate in a small number of men the taste and practice of letters, formed like a small literary aristocracy of the elite within a larger political aristocracy. Alsonothingindicates that, among the Greeks and the Romans, letters were ever treated like an industry. So these peoples, who formed not only aristocracies, but who were also very civilized and very free nations, had to give to their literaryproductions the particular vices and special qualities that characterize literature in aristocratic centuries. It is sufficient, in fact, to cast your eyes on the writings that antiquity has left to us to discover that, if writers there sometimes lacked variety and fertility in subjects, boldness, movement and generalization in thought, they always demonstrated an admirable art and care in details; nothing in their works seems done in haste or by chance; everything is b. [In the margin: To put in the preface when I show the difficulty of the subject. New state. Incomplete state.] It is sufficient to read the Vies des hommes illustres of Plutarch to be convinced that antiquity was and always remained profoundly aristocratic in its laws, in its ideas, in its mores [v: opinions], that what was understood by the people of that time does not resemble the people of today, and that the rivalry of plebeians and patricians in Rome compared to what is happening today between the rich and the poor must be considered only as internal quarrels between the elders and the junior members of an aristocracy. [To the side: that even the democracy of Athens never resembled that of America [v: never could give the idea of the democratic republic]. This idea has been introduced in the chapters on literature and is good there] (YTC, CVk, 1, pp. 37–38). In March and April 1838, Tocqueville read Plutarch. In his letters to Beaumont, Corcelle and Royer-Collard, he admits that he finds in Plutarch a grandeur of spirit that pleases him and makes him forget the moral meanness of the time in which he lives. Various parts of the manuscript retain traces of this reading. study of greek and latin literature 817 written for connoisseurs, and the search for ideal beauty is shown constantly . There is no literature that puts more into relief the qualities that are naturally lacking in writers of democracies than that of the ancients. So no literature exists that is more appropriate...