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4 The Classical Tradition and Christianity IF EUROPE OWES its political existence to the Roman Empire and its spiritual unity to the Catholic Church, it is indebted for its intellectual culture to a third factor-the Classical Tradition -which is also one of the fundamental elements that have gone to the making of the European unity. It is indeed difficult for us to realise the extent of our debt, for the classical tradition has become so much a part of Western culture that we are no longer fully conscious of its influence on our minds. Throughout European history this tradition has been the constant foundation of Western letters and Western thought. It was first diffused through the West by the cosmopolitan culture of the Roman Empire. It survived the fall of Rome and remained through the Middle Ages as an integral part of the intellectual heritage of the Christian Church, and in the age of the Renaissance it arose with renewed strength to become the inspiration and model of the new European literatures and the basis of all secular education. 152 The Classical Tradition and Christianity 153 Thus for nearly two thousand years Europe had been taught in the same school and by the same masters, so that the schoolboy and undergraduate of the nineteenth century were still reading the same books and conforming their minds to the same standards as their Roman predecessors eighteen hundred years before. It is almost impossible to overrate the cumulative influence of so ancient and continuous a tradition. There is nothing to be compared with it in history except the Confucian tradition in China, and it is curious to reflect that both of them seem finally in danger of coming to an end at the same moment and under the influence of the same forces. But the classical tradition of Europe differs from that of China in one important particular. It is not of indigenous origin, for though it is so closely linked with the Roman tradition Rome was not its creator, but rather the agent by which it was transmitted to the West from its original home in the Hellenic world. The classical tradition is, in fact, nothing else than Hellenism, and perhaps the greatest of all the services that Rome rendered to civilization is to be found in her masterly adaptation of the classical tradition of Hellenism to the needs of the Western mind and the forms of Western speech, so that the Latin language became not only a perfect vehicle for the expression of thought but also an ark which carried the seed of Hellenic culture through the deluge of barbarism. And thus the great classical writers of the first century B.C., above all, Cicero, Virgil , Livy and Horace, have an importance in the history of Europe that far outweights their intrinsic literary value, great as this is, for they are the fathers of the whole Western tradition of literature and the foundations of the edifice of European culture. At the very moment when Rome had succeeded in extending her Empire over the Hellenistic world, the empire of the Greek classical tradition over the Western mind was assured by the Latin literature of the Augustan age, and the influence of Hellenism continued to increase and spread throughout the first two centuries of the Roman Empire. On the one hand, the first and second centuries A.D. witnessed a renaissance of the Hel- I54 Selected Essays lenic tradition in its strictly classical form throughout the Greek world; and on the other, the Latin form of Hellenism, which had already reached its full development in the first century B.C., above all in the work of Cicero, was communicated to the Western provinces and became the foundation of their culture. Classical education was widely diffused throughout the Empire, and not only great cities like Rome and Antioch and Alexandria and Carthage, but provincial towns such as Madaura in Africa, Autun and Bordeaux in Gaul, Cordova in Spain, and Gaza and Berytus in Syria pecame the centres of an intense educational activity. Juvenal writes of the universal mania for education which was extending even to the barbarians:Nunc totus Graias, nostrasque habet orbis Athenas, Gallia causidicos docuit facunda Britannos, De conducendo loquitur jam rhetore Thule.1 This culture was indeed purely literary. Science had little place in it, except at Alexandria. The rhetorical ideal of education , inaugurated by Gorgias and the Sophists of the fifth century B.C. and developed in the schools...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813220420
Related ISBN
9780813209142
MARC Record
OCLC
815969435
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2013-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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