December 7, 2007 1 Comment
From Scott Lahti:
Parts of the essay below from Monday’s New York Times on the civic and cultural virtues of learning Latin, by English journalist Harry Mount (son of Ferdinand Mount, novelist of manners and former editor, 1991–2003, of The Times Literary Supplement) —
But what they gain is a glimpse into the past that provides a fuller, richer view of the present. Know Latin and you discern the Roman layer that lies beneath the skin of the Western world. And you open up 500 years of Western literature (plus an additional thousand years of Latin prose and poetry) …
With a little Roman history and Latin under your belt, you end up seeing more everywhere, not only in literature and language, but in the classical roots of Federal architecture; the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe and, in turn, America; and in the American system of senatorial government. The novelist Alan Hollinghurst describes people who know history’s turning points as being able to look at the world as a sequence of rooms: Greece gives way to Rome, Rome to the Byzantine Empire, to the Renaissance, to the British Empire, to America….
We may admit, I presume, the disciplinary value of these studies, since that has never been seriously disputed, so far as I know, but we may say a word, perhaps, about their formative character. The literatures of Greece and Rome comprise the longest and fullest continuous record available to us, of what the human mind has been busy about in practically every department of spiritual and social activity — every department, I think, except one: music. This record covers twenty-five hundred consecutive years of the human mind’s operations in poetry, drama, law, agriculture, philosophy, architecture, natural history, philology, rhetoric, astronomy, politics, medicine, theology, geography, everything. Hence the mind that has attentively canvassed this record is not only a disciplined mind but an experienced mind — a mind that instinctively views any contemporary phenomenon from the vantage point of an immensely long perspective attained through this profound and weighty experience of the human spirit’s operations. If I may paraphrase the words of Emerson, this discipline brings us into the feeling of an immense longevity, and maintains us in it. You may perceive at once, I think, how different would be the view of contemporary men and things, how different the appraisal of them, the scale of values employed in their measurement, on the part of one who has undergone this discipline and on the part of one who has not. These studies, then, in a word, were regarded as formative because they are maturing, because they powerfully inculcate the views of life and the demands on life that are appropriate to maturity and that are indeed the specific marks, the outward and visible signs, of the inward and spiritual grace of maturity. And now we are in a position to observe that the establishment of these views and the direction of these demands is what is traditionally meant, and what we citizens of the republic of letters now mean, by the word "education"; and the constant aim at inculcation of these views and demands is what we know under the name of the Great Tradition of our republic.