Monday, August 15, 2011


A Little Classics Is a Dangerous Thing

L.J.D. Richardson, "A Little Classics Is a Dangerous Thing," Greece & Rome 16 (1947) 41:
It is a strange fact that, despite the spread of education and the great number of cultural vade meca in the hands of the public nowadays, there should still be found so many ignorami among the hoi polloi. Too often you will hear people saying 'octopuses' when they should, of course, have said 'octopi': and we fear that to use the forms 'platypi' and 'rhinoceri' is only to incur the reproach of pedantry. The times are out of joint: we worship at the shrine of universal education, but this ideal is the very antipode of the actual fact. Slipshod and inaccurate utterance pervades every strata of society. In particular, exactness and precision in classical quotation, instead of being regarded as the desideratae and, we may almost say. the necessary sine quae non of polite intercourse, are only laughed at as ridiculous refinements. Cui bono?, 'for what good?', is the false standard applied to mere elegancies of style. If faults are noticed at all, they are dismissed as trivial lapsi linguae.

How is this lamentable situation to be improved? The classical teacher is, no doubt, partially responsible; he can plead no alibum in the matter. But he can effect little improvement by himself. He is no dictator, whose cujus is mightier than any quorum of democratic committeemen. We, the enlightened, must therefore band ourselves together and form a militant Society for Purer Latin. We must begin at Jerusalem and purge ourselves first. Let us pay our own final adieux to those errors and say, each and all of us, our several valia to inelegant solecisms. It is by such effort, in speech as in all else, that men attain perfection—sic euntur ad astra! Then, when we have won through to our own satisfaction and can express our mutual paces vobisca, we can turn our attention to others, our pupils. We shall now be in a strong position. We cannot be told that our arguments are vitiated by a fallacy, that our quod erat demonstranda involve too many non sequuntur: we cannot even be told that our campaign represents a policy of perfections, of unattainable ne plus ultrae. We, the primi mobilia, shall have proved the case in our own persons. Our next duty, then, will be to supply the hiati and lacunata in the cultural armoury of those whom we teach or influence. This is best done by directing their constant attention to the great writers of the past. Let them, ever bearing in mind the proverb de mortuis nil nisi bonum, 'nothing but good has come from us from the dead', model themselves on those great exemplars, and try, however imperfectly, to become their facsimilia.

Two familiar quotations from Ovid will express, with admirable succinctness, the moral of my brief homily:
in medio tutissimus ... Ibis
omnia suspendens ... Naso.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?