Monday, May 30, 2016


A World of Its Own

David Grene (1913-2002), Of Farming & Classics: A Memoir (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 74:
But the most remarkable feature of classical training in my time was its obdurately philological character. This was much less so in France and Germany, where university professors paid much more than lip service to the content of Greek and Latin literature. Within such a specific context, our Irish professors certainly concerned themselves almost exclusively with the verbal and stylistic aspects of the languages studied (and the same was, as far as I can find out, largely true in England). In their publications these same interests took precedence. A few of these teachers and professors, I suppose, were a kind of barbarian, but not most of them. They felt that classics in itself was something quite different from literature, philosophy, or history. It was a study of a world of its own. In fact, I recently saw this very phrase in a speech by Professor Tom Mitchell, the present provost of Trinity College Dublin. The greater philologists of the old order penetrated deeper than most scholars with the power of an imagination awakened by an endless attention to, and absorption of, the minutest aspects of words of well-known texts in Greek and Latin. These classical texts are not exactly like those in modern languages, where contemporary usage is continually revising and rendering more exact our knowledge of the words, and where there is always more literature coming into existence to modify one's understanding of what has already been read. The Greek and Latin classics, frozen in expression, are beyond further contemporary modification.
Id., p. 75:
Nowadays, there is a distinct effort to see the classical projection as a field for comparative studies in anthropology or linguistic disciplines. But the period of classical studies between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries knew nothing of all this. Their attitude truly was toward a kind of liturgy, and liturgies achieve their effects by being learned (by heart if necessary) and forcing themselves into the obscurer parts of the mind and emotions. As a result, in the devotion, love, and veneration of the actual words of the texts, something has come alive in the culture of the West that cannot, I think, be put totally to sleep or lost.
Id., pp. 75-76:
I am one of the last living products of the older training. There are times when I feel that was fortunate for me because I was a late developer, and I doubt that in my early twenties I could have effectively dealt with the challenge to passion and mind in those classical texts—all the matters that I now press on my American students' attention. I was perhaps better served by the relentless Talmudism of my teachers, as far as my future career went, than I would have been by what now appears to be a much more enlightened approach. At the end of eight years in school and four more undergraduate years in college, I had come to know rather well, even if in a peculiar and some people would say distorted fashion, the languages and the texts of Greek and Latin literature.

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