Monday, July 11, 2016


An Age That Has Abandoned Greek

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), "The Means and the Moment," Arion 7.4 (Winter, 1968) 549-557 (at 551-552, discussing Leontius Pilatus' interlinear, Greek and Latin, version of Homer, as studied by Petrarch and Boccaccio):
It is moving to watch the two great Italians struggling with the elements: to see them garnering their small trophies of Greek learning or puzzling over difficulties that, until yesterday, a well-educated schoolboy could have solved for them. Moving, but in the end deeply depressing. For the great structure at which they were laboring, that nearly miraculous recovery of Greek culture which has been among the major intellectual achievements of the last five centuries is, it appears, on the point of being abandoned. The texts they peered at, and many more they did not possess, are all at our immediate disposal, well-printed, with their apparatus, their commentaries, their special lexica, their thickening clusters of learned studies. And fewer and fewer people read them. The knowledge they would have given their eyes for is on the shelves of every college library. And the world does not want it. As one looks at Leontius' laborious versions, one has, even more sharply, the comfortless sense that we are back where we started. For most educated people must now, once again, encounter Homer in a form almost as nerveless and inadequate as the one which Petrarch suffered:
Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.
This, we are repeatedly told, is "Homer for our time." This, after centuries of Greek scholarship, is what Homer has been reduced to. No doubt Lattimore is slightly superior to Leontius, but however one settles the point of precedence the sad fact is that Leontius' crib looks beyond itself to the original (and to the Renaissance) whereas Lattimore's has very much the air of being a terminal case, the Homer of an age that has abandoned Greek.
Id. (at 553-554):
We should be quite clear about what "survival" means. It means that the classics continue to be read—and not merely by a handful of "specialists"—in the original languages. The texts cannot get a real bite on the mind unless they are possessed in Greek and Latin. If it survives only in translation, classical literature can never play more than a marginal or decorative part in our educational system or in our society at large. We will not keep the classics as a living force unless a substantial number of people have them in the original.

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