Sunday, December 23, 2012


The Value of Useless Knowledge

William S. Heckscher, "Erwin Panofsky: A Curriculum Vitae," Reprinted by the Department of Art and Archaeology from the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, volume XXVIII, number 1, 1969, p. 8:
If in retrospect we try to assess the influences, academic and personal, that shaped Erwin Panofsky's mind, I think we must beware of seeing him as a man nurtured by the "great books" or by the works of the "great masters" only. On the contrary, it was the curriculum-shunned texts, often written in a language either intentionally obscure or outright abstruse, that he taught us to appreciate as true supports of our humanistic studies. "Who has read Hisperica famina?" he might ask members of his privatissimum. "Are you familiar with Lycophron's Alexandra? Do you understand the significance of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus? Of Hiob Ludolph's Assyrian studies? Of Kepler's Somnium? And when we shook our heads, he might add, "Gentlemen, you have yet to discover the value of useless knowledge."
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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