Monday, November 01, 2021


The Classics

Ezra Pound, Literary Essays (New York: New Directions, 1954), pp. 239-240:
Beside the fustian tradition, the tradition of cliché phrases, copies of Greek and Latin clause structure and phrase structure, two causes have removed the classics from us. On one hand we have ceased to read Greek with the aid of Latin cribs, and Latin is the only language into which any great amount of Greek can be in a lively fashion set over; secondly, there is no discrimination in classical studies. The student is told that all the classics are excellent and that it is a crime to think about what he reads. There is no use pretending that these literatures are read as literature. An apostolic succession of school teachers has become the medium of distribution.

The critical faculty is discouraged, the poets are made an exercise, a means of teaching the language. Even in this there is a great deal of buncome. It is much better that a man should use a crib, and know the content of his authors than that he should be able to recite all the rules in Allen and Greenough's Grammar. Even the teaching by rules is largely a hoax. The Latin had certain case feelings. For the genitive he felt source, for the dative indirect action upon, for the accusative direct action upon, for the ablative all other peripheric sensation, i.e. it is less definitely or directly the source than the genitive, it is contributory circumstance; lump the locative with it, and one might call it the 'circumstantial'. Where it and the dative have the same form, we may conclude that there was simply a general indirect case.

The humanizing influence of the classics depends more on a wide knowledge, a reading knowledge, than on an ability to write exercises in Latin; it is ridiculous to pretend that a reading knowledge need imply more than a general intelligence of the minutiae of grammar. I am not assuming the position of those who objected to Erasmus's 'tittle-tattles',1 but there is a sane order of importance.

When the classics were a new beauty and ecstasy people cared a damn sight more about the meaning of the authors, and a damn sight less about their grammar and philology.

1 Greek accents.
Id., p. 241:
[I]t is perhaps important that the classics should be humanly, rather than philologically taught, even in class-rooms. A barbaric age given over to education agitates for their exclusion and desuetude. Education is an onanism of the soul. Philology will be ascribed to De la Sade.

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