Tuesday, May 23, 2023


Consigning Aristophanes to Oblivion

M.L. Clarke, Greek Studies in England 1700-1830 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1945), p. 12:
John Bowdler, father of the famous editor of Shakespeare, objected to the classics on the grounds of their obscenity, and recommended expurgation.1 Defenders of the classical education had their doubts about its moral tendency. Beattie, the Scottish professor and poet, in his Remarks on the Utility of Classical Learning, written in 1769, is in favour of expurgation, and would be quite willing to consign Aristophanes to eternal oblivion.2 Vicesimus Knox, a typical defender of the existing education, regards Lucian, then much read, as a bad influence, and would substitute for him 'Epictetus and the Table of Cebes and all the Socraticae Chartae exhibited by Plato and Xenophon'.3

1 Remarks on Dr Vincent's Defence (1802), pp. 14, 31. There is a strong attack on the obscenity of the classics in Academic Errors, or Recollections of Youth, by a member of the University of Cambridge, 1817—a not uninteresting story of educational folly and sense.

2 Essays (1778), p. 542.

3 Knox, Liberal Education, p. 126. Knox's book, of no permanent value, was widely read in his day. The Table of Cebes, at that time attributed to Socrates's disciple, was regarded with great respect for its moral teaching. 'One of the finest remains of antiquity' (Dalzel, Substance of Lectures, II, p. 324).

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