Presidential Advice: Keep Up With Latin and Greek!

Letter From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 6 October 1820:

“Your letter of the 28th came to hand yesterday, and, as I suppose you are now about leaving Richmond for Columbia, this letter will be addressed to the latter place. I consider you as having made such proficiency in Latin & Greek that on your arrival at Columbia you may at once commence the study of the sciences: and as you may well attend two professors at once, I advise you to enter immediately with those of Mathematics & Chemistry. after these go on to Astronomy, Natl philosophy, Natl history & Botany. I say nothing of Mineralogy or Geology, because I presume they will be comprehended in the Chemical course. nor shall I say any thing of other branches of science, but that you should lose no time on them until the accomplishment of those above named, before which time we shall have opportunities of further advising together. I hope you will be permitted to enter at once into a course of mathematics, which will itself take up all that is useful in Euclid, and that you will not be required to go formally thro’ the usual books of that Geometer. that would be a waste of time which you have not to spare, and if you cannot enter the Mathematical school without it, do not enter it at all, but engage in the others sciences above mentioned. Your Latin & Greek should be kept up assiduously by reading at spare hours: and, discontinuing the desultory reading of the schools. I would advise you to undertake a regular course of history & poetry in both languages, in Greek, go first thro’ the Cyropaedia, and then read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenies & Anabasis, Arrian’s Alexander, & Plutarch’s lives,, for prose reading: Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, Euripides, Sophocles in poetry, & Demosthenes in Oratory; alternating prose & verse as most agreeable to yourself. in Latin read Livy, Caesar, Sallust Tacitus, Cicero’s Philosophies, and some of his Orations, in prose; and Virgil, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Horace, Terence & Juvenal for poetry. After all these, you will find still many of secondary grade to employ future years, and especially those of old age and retirement.”

4 thoughts on “Presidential Advice: Keep Up With Latin and Greek!

  1. This is the same president who kept slaves, and wrote another letter to the same correspondent describing minute detail how many “crossings” are necessary to render a person of African descent white. So what if he stresses the study of Latin and Greek: that was the dominant educational paradigm of the time and it excluded people of color. Thomas Jefferson’s own son by his slave Sally Hemings helped in the design and construction of the University of Virginia…an institution that he could NOT attend because of his race and which remained segregated until the 1950’s. For your information, I am a Black woman and a classics professor so don’t tell me Classics isn’t racist.

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  2. This is the same president who kept slaves, and wrote another letter to the same correspondent describing minute detail how many “crossings” are necessary to render a person of African descent white. So what if he stresses the study of Latin and Greek: that was the dominant educational paradigm of the time and it excluded people of color. Thomas Jefferson’s own son by his slave Sally Hemings helped in the design and construction of the University of Virginia…an institution that he could NOT attend because of his race and which remained segregated until the 1950’s. For your information, I am a Black woman and a classics professor so don’t tell me Classics isn’t racist.

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