Tasting the Classics as Poetry

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“In those days a boy on the classical side officially did almost nothing but classics. I think this was wise; the greatest service we can do to education to-day is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life. Smewgy taught us Latin and Greek, but everything else came in incidentally. The books I liked best under his teaching were Horace’s Odes, Aeneid IV, and Euripides’ Bacchae. I had always in one sense ‘liked’ my classical work, but hitherto this had only been the pleasure that everyone feels in mastering a craft. Now I tasted the classics as poetry. Euripides’ picture of Dionysus was closely linked in my mind with the whole mood of Mr. Stephens’ Crock of Gold, which I had lately read for the first time with great excitement. Here was something very different from the Northernness. Pan and Dionysus lacked the cold, piercing appeal of Odin and Frey. A new quality entered my imagination: something Mediterranean and volcanic, the orgiastic drum-beat. Orgiastic, but not, or not strongly, erotic. It was perhaps unconsciously connected with my growing hatred of the public school orthodoxies and conventions, my desire to break and tear it all.”

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