Not a Plea for Greek

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“I am not going to plead for Greek, even if it were only for the Grecians in this audience; for if there is one thing that a classical scholar cares less to read than another, it is a plea for classical scholarship; if there is one thing that a Grecian would fain be excused from hearing, it is an impassioned oration in behalf of Greek studies. For every classical scholar has himself had to plead for classical scholarship, and every Hellenist has lifted up his voice in behalf of Hellenism. We are aweary of our own arguments, our own illustrations; and only a short time since, being called on for some confirmatory remarks on an orthodox exposition of the value of the Greek language and the Greek literature, I felt stirred to pro-test against the whole thing. If the study is doomed, I said, let it die. Living is the test of vitality, for that is the sum and substance of pragmatism, the latest phase of what I may venture to call truistic philosophy — truistic philosophy to match altruistic ethics, of which one hears so much, which one practices so little. If classical culture has outlived its usefulness; if its teachers are squeaking and gibbering ghosts and not real men, let in the light, turn on the current and have done with it. So I am not to make a speech pro domo, for my house, which is my castle, my fortress. Everybody knows every redoubt, every salient. The gabions are all counted, and the fascines all numbered, and the chevaux de frise all roughshod, and the fosse all flooded with ditchwater eloquence. This then is to be no vindication of Greek as a study. Call it an exemplification of Greek as a study and I will not protest so strenuously, Invidious as It may be to set one’s self up as an example of anything, especially when critics have proved triumphantly that I have not profited by my lifelong studies, and that the chaste reserve of my classic models has not properly regulated my style.”

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