The Preservation of Ancient Studies

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Introduction to Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s History of Classical Scholarship:

“The monuments of ancient literature and art are such as to appeal powerfully to some people in every generation, whatever the prevailing fashion; and so long as historical studies of any kind continue, the history of the world of classical antiquity, the direct ancestor of our own, can hardly suffer a complete neglect. Scholars cannot give up the noble conception of the study of the ancient world as a whole. They must guard perpetually against the danger of dryness, both the dryness that comes from an excessive concentration on technique and the dryness that comes from the adoption of too narrowly historical a standpoint. They do not maintain that the classics offer an ideal pattern for imitation. Nor indeed can the classicists of the Renaissance or the age of Goethe justly be reproached with this; the idea of imitation of an ideal pattern hardly suffices to explain the relation of a Michelangelo or of a Goethe to the ancient artists from whom they drew inspiration. The study of ancient civilization presents us not with patterns to be copied but with working models of possible beliefs and methods, which if intelligently and unsentimentally presented can save us from the provincialism of those who only know their own period. The ancients saw no reason to suppose that human nature was likely to change much, whatever social and historical circumstances might prevail; their art and literature dealt with what is constant rather than what is ephemeral; and that makes their literature, art and history particularly likely to provide experiences that may be useful, together with other experiences, in our own practice. The value of that experience, over and above whatever value may be assigned to the maintenance of the tradition that links us with antiquity, must be held to justify the continuance of these studies, so long as any historical and literary studies are thought to be justified.”

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