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.”

Gregory the Great Says: “Forget Grammar, Donatus be Damned”

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. 1

“Towards the close of the long letter prefixed to the Moralia, he confesses his contempt for the art of speech, and admits that he is not over-careful in the avoidance of barbarisms or inaccurate uses of prepositions, deeming it ‘ utterly unworthy to keep the language of the Divine Oracles in subjection to the rules of Donatus’; and this principle he applies to his own commentary, as well as to the sacred text. His attitude towards the secular study of Latin literature is well illustrated in the letter to Desiderius, bishop of Vienne. He is almost ashamed to mention the rumour that has reached him, to the effect that the bishop was in the habit of instructing certain persons in grammatical learning. ‘ The praises of Christ cannot be pronounced by the same lips as the praises of Jove’. He hopes to hear that the bishop is not really interested in such trifling subjects. Elsewhere, however, the study of Grammar and the knowledge of the liberal arts are emphatically commended on the ground of the aid they afford in the understanding of the Scriptures; but the genuineness of the work, in which this opinion is expressed is doubtful. Later writers record the tradition that Gregory did his best to suppress the works of Cicero, the charm of whose style diverted young men from the study of the Scriptures’, and that he burnt all the books of Livy which he could find, because they were full of idolatrous superstitions. It was even stated that he set the Palatine Library on fire, lest it should interfere with the study of the Bible, but the sole authority for this is John of Salisbury’ (d. 1 180), and the statement is unworthy of credit. “

Factional Strife and the Road to Servitude

Livy, ab Urbe Condita 1.17:

“The struggle and desire for absolute power was exercising the minds of the senators, but this power was not granted to any individuals, because no one in the new state was greatly preeminent above the others. Therefore, the contest was waged among the classes through factional strife. Those who were born as Sabines, considering that they had not had a share in the throne following the death of Titus Tatius, wished that one of their own would be made king, so that they would not lose hold of power in the ostensibly equal society. The Romans, however, dismissed the idea of a foreign king. Yet, despite all of their varying desires, they wanted universally to be ruled by a king, because they had not yet tasted the sweet fruit of liberty. Fear then seized the senators that the state would lack government, the army would lack a general, and that some external force would threaten them, since so many of the neighboring peoples had been provoked to anger.”

Patrum interim animos certamen regni ac cupido versabat; necdum ad singulos, quia nemo magnopere eminebat in novo populo, pervenerat: factionibus inter ordines certabatur. Oriundi ab Sabinis, ne quia post Tati mortem ab sua parte non erat regnatum in societate aequa possessionem imperii amitterent, sui corporis creari regem volebant: Romani veteres peregrinum regem aspernabantur. In variis voluntatibus regnari tamen omnes volebant, libertatis dulcedine nondum experta. Timor deinde patres incessit ne civitatem sine imperio, exercitum sine duce, multarum circa civitatium inritatis animis, vis aliqua externa adoriretur.

Even the Gods are Slaves to Fate

Palladas (Greek Anthology 9.144)

“I marveled to see the bronze son of Zeus, once in everyone’s prayers, cast aside at a crossroads. I was sorely vexed, and said, ‘Oh three-mooned protector from evil, though you never lost a battle, you now lie prostrate?’ Smiling, the god stood next to me and said, ‘Though I be a god, I have learned my slavery to Fate.’”

Τὸν Διὸς ἐν τριόδοισιν ἐθαύμασα χάλκεον υἷα,
τὸν πρὶν ἐν εὐχωλαῖς, νῦν παραριπτόμενον.
ὀχθήσας δ’ ἄρ’ ἔειπον· „᾿Αλεξίκακε τρισέληνε,
μηδέποθ’ ἡττηθεὶς σήμερον ἐξετάθης;”
νυκτὶ δὲ μειδιόων με θεὸς προσέειπε παραστάς·
„Καιρῷ δουλεύειν καὶ θεὸς ὢν ἔμαθον.”

Homer was a Misogynist

Palladas (Greek Anthology 9.166)

“Homer depicts every woman as dangerous and wicked – the wise maiden and the prostitute both bring destruction. The slaughter of men came from Helen’s adultery, and death resulted from Penelope’s fidelity. The whole work of the Iliad is for the sake of one woman, but Penelope supplied the motive for the Odyssey.”

John William Waterhouse, Penelope and the Suitors

Πᾶσαν ῞Ομηρος ἔδειξε κακὴν σφαλερήν τε γυναῖκα,
σώφρονα καὶ πόρνην ἀμφοτέρας ὄλεθρον.
ἐκ γὰρ τῆς ῾Ελένης μοιχευσαμένης φόνος ἀνδρῶν
καὶ διὰ σωφροσύνην Πηνελόπης θάνατοι.
᾿Ιλιὰς οὖν τὸ πόνημα μιᾶς χάριν ἐστὶ γυναικός,
αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσείῃ Πηνελόπη πρόφασις.

No Etymologies for Monosyllables

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship:

“Plato in the Cratylus had conjectured that πῦρ was an old ‘barbaric’ word, but had attempted to supply a derivation for γῆ. Later etymologists had added γῆ to the list of primary words, and Joannes Mauropus agrees with them, protesting against a contemporary who excluded γῆ from the primary words, and adding that, for monosyllables, we are not bound to discover etymologies.”

A Dull Writer, an Untrustworthy Authority

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. I:

“We learn much about Tzetzes from his own writings; he often complains of his poverty and his misfortunes and of the scanty recognition of his services. He was once reduced to such distress that he found himself compelled to sell all his books, except his Plutarch; and he had bitter feuds with other scholars. His inordinate self-esteem is only exceeded by his extraordinary carelessness. He calls Simonides of Amorgos the son of Amorgos, makes Naxos a town in Euboea, describes Servius Tullius as ‘consul’ and ‘emperor’ of Rome, and confounds the Euphrates with the Nile. He is proud of his rapid pen and his remarkable memory; but his memory often plays him false, and he is, for the most part, dull as a writer and untrustworthy as an authority.”