The Classroom: A Tale of Failure

Of all the English words freighted with odium and disgust, there are few as appalling as administration. How many times does it rankle upon the ear in a given day? “Tenure lines have been reduced as we have increased pay for administration.” “Today, the Trump administration announced…” “Sorry kids, you can no longer learn Latin because of insufficient support from administration.”

As a concept, administration had undergone a meaningful shift even in the Roman world. Though the word administrare in its most literal sense meant “to attend upon/serve”, it came to possess the more general figurative meaning “to govern”. But why wax so etymological on the concept of administration? Dear reader, it is because administration serves simply as a metonym for all of the pernicious trends in American education today.

If I told you that this is all really about Latin, you might ask “Who cares about Latin anymore?” Given its antiquity, one might be surprised to learn that, of all people, kids care about it. But for all of that, kids are regularly told not to study Latin, just as they are regularly advised not to do anything else (like art or music) which they might genuinely enjoy. Enrichment is out, and enrichment is in, and Latin is seen as a less than ideal path to the realm of top-hats and monocles. But you already knew that, so I will put it to you straight: my Latin program is dead.

Dead in the way that Latin is. It will survive for a while longer as I engage in a losing battle to prop up its etiolated and sickly corpse by arguing for its relevance, its importance, its glory. Yet I made all of those arguments for it when it was still in the full and vigorous bloom of youth (read: administrative support), and still it was destroyed by the strength-sapping plague of indifference.

Like many Latin teachers around the country, I am the only Latin teacher at my school, and manage a program which requires five separate preps every day. (All teachers at my school are responsible for six classes, but typically two preps, e.g. three periods each of English I and English III; only Latin, French, and German have so many individual preps, as the lingo goes.) This is ideal for those who don’t much care for team planning, but it is a substantial amount of extra preparatory work for each school day, and it can become taxing to remember just where each class is in the curriculum on any given day. But the greatest emotional toll is taken in the form of having to keep the program alive by endlessly prostituting yourself. A teacher of a core subject can bestride the narrow classroom with an air of cold indifference to students’ interests, needs, or engagement in the sure knowledge that their subject will still be offered in the following year. Marginalized subjects, however, are in practice expendable subjects. Because students need only take two years of a foreign language in Texas (and because this requirement can now be satisfied by two years of middle school Spanish), language programs are cursed with the twin problems of low enrollment and high attrition. So every year I put on a grand show to attract new students to Latin I, make my classes as engaging as possible, assign no homework while offering endless opportunities for extra credit, and never fail a student. And yet…

This year, my Latin students are better than ever, and they are true believers. A solid 30% of them are diehard JCL fans, and we have gotten 2nd place at the state JCL convention for two years in a row. The program is relatively small, but administration gets notes from parents about how much Latin has meant to their children. In response, my Latin classes will be gutted next year from six to three, and I will be given three classes of English to keep me busy. The reason cited for this reduction is the paltry enrollment numbers for next year, and those can be attributed to the machinations of the school counselors.

Counselors do not like Latin because it is harder to schedule students in a class with only one or two sections; moreover, they regularly advise students not to take Latin beyond the second year, in the interest of blasting through all of their required courses (Health and Speech? What the fuck is that? I regularly remind my students that any class which they give to a football coach is not an actual class, but a gilded sinecure masquerading as legitimate work to justify that coaching salary plus stipend.) as soon as possible. And so, very few students enrolled for Latin next year, and even many of my own students drank the poisonous cocktail which the counselors offered them.

As I argued in a post last week, people do not actually think that antiquity is irrelevant to contemporary affairs, and Latin still has substantial cache as a status symbol. Latin did not suddenly become less relevant to students over the past year. Rather, the demise of the program is reflective of a much broader problem with the nation’s divestment from public education. Confronted with the looming threat of one of Ayn Rand’s old masturbatory fantasies – privatization of education at the hands of profit-thirsty CEOs – the leaders in public education have decided to change the terms of the contest by entirely ceding actual education to charter schools. Superintendents have doubled down on the most singularly ineffective response to the crisis, and turned schools into a bizarre hyper-capitalist fantasy land. They are technology showrooms for the unsuspecting but easily-indoctrinated young consumer who now grows up with a Google ecosystem as part of “the classroom”; they are social media playgrounds in which both teachers and students can develop their brands; they are athletic organizations (with all of the concomitant merchandising) which happen to accidentally engage at times in some pro-forma education. Much of real early education is not sexy and exciting: it involves a bit of book work and ass-to-chair time. Public school superintendents have embraced a customer-service model which is dependent upon advertising, but this advertising comes through abandoning real learning for the sake of gimmicks which are readily shared on social media. Who would share a photo of kids reading or writing? But give them some Nerf swords and take a picture of them “re-enacting the French Revolution”, and you’ll earn yourself teacher of the month.

Perhaps this all reads like the bitterness of a man who has failed: failed to adapt, failed to inspire, failed to make a difference. Lack of administrative support is a hard current to swim against; budget cuts are a wholly inexorable force; and the decay wrought by the ravages of time awaits us in every part of our lives. Now that half of my time will be spent teaching English, I cannot imagine what I can do to revive the Latin program when even my most concerted full-time effort could not overcome the hostility gradually wearing it away in a system more and more poised to reject everything most important in human life for the sake of a few extra dollars. We expend a lot of energy thinking about the reform of Classics education at the university, but all of that is really for naught if we do not cultivate the enthusiasm of the small but extremely diverse and ultra-committed bunch in our high school classrooms. I used to be proud of my district as one of the strongest bastions for Latin education among Texas’ public high schools, but as support has been increasingly withdrawn from our programs around the district, I cannot help but think that Latin really will become once again the preserve only of the elite private and charter schools. This is but one defeat among many others, but we cannot cede the field, lest our children learn that the last place to expect an education is in one of our public schools.


What Makes us More Human, Hearing or Seeing?

Aristotle, 437a On Sense and Sensible Objects

“Of the senses, sight is more important for necessities and on its own, but for the mind and for indirect reasons, hearing is more important. For, while the power of sight introduces many differences of every kind because of the fact that all bodies have color of some sort and as a result we perceive things which are common through this sense (And by “common” I mean aspects of shape, size, movement and number), hearing only informs us about difference of sound, and to minor differences in creatures’ voices.

But, indirectly, hearing is most important for understanding. For speech is responsible for learning when it is heard. But it is not this way on its own but indirectly. For it is comprised of words, and and each word is a symbol. As a result, when people are deprived of one of the senses from birth, the blind are wiser than the deaf and mute.”

Αὐτῶν δὲ τούτων πρὸς μὲν τὰ ἀναγκαῖα κρείττων ἡ ὄψις καὶ καθ᾿ αὑτήν, πρὸς δὲ νοῦν καὶ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἡ ἀκοή. διαφορὰς μὲν γὰρ πολλὰς εἰσαγγέλλει καὶ παντοδαπὰς ἡ τῆς ὄψεως δύναμις διὰ τὸ πάντα τὰ σώματα μετέχειν χρώματος, ὥστε καὶ τὰ κοινὰ διὰ ταύτης αἰσθάνεσθαι μάλιστα (λέγω δὲ κοινὰ σχῆμα, μέγεθος, κίνησιν, ἀριθμόν)· ἡ δ᾿ ἀκοὴ τὰς τοῦ ψόφου διαφορὰς μόνον, ὀλίγοις δὲ καὶ τὰς τῆς φωνῆς. κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς δὲ πρὸς φρόνησιν ἡ ἀκοὴ πλεῖστον συμβάλλεται μέρος. ὁ γὰρ λόγος αἴτιός ἐστι τῆς μαθήσεως ἀκουστὸς ὤν, οὐ καθ᾿ αὑτὸν ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκός· ἐξ ὀνομάτων γὰρ σύγκειται, τῶν δ᾿ ὀνομάτων ἕκαστον σύμβολόν ἐστιν. διόπερ φρονιμώτεροι τῶν ἐκ γενετῆς ἐστερημένων εἰσὶν ἑκατέρας τῆς αἰσθήσεως οἱ τυφλοὶ τῶν ἐνεῶν καὶ κωφῶν.

Human ear complaining to Nature from the Spiegel der Weisheit manuscript (Salzburg, 1430). <em></dt><dd class=

Reprioritizing and Reallocating: Tulsa’s Cuts to the Humanities

“Education, however, is like the most good and noble companions who stay by your side right up to death”

 τῆς δὲ παιδείας καθάπερ οἱ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μέχρι θανάτου παραμενούσης –Iamblichus

A twitter correspondent reached out to me to let me know about a series of cuts planned at the University of Tulsa. The major education news sites have not reported on this yet (although the philosophy blog The Daily Nous has a write-up). In the Arts, the theater degrees are done and gone as well are a bunch of music performance majors; under the ax from the Division of Humanities: A History MA, minors in Greek, Classics, Russian, Latin and Linguistics; the BA in Philosophy, the BA in Religion. Vocational programs are not spared: from education, the program in Deaf Education has been axed. Also cut are legal programs for Native Americans (connected to the region and the school’s historical founding as a Presbyterian school for young women of the Creek Nation).

Now, the webpage insists that faculty members were consulted during this process and that no tenure-track faculty will be eliminated. As someone who has seen similar processes contemplated at a public University, such a guarantee is blithe misdirection: many of these programs were likely taught by contract and contingent faculty; faculty lines will likely not be replaced as people retire.

We also need to talk about this: Tulsa is a private university with an endowment of over a billion dollars as of 2017. I know little of the school’s internal finances, but this is not a crisis like others. (Although, I would imagine the opening of a new college of Health Sciences in 2016 and the continued operation of a law school has strained the finances. Here is an excellent thread mentioning some of the bad financial decisions which were made over the past decade). Politically motivated elected officials have not demanded the school make these cuts; financial exigency caused by lower contributions from the state or federal coffers has not made these cuts necessary. No, a Board of Trustees populated almost entirely by CEOs and lawyers has decided to re-brand the school as a “STEM University”.

What kind of arrogant and ignorant twaddle is this from a leader of an educational institution! To imagine that the sciences and the humanities can function effectively without one another is to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the history of ideas or the way that intellectual inquiry actually proceeds. I would suggest for this board and this provost a nice moral tale like Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I fear they would not have the patience to finish it.

To put it kindly, this is a heist. This is a surgical and intentional reshaping of a private University into a vocational school for business and industry. Beyond the crass, soul-crushing love of profit behind this move, there is a deeper peril: these subjects are domains that are critically misunderstood in modern political discourse. How many of our recent discussions are mere repetitions of madness with no historical memory? How impoverished is our public understanding of religions (domestic and ‘foreign’)? Given recent events, can anyone claim that an ignorance of Russian language and history has no peril? And Philosophy? Who needs to think about what it means to be a human being when we are so stoked to invest all our money in making bigger more beautiful toys and pumping up that quarterly revenue?

“Greed considers what it wants not what is right”

Quod vult cupiditas cogitat, non quod decet  –Publilius Syrus

Note, I have not yet spoken of the elimination of the Classics program. The Majors seem safe, while the Minors are being cut. Now, I would suggest that cutting Minors is not, well, a minor thing. It forces students to choose, deprives them of a good option, and narrows the credentials and experience a program can offer students without actually achieving any real savings. The elimination of a Minor is a first step in undermining and delegitimizing a major. Ok, simply put: there is no financial reason to eliminate minors. This is about curtailing student options.

Attacking the Liberal Arts and centering the studies we call the Classics as ‘useless’ is by now a typical polemical trope. As Erik argued recently, this is a class-oriented attack from those who have access to this kind of education against those who don’t. And, as I suggested last year, such an attack is our capitalism on steroids quashing the only disciplines capable of mounting a successful critique of its own self-heralded manifest destiny as the only system which can bring human beings “freedom”, “happiness” and “efficiency”.

The closing of Liberal Arts programs and the Classics at some Universities and not others is one small component of the immense cultural machine re-establishing an intellectual caste system. These closings communicate and reinforce the idea that ‘these subjects’ are only for people who can afford it. In a country where class and race are braided together in an oppressive rope, the closing of programs at some schools and not others is a reassertion of a racist hegemony.

Public institutions are facing these cuts all the time. The storied and successful classics program at the University of Vermont (where both my siblings are alumni and my sister majored in Classics) has been threatened with poorly justified cuts (There is a petition opposing this). But this is not just happening at secular institutions: the Jesuit affiliated Wheeling has published plans to cut most of its liberal arts staff. This is not a new playbook. One of the alleged reasons President Teresa Sullivan was forced out from UVA in 2012 was her resistance to the Board of Visitors’ plans to eliminate the departments of German and Classics.

This is in part connected to the specious and insidious long-term attack on non-vocational and non-Stem higher education; and it is also a feature of a strange blend of American cultural imperialism (who needs to learn to speak other languages when dollars are in English) and nativist isolationism (press 1 for English; press 2 for English; press 3 to vote for Trump and for English).

But it is also not just a Republican problem (even though Republican-led legislatures in a majority of states have gutted public funding for education over the past few decades): from 2013-2016 over 651 language programs were closed at the collegiate level. The passage of No Child Left Behind, which codified and made permanent the stripping of content and critical thinking from pre-collegiate education, was bipartisan. And President Obama supported problematic initiatives like the common core and a higher education ‘Scorecard’ which included an unsurprising albeit depressing emphasis on employment outcomes.

“The examination of words is the beginning of education.”

ἀρχὴ παιδεύσεως ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπίσκεψις -Antisthenes


This is a problem of values, our sense of what our community is beyond the transactional, and who we think counts as a human being. Just look at the cowardly bureaucratic language of Tulsa’s infographic: “These changes are about reprioritizing and reallocating our resources to support those programs with the greatest demand”. Here is the patronizing and prevaricating justification: “The PPRC simply acknowledged and acted upon what our students have been trying to tell us for years. In most cases, our students have already voted with their feet.”

This is the full metempsychosis of higher education into a consumer model but without a deep understanding of the cultural and economic trends that influence student choice. Or, the way that institutions have learned to guide student feet away from student majors from (1) the way they recruit, (2) the way they promote themselves, (3) the way they orientate their students, and (4) they way they advise them.

 “Socrates, when asked what is sweetest in life, said “education, virtue, and the investigation of the unknown”

Σωκράτης ὁ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἥδιστον ἐν τῷ βίῳ εἶπε· „παιδεία καὶ ἀρετὴ καὶ ἱστορία τῶν ἀγνοουμένων”. GnomVat


There’s still some hope out there: after a year of struggle, the decision to close a large swathe of Liberal Arts programs at the University of Wisconsin Stevens point has been reversed. I don’t know how much protest matters, but I know it does. When a Dean at Brandeis University, where I work, tried to close the Department of Classical Studies and eliminate Greek altogether, faculty stood together in revolt and opposed that decision. But that worked at Brandeis because faculty governance matters here; a majority of faculty members still have the protection of tenure; and we were facing a manufactured controversy instead of an actual one.

But sometimes the voices of faculty go unheard. Sometimes they don’t have the freedom to speak because they fear for their contracts.  So, in what is now proving to be a regular act, let’s support the students and faculty at Tulsa who have been thrust into this madness without asking for it. Sense, argument, and emotional appeals don’t seem to move administrations much anymore. But sometimes noise still does.

“You must learn as long as you are ignorant, if we may trust the proverb, as long as you live”

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas –Seneca

Here is a good thread about it:


Spartans Abroad: Rape and No Accountability

Another poorly named “erotic story” from Plutarch

Plutarch, Love Stories 3

“A poor man named Skadasos used to live in Leuktra (which is a village in the land of the Thespians). He had two daughters who were named Hippo and Milêtia or, as some say, Thenô and Euksippê. Skedasos was a good man and solicitous of strangers, even though he did not have much. When two Spartan youths came to him, he welcomed them happily. Although they were lusting after the maidens, they were hindered from bold action by the good character of the father. On the next day, they went to Delphi. The same road laid before them.

So, after they got an oracle from the god about which they were in need, they returned homeward again, traveling through Boiotia and returning to the home of Skedasos. But he did not happen to be in Leuktra at the time. Still, the daughters welcomed the strangers in the family’s usual manner. But when the youths found them alone, they raped the girls. When they noticed that the girls were taking the offense pretty badly, they killed them and rid themselves of the burden by throwing the bodies in a well.

When Skedasos returned and did not see his daughters, he discovered that everything else he left behind was safe. He was at a loss over the affair until a certain dog kept pawing at him and often ran up to him and from him back to the well. From this he figured it out, and he raised his daughters’ corpses up from the well. Once he learned from his neighbors that they had seen those Spartans on the previous day and returning again on the next one, he attributed the deed to them because they were constantly praising the girls on the earlier day and counting as blessed the men they would marry.

He went to Sparta in order to take his case to the Ephors. When he was near Argos, because night overtook him, he stayed in an inn. There was another old man in the same inn who was from the city of Oreus in the region of Hestiaia. After Skedasos heard him groaning and cursing the Spartans, he asked him what evil he had suffered at their hands. He explained that he was a Spartan subject and that after Aristodemos was sent to Oreus as a governor, he proved himself to be very cruel and lawless.

He explained, “He lusted after my son. When he couldn’t persuade him, he attempted to rape him and abduct him from the wrestling school. Because the teacher was preventing him and there were many young men helping, Aristodemos retreated out of necessity. But on the following day, he outfitted a trireme, kidnapped the boy and sailed to the opposite shore where he was trying to rape the boy. He killed him because he was fighting back. After returned, he threw a dinner party.” The old man continued, “Once I learned of what happened and took care of the body, I went to Sparta and met with the Ephors. But they showed this no concern.”

Hearing these things, Skedasos lost heart because he was imagining that the Spartans would ignore his case as well. But he did explain his own misfortune to the stranger in turn. The man was advising him not to meet with the Ephors but just to return to Boiotia and build a tomb for his daughters. Skedasos, nevertheless, was not persuaded, but he went to Sparta to meet with the Ephors. When they did not pay attention, he went to the kings and then went up and wept before each of the citizens. When he gained nothing else, he was rushing through the city raising his hands to the sun. Then he was striking his fists on the ground and calling on the Furies. Finally, he killed himself.”

Ἀνὴρ πένης Σκέδασος τοὔνομα κατῴκει Λεῦκτρα· ἔστι δὲ κώμιον τῆς τῶν Θεσπιέων χώρας. τούτῳ θυγατέρες γίνονται δύο· ἐκαλοῦντο δ᾿ Ἱππὼ καὶ Μιλητία, ἤ, ὥς τινες, Θεανὼ καὶ Εὐξίππη. ἦν δὲ χρηστὸς ὁ Σκέδασος καὶ τοῖς ξένοις ἐπιτήδειος, καίπερ οὐ πολλὰ κεκτημένος. ἀφικομένους οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν δύο Σπαρτιάτας νεανίας ὑπεδέξατο προθύμως· οἱ δὲ τῶν παρθένων ἡττώμενοι διεκωλύοντο πρὸς τὴν τόλμαν ὑπὸ τῆς τοῦ κεδάσου χρηστότητος. τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ Πυθώδε ἀπῄεσαν· αὕτη γὰρ αὐτοῖς προύκειτο ἡ ὁδός· καὶ τῷ θεῷ χρησάμενοι περὶ ὧν ἐδέοντο, πάλιν ἐπανῄεσαν οἴκαδε, καὶ χωροῦντες διὰ τῆς Βοιωτίας ἐπέστησαν πάλιν τῇ τοῦ Σκεδάσου οἰκίᾳ. ὁ δ᾿ ἐτύγχανεν οὐκ ἐπιδημῶν τοῖς Λεύκτροις, ἀλλ᾿ αἱ θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ ὑπὸ τῆς συνήθους ἀγωγῆς τοὺς ξένους ὑπεδέξαντο. οἱ δὲ καταλαβόντες ἐρήμους τὰς κόρας βιάζονται· ὁρῶντες δ᾿ αὐτὰς καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν τῇ ὕβρει χαλεπαινούσας ἀπέκτειναν, καὶ ἐμβαλόντες ἔς τι φρέαρ ἀπηλλάγησαν. ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ ὁ Σκέδασος τὰς μὲν κόρας οὐχ ἑώρα, πάντα δὲ τὰ καταλειφθέντα εὑρίσκει σῷα καὶ τῷ πράγματι ἠπόρει, ἕως τῆς κυνὸς κνυζωμένης καὶ πολλάκις μὲν προστρεχούσης πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀπὸ δ᾿ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ φρέαρ ἐπανιούσης, εἴκασεν ὅπερ ἦν, καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων τὰ νεκρὰ οὕτως ἀνιμήσατο. πυθόμενος δὲ παρὰ τῶν γειτόνων, ὅτι ἴδοιεν τῇ χθὲς ἡμέρᾳ τοὺς καὶ πρῴην καταχθέντας ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους εἰσιόντας, συνεβάλετο τὴν πρᾶξιν ἐκείνων, ὅτι καὶ πρῴην συνεχῶς ἐπῄνουν τὰς κόρας, μακαρίζοντες τοὺς γαμήσοντας.

Ἀπῄει εἰς Λακεδαίμονα, τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντευξόμενος· γενόμενος δ᾿ ἐν τῇ Ἀργολικῇ, νυκτὸς καταλαμβανούσης, εἰς πανδοκεῖόν τι κατήχθη· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ καὶ πρεσβύτης τις ἕτερος τὸ γένος ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ πόλεως τῆς Ἑστιαιάτιδος· οὗ στενάξαντος καὶ κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ἀρὰς ποιουμένου ἀκούσας ὁ Σκέδασος ἐπυνθάνετο τί κακὸν ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων πεπονθὼς εἴη. ὁ δὲ διηγεῖτο, ὡς ὑπήκοος μέν ἐστι τῆς Σπάρτης, πεμφθεὶς δ᾿ εἰς Ὠρεὸν Ἀριστόδημος ἁρμοστὴς παρὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ὠμότητα καὶ παρανομίαν ἐπιδείξαιτο πολλήν. “ἐρασθεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ παιδός, ἐπειδὴ πείθειν ἀδύνατος ἦν, ἐπεχείρει βιάσασθαι καὶ ἀπάγειν αὐτὸν τῆς παλαίστρας· κωλύοντος δὲ τοῦ παιδοτρίβου καὶ νεανίσκων πολλῶν ἐκβοηθούντων, παραχρῆμα ὁ Ἀριστόδημος ἀπεχώρησε· τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ πληρώσας τριήρη συνήρπασε τὸ μειράκιον, καὶ ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ διαπλεύσας εἰς τὴν περαίαν ἐπεχείρει ὑβρίσαι, οὐ συγχωροῦντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν.  ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Ὠρεὸν εὐωχεῖτο. ἐγὼ δ᾿,” ἔφη, “τὸ πραχθὲν πυθόμενος καὶ τὸ σῶμα κηδεύσας παρεγενόμην εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην καὶ τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐνετύγχανον· οἱ δὲ λόγον οὐκ ἐποιοῦντο.” Σκέδασος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούων ἀθύμως διέκειτο, ὑπολαμβάνων ὅτι οὐδ᾿ αὐτοῦ λόγον τινὰ ποιήσονται οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται· ἐν μέρει τε τὴν οἰκείαν διηγήσατο συμφορὰν τῷ ξένῳ· ὁ δὲ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν μηδ᾿ ἐντυχεῖν τοῖς ἐφόροις, ἀλλ᾿ ὑποστρέψαντα εἰς τὴν Βοιωτίαν κτίσαι τῶν θυγατέρων τὸν τάφον. οὐκ ἐπείθετο δ᾿ ὅμως ὁ Σκέδασος, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην ἀφικόμενος τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντυγχάνει· ὧν μηδὲν προσεχόντων, ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλέας ἵεται καὶ ἀπὸ τούτων ἑκάστῳ τῶν δημοτῶν προσιὼν ὠδύρετο. μηδὲν δὲ πλέον ἀνύων ἔθει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως, ἀνατείνων πρὸς ἥλιον τὼ χεῖρε, αὖθις δὲ τὴν γῆν τύπτων ἀνεκαλεῖτο τὰς Ἐρινύας καὶ τέλος αὑτὸν τοῦ ζῆν μετέστησεν.

Spartan warrior as depicted on a Greek red-figured vase, c. 480 bc. The Granger Collection, New Yor

Classics Beyond the Caprice of Time

John Buchan, Memory Hold-the-Door:

“I acquired a bitter detestation of war, less for its horrors than for its boredom and futility, and a contempt for its panache. To speak of glory seemed a horrid impiety. That was perhaps why I could not open Homer. I found that I could read very little, and that many things which used to charm me seemed meaningless, since they belonged to a dead world. My reading was chiefly in the Latin and Greek classics, which were beyond the caprice of time. I read and re-read Thucydides, for he also had lived among crumbling institutions; Virgil, for he had known both the cruelty and the mercy of life; Plato, above all, for he was seraphically free from the pettinesses which were at the root of our sorrows.”

“I hear You’re a Lover of Learning”: An Unlikely Letter to a Leader

Isocrates, Letter to Alexander, 5

“I hear everyone saying how you are a man of goodwill to humanity and lover of learning, not foolishly so, but in practical fashion. For they add that you welcome some of our citizens who have not neglected themselves by pursuing base interests but those in whose presence you would not feel any grief by staying and whose alliance and shared goals would bring you neither harm nor injustice. Indeed, these are the sorts of men wise people should choose to be near.

When it comes to schools of philosophy, people report that you do not despise the practice of eristic argumentation, which you think is right to value in individual conversations, you do think that it is not proper for those in charge of many people or those who rule in monarchies. For, it is not advantageous or proper for those who think that they are greater than others to strive with politicians on their own or to allow others to disagree with them.

I hear that you do not take pleasure in this training, but instead have selected for yourself education about arguments which you might use in response to events which transpire on any given day and which help us us make plans about common affairs. Through this, it is possible to form an appropriate opinion about what will happen in the future and to give commands competently to the people you rule as to what is best for each person to do, you will learn how to make good judgments about what is right and just and opposite to both. In addition, you will learn when to honor and criticize as is fitting for each group.

You are wise, then, in showing concern for these things. For you provide hope to your father and the rest that, as you get older if you persist in these studies, you will outpace others as far in prudence as your father has surpassed all people [in war].”


Ἀκούω δέ σε πάντων λεγόντων ὡς φιλάνθρωπος εἶ καὶ φιλαθήναιος καὶ φιλόσοφος, οὐκ ἀφρόνως ἀλλὰ νοῦν ἐχόντως. τῶν τε γὰρ πολιτῶν ἀποδέχεσθαί σε τῶν ἡμετέρων οὐ τοὺς ἠμεληκότας αὑτῶν καὶ πονηρῶν πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμοῦντας, ἀλλ᾿ οἷς συνδιατρίβων τ᾿ οὐκ ἂν λυπηθείης, συμβάλλων τε καὶ κοινωνῶν πραγμάτων οὐδὲν ἂν βλαβείης οὐδ᾿ ἀδικηθείης, οἵοις περ χρὴ πλησιάζειν τοὺς εὖ φρονοῦντας· τῶν τε φιλοσοφιῶν οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζειν μὲν οὐδὲ τὴν περὶ τὰς ἔριδας, ἀλλὰ νομίζειν εἶναι πλεονεκτικὴν ἐν ταῖς ἰδίαις διατριβαῖς, οὐ μὴν ἁρμόττειν οὔτε τοῖς τοῦ πλήθους προεστῶσιν οὔτε τοῖς τὰς μοναρχίας ἔχουσιν· οὐδὲ γὰρ συμφέρον οὐδὲ πρέπον ἐστὶ τοῖς μεῖζον τῶν ἄλλων φρονοῦσιν οὔτ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐρίζειν πρὸς τοὺς συμπολιτευομένους οὔτε τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐπιτρέπειν πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἀντιλέγειν.

Ταύτην μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἀγαπᾶν σε τὴν διατριβήν, προαιρεῖσθαι δὲ τὴν παιδείαν τὴν περὶ τοὺς λόγους, οἷς χρώμεθα περὶ τὰς πράξεις τὰς προσπιπτούσας καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ μεθ᾿ ὧν βουλευόμεθα περὶ τῶν κοινῶν· δι᾿ ἣν νῦν τε δοξάζειν περὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπιεικῶς, τοῖς τ᾿ ἀρχομένοις προστάττειν οὐκ ἀνοήτως ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἑκάστους, ἐπιστήσει, περὶ δὲ τῶν καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ τῶν τούτοις ἐναντίων ὀρθῶς κρίνειν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τιμᾶν τε καὶ κολάζειν ὡς προσῆκόν ἐστιν ἑκατέρους. σωφρονεῖς οὖν νῦν ταῦτα μελετῶν· ἐλπίδας γὰρ τῷ τε πατρὶ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις παρέχεις, ὡς, ἂν πρεσβύτερος γενόμενος ἐμμείνῃς τούτοις, τοσοῦτον προέξεις τῇ φρονήσει τῶν ἄλλων, ὅσον περ ὁ πατήρ σου διενήνοχεν ἁπάντων

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Classics to the Rescue!

Compton Mackenzie, Sinister Street:

“If some louts in the Modern Fourth dared to push them from side to side, as they went by, Michael and Alan would begin to fight and would shout, ‘You stinking Modern beasts! Classics to the rescue!’ To their rescue would pour the heroes of the Upper Fourth A. Down went the Modern textbooks of Chemistry and Physics, and ignominiously were they hacked along the corridor. Doubled up by a swinging blow from a bag stood the leader of the Moderns, grunting and gasping in his windless agony. Back to the serenity of Virgilian airs went the Upper Fourth A, with Michael and Alan arm in arm amid their escort, and most dejectedly did the Modern cads gather up their scientific textbooks; but during the ‘quarter’ great was the battle waged on the ‘gravel’–that haunt of thumb-biting, acrimonious and uneasy factions. Michael and Alan were not yet troubled with the fevers of adolescence. They were cool and clear and joyous as the mountain torrent: for them life was a crystal of laughter, many-faceted to adventure.”

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