Only Blockheads Would Ban Poetry

Leonardo Bruni, de Studiis et Litteris (§26)

“I would readily ask of one of those who persecute the poets, ‘For what reason do you think that the poets should not be read?’ Though they plainly have nothing which they could impute to them, they will nevertheless say that it is because love and debauchery can be found in their poetry. Yet, I would dare to affirm that in no authors could such examples of modesty and good things more generally be found than in the poets. Consider the most faithful chastity of Penelope for Ulysses, and the unbelievable virtue which Aclestis showed for Admetus, and the admirable constancy which each showed toward their husbands in their absences and calamities. Many of these sorts of things can be read in the poets – the greatest documents of wifely discipline.

If occasionally the poets describe loves like that of Apollo for Daphne, or the affair of Vulcan and Venus, who is so obtuse that he would not understand that these are fictions which represent one thing metaphorically for another? Further, there are very few things which you condemn, but there are very many which are of the highest quality and at any rate certainly worth reading, as I have above shown in my discussion of Homer and Vergil. It is unjust in the extreme to forget those things which deserve true praise while remembering those which offer up a handle for reproach.

A severe critic says to me, ‘Don’t let those things get mixed up! I would sooner abandon the good from fear of evil than I would run into evil from hope for the good. Therefore, I will not read the poets, nor will I permit others to do so.’ But hey, Plato and Aristotle themselves read poetry!”

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The Difference of A Year: Some Links to Classicists Fighting the Good Fight Online

As Classicists we like to focus on the long view of history and to see ourselves in the deeper and stronger currents of time. But if we are honest, we know that we are equally, if not more, shaped by the eddies of our own day and its current events.

The increase in publicly pronounced and tolerated–if not also valorized–racism over the past few years has been shocking to many, although perhaps not to our friends and family who have faced bigotry their entire lives. The most recent year especially has seen a casualization of the rhetoric and political action of the far right in a way I once thought impossible.

Media outlets feed on the extreme voices because they don’t know how to report the news in the modern world. They have a vested financial interest in observing if not perpetuating the controversy. As a result, voices that spew ignorance and hate get more notice than they merit and they can do more harm in causing trauma to those who are marginalized already and, as part of their design, attracting the ignorant, insane or hopeless to their ideas.

When we started this blog, I never imagined I would spend so much time arguing with Nazis online or writing about politics. Last year, following events in Charlottesville, we did both: defending writing about Classics and politics, dismissing charges of political correctness as a tone policing act of the status quo, defending the humanities against conservative attacks, and, recently, arguing that the voices that reject literary theory are also those who align with conservative viewpoints.

Part of this has come from responding to current events, but it has also been inspired by hate speech directed our way. Last year, a week after the Charlottesville event, we received a comment accusing us of supporting “white genocide” or being a “Jewish supremacist”. The antisemitic harassment online has been fairly consistent since; as has a struggle over what it means to be a Classicist.

If we have responded haphazardly and sometimes reactively, we have also been inspired by dozens of other who are doing braver and more rigorous work to question the boundaries of our discipline, the voices within it, and its historical meanings. So, today, if you are feeling shocked or sick at media coverage, take a break and look at the critical work being done by the Classics Community online.

The work of these students, scholars and friends has been inspiring, edifying, and comforting over the past year.

 

Sarah Teets’ fine piece in Eidolon, Classical Slavery and Jeffersonian Racism

Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s talk on White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship or “On nationalisms Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity” or On Genetics and Ancient Greeks, or on “Blood & Soil”

Pretty much everything Pharos and Curtis Dozier has done over the past year

John Bracey’s exploration of “Why Students of Color Don’t take Latin

Dan-El Padilla Peralta’s “The Colorblind Bard” discussion

Denise Eileen McCoskey’s post on Racist Use of DNA in work on Classical Antiquity

Brandeis Student Helen Wong’s reflections on being a student of color studying classics

Yung In Chae’s “White People Explain Classics to Us

Sarah Bond’s analysis of the Modern Romance with Sparta

The fine work of Sportula to raise microgrants for students pursuing Classical Studies

The work of Classics and Social Justice

Daniel Walden’s “Dismantling the West”

Podcasts from The Endless Knot and Scott Lepisto’s Itinera, which tells the stories of a diverse range of classicists

The public advocacy of Matthew Sears against hatred and ignorance

Mathura Umachandran’s analysis of Fragility in Classics (and, today is as good a day as any to read Robin DiAngelo’s article that defines and explains white fragility).

A little  outside of Classics, but still important, many posts from Everyday Orientalism

Image result for GIF punching nazi

Image result for indiana jones punching nazi GIF

 

Needing Commentary

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

“Against those who think that it is reserved for the well-educated alone to make sense of and understand the words of Thucydides, I am able to say this, that they take the part of the work which is necessary and beneficial to all (indeed, nothing could be more necessary or beneficial) away from common life by thus making it the province of a few men, as happens in oligarchic and tyrannical states. One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

Πρὸς μὲν οὖν τοὺς οἰομένους μόνων εἶναι τῶν εὐπαιδεύτων ἀναγνῶναί τε καὶ συνεἷναι τὴν Θουκυδίδου διάλεκτον ταῦτα λέγειν ἔχω, ὅτι τὸ τοῦ πράγματος ἀναγκαῖόν τε καὶ χρήσιμον ἅπασιν (οὐδὲν γὰρ <ἂν> ἀναγκαιότερον γένοιτο οὐδὲ πολυωφελέστερον) ἀναιροῦσιν ἐκ τοῦ κοινοῦ βίου, ὀλίγων παντάπασιν ἀνθρώπων οὕτω ποιοῦντες, ὥςπερ ἐν ταῖς ὀλιγαρχουμέναις ἢ τυραννουμέναις πόλεσιν· εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια.

Frederic Harrison, Rede Lecture (1900):

“The peculiar, indispensable service of Byzantine literature was the  preservation of the language, philology, and archaeology of Greece. It is  impossible to see how our knowledge of ancient literature or civilisation could have been recovered if Constantinople had not nursed through the early Middle Ages the vast accumulations of Greek learning in the schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Asia Minor ; if Photius, Suidas, Eustathius, Tzetzes, and the Scholiasts had not poured out their lexicons, anecdotes, and commentaries ; if the Corpus Scriptorum historiae Byzantinae had never been compiled; if indefatigable copyists had not toiled in multiplying the texts of ancient Greece. Pedantic, dull, blundering as they are too often, they are indispensable. We pick precious truths and knowledge out of their garrulities and stupidities, for they preserve what otherwise would have been lost for ever. It is no paradox that their very merit to us is that they were never either original or brilliant. Their genius, indeed, would have been our loss. Dunces and pedants as they were, they servilely repeated the words of the immortals. Had they not done so, the immortals would have died long ago .”

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. “

For the history of Philology this cultural interplay is especially important–the Ancient Near East and Greece have been influencing each other as long as the concepts of these places has existed. And even if Diogenes Laertius wants to deny it, Greek exceptionalism, if it is really a thing, developed because of its connection and communication with Mesopotamia, Egypt and more.

Classics and Theory: A Monday Rant

This is a slightly adapted and expanded edition of my #classicsandtheoryrant from twitter

One of the things I love about social media is that it has allowed me to connect with people who love the Classics and know a lot about it all over the world. Some of these people have ‘credentials’ and experiences similar to mine, but many do not. Across the board, I try to ignore these conventional markers of intellectual authority on twitter etc. and just listen to what people say. And, really, I have learned a lot.

But one thing that has been increasingly frustrating  over the past year is a small but insistent chorus of voices who insist that Classics is being ruined by “post-modern theory”. Generally, these voices come from outside the traditional academy or from more conventional corners within them. But most often they represent ‘threatened constituents’ of the modern world–by which I mean people who also object to ‘diversity’, ‘political correctness’ and a whole bunch of buzzwords and phrases that are popular media shorthand for a world that is not dominated by traditional, male, Eurocentric perspectives. (And, you know, white supremacists. This does not mean that all anti-theory people are white supremacists, so, dude, chill.)

This is in part frustrating because I thought we were past this. I know this is naïve and I know that Classics is way behind other disciplines in the aggregate when it comes to using critical theory, but we have long had a small and influential group of people pushing our field to respond to the modern world and engage with new ideas.

But it is also infuriating because it attests to an essential fragility (also, read this if the term is upsetting). Is our confidence in the way we have received the past so shaky that it can brook no challenge? Often, the knee-jerk or even committed aversion to theory is really a desire to exclude others. I almost respect those supremacists more because they at least admit it. (But let me be clear, I really, really don’t like ethnonationalists and white supremacists.)

Engagement with theory is critical because it acknowledges that as interpreters we are subjects who are shaped by our experiences and the narratives and discourse through which culture shapes us based on our gender, sexual identity, race, (dis)abilities, age, etc. Our bodies are not instruments we drive through the world, they are part of us and mediate our experience of everything. The world treats us differently based on the bodies we inhabit. These two facts shape the way we respond to everything.

Acknowledging the primacy of subjectivity is only one part of modern theory which is dismissed. I won’t even bother listing all of the theoretical approaches that have helped us understand the ancient world better. It is a type of retrograde derangement not to use new tools to look at old things. Imagine if people were railing against the use of spectral imaging in archaeology or the application of new chemical testing or any one of a range of technologies that have developed over the past generation. We would all be incredulous.

Many of the same people, however, who champion what aDNA testing might tell us about ancient peoples, also deny the validity of applying new tests to ancient literature and culture which have been developed in respectable fields like anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, English, sociology, and others. The reason for this is clear: the process tells different stories about the past than many of us were raised with. This is uncomfortable.

If art does not make us uncomfortable or question the past at all, then it is merely entertainment. Scholarship that merely repeats or reinforces what we already know is essentially masturbatory.

The argument over who gets to interpret the past and how is political. “Post-modern” is a catch-all phrase for many different approaches which are dismissed by conservative traditionalists. This argument raged through the field in the 1980s as Eric Adler documents well.  There was another major flare up with the Who Killed Homer? nonsense. I think we might have missed a renewal of these complaints in the late 2000s because of the severe economic downturn.

But this debate is all about power: The power to interpret and possess meaning; The power to have meaning in the world; The power to be a full and equal subject in a flawed society. Such striving has been going on since some literary theorists had the gall to imagine that texts were more than pristine aesthetic objects with timeless secrets for the properly initiated to unlock.

I have a few simple points to make in closing. The first is that scholarship is not a zero-sum game. Applying new theoretical frames does not wipe out the old ones or render them useless. If we apply the analogy of biodiversity to ideas, then the more voices and ideas we can explore within a productive system, the more variety and understanding we can get out of it. This is destined to be chaotic and painful, but it is creative and exciting.

New ideas build upon older ones. Some gain purchase for more than a few years become part of the tradition. Some ideas are as Glaukos says like leaves on the tree which grow for a brief time and then wither and die. Others somehow become evergreen, in the moment we cannot know. We can argue for what we believe and push back against other ideas—but we need to acknowledge that sometimes our need to push back against other ideas is driven by a desire to exclude people not the ideas.

A second point which is by no means original is that you can love something and see that it might be bad for something or need to change. E.g. chocolate cake is delicious, but it can kill you. Cigarettes are delightful, but they will give you cancer. Anything made by humans is imperfect because we are not perfect. Saying the Homeric epics are misogynistic or using Marxist theory to show how they (re-)produce structural oppression does not erase their beauty or their impact. Instead, it shows that their beauty may also have a harmful impact. It helps us understand how they work and how we work as human communities.

And if you cannot love something flawed, you simply cannot love. Let go of the Platonic nonsense of perfection in the mind of a distant god. Real, human love embraces the ways in which we are flawed and celebrates that despite the horror, baseness, and temporariness which is our inheritance, we are still capable of beauty.

A third point is also not original: all methods of interpretation are ideological and have a theory. If the theory is not explicit, that does not mean it is not there. It means it is naïve and unquestioned. Philology is a means not an end. We classicists are trained in philology so we don’t make basic mistakes and we can distinguish good arguments from bad ones. But we are at a point in the production of knowledge that no one can learn everything which is required to understand the ancient world. We need to work together. We need polymathy and polyphony.

The practice of classics as developed in Europe around the enlightenment is ideologically connected to a particular time, a set of bodies and languages, and a cultural apparatus distinct from ancient Greece and Rome. The ‘Classics’ created by the Renaissance and Enlightenment is not coterminous with the beliefs, practices, and texts of actual Greece and Rome. In a way, to emulate a 19th century German classicist in everything is little different from strapping on some leather armor and LARPing at a Renaissance Faire. Both are fun and can require a lot of expertise. But both are still play-acting.

It is not ‘authentic’ or ‘correct’ to treat ancient texts in this way any more or less than it was authentic and correct for Plotinus and Porphyry to say the Odyssey is an elaborate allegory for the mind.

All reading is reception. All interpretation is ideological. Being explicit about our ideological receptions helps us communicate better with each other and through the generations.

When we allow new perspectives and viewpoints, we enrich our reception of the past. Some of this enrichment might turn out be misleading or start out as bewildering; indeed, it might be only temporarily insightful. But striving to make new sense of the old, to try to surpass those who have already labored, is better than sucking on the marrow of corpses and wallowing in mute ash.

Миниатюры.: philologist

f. 305v. The Fouquet Missal. Bourges, c.1470-1475

Seneca Moral Epistle 108

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

The Humanities: Aristotle in the Sheets, but Xenophon on the Streets

Another essay on the Crisis of the Humanities*

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

“Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant, Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

Frank Bruni of the New York Times wrote a thing riffing on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s rather weak think piece proposing asking whether or not certain majors should and could be saved. In the midst of dismissing the proposals that would combine some conventional majors with newer skills, Bruni writes. “And I worry that there’s a false promise being made.” False promise? The commentary that follows fails both to put the history of the university and the liberal arts into any kind of context and to consider what cultural forces there are that have created this crisis in the first place.

I had three or four acquaintances email me this article during the day Sunday. I started tweeting about it and began from the “false promise”. Here’s an expansion on those comments.

The problem at the center of Bruni’s argument is the false premise that education is for work. Or, deeper, that work and employment are the way we should value human lives.

At its core, the liberal arts are the subjects deemed by ancient authors like Seneca to be “worthy of a free person”. For ancient Romans and Greeks, this meant grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy (and sometimes other subjects as well). During the middle ages, these subjects were split into groups of three and four: the quadrivium (artes reales: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) followed the trivium (artes sermocinales: grammar, logic and rhetoric). And the development of these systems go back farther to Plato and Pre-socratic philosophers. (To be fair, Plato was only interested in certain kinds of people having the full education.)

These seven subjects were seen as the necessary preparation for work in philosophy or theology. And they were also considered separate from the practical arts (which include medicine and architecture). These frameworks of learning were not about employment–the studia humanitatis was about creating a flourishing mind, about creating a path or framework for wisdom (or what we today might consider enlightenment.)

“Chance, and occasionally choice, assigns a country to a person; but each person must attain the good arts and virtue for himself; and these things ought to be chosen far ahead of all others which can be attained by human effort. For riches, glory, and pleasures are fleeting, and perish; but the practice and reward of virtue remains sound and eternal.”

casus, nonnumquam electio, dat homini patriam; bonas autem artes atque ipsam virtutem sibi ipsi unusquisque comparat, quae quidem prae omnibus quae possunt ab hominibus studio quaeri exoptanda est. Nam opes, gloria, voluptates, fluxae res sunt et caducae; habitus autem fructusque virtutum perstat integer atque aeternus manet. Pier Paolo Vergerio’s De ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis

Who gets to have a liberal arts education? Who is free? Through most of history this enlightenment has been available to a precious small number of people–the rich, the male, the aristocratic, and in the West, the race group in power. During the 20th century and following industrialization, another promise emerged: our increased productivity as a nation would allow many others to pursue an education to put them on this path.

One of the great rhetorical tricks of the 20th century politics is the lie that campuses–and those evil professors–corrupted generations of students with their liberal ideas. This is and was hogwash. While most professors are center-left and there are a few genuine radicals in our midst, most of us are from comfortable backgrounds and are too institutionalized by the time we get in the classroom to pose any serious threat.

The radicalization came from students from different classes and different parts of the country coming together and having a break from the drudgery of a life of work to talk to others, to learn from them, to study the past and the present and to have time to think about what life is for.

The multiple crises in education are in part manufactured to keep subsequent generations from this opportunity. As my friend Joe Goodkin mentioned in twitter, this ‘crisis’ and conversation as articulated by Bruni is at the outset problematic because it is a crisis that has been manufactured in certain states and institutions by legislation and divestment from public education. Wisconsin and Illinois, where some of his examples come from, have seen some of the worst excesses of ideological intervention in higher education.

In much the same way, parents today put overwhelming pressure on their students to study something which ‘has bread.’

Emi ergo nunc puero aliquot libra rubricata, quia volo illum ad domusionem aliquid de iure gustare. Habet haec res panem. Petronius Sat. 46

But the fact is that schools are seeing lower enrollments this year and some of the bedrock programs in the humanities—English and History—have seen steadily dropping enrollments over the past decade. I won’t claim that this is not because students aren’t interested in these subjects—I cannot read minds—but I do suspect that constant attacks on the humanities by politicians and employers accompanied by a rise in the net cost of education (increasing tuition plus flat-lining incomes) are to blame.

And, money still makes the world go around: we do not pay teachers of the humanities well at any level, but we have been eliminating their positions at terrible rates. Student interest in these subjects is curbed by parental anxiety about their cost. Educations are investments that expect future returns in clear and projectable financial rubrics.

“Almost eighty years ago, in their joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the AAUP and AAC&U emphasized that “institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good” and that “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” The free search for truth and its free exposition in the liberal arts are essential components of a functioning democracy. ” Joint AACU-AAUP Statement on the Value of Liberal Educiation

But the humanities did not cause this crisis. Theory did not kill the humanities. Full stop. When we make arguments like Bruni’s, however, we are preparing to wave the white flag. In all this hand-wringing over the cost of college, skills for employers, etc, little is said about the pernicious devaluing of human existence through the commodification of all existence. Erik has already written an great essay on the instrumental use of antiquity.

I do not want to leave the impression that the rising cost of college is acceptable. There is something funny that happens when educators try to talk about the cost of education. Because we are paid by the very institutions that charge too much, we are complicit in an overpriced system and this makes us hypocrites unqualified to speak on the topic. We did not create this system. We are not enriched by this system. The vast majority of people who teach college classes struggle to pay their bills. And the system is run with different ends in mind: corporate branding, millions spent on athletic programs that fail to bring in money, rising administrative salaries, a push to publish over teaching–the problems are manifold and interconnected but, I dare say, money and status connects them all.

“Those who have spoken Latin and have used it correctly do not give the word humanitas the meaning which it commonly acquires, one equivalent to Greek philanthropia, indicating a certain kindly disposition and well-wishing toward all men indiscriminately. No, in correct use, humanitas means what the Greeks call paideia, what we have called education and training in the noble arts—these are the arts through which, when men learn them, they become most humanized.”

Qui verba Latina fecerunt quique his probe usi sunt, “humanitatem” non id esse voluerunt, quod volgus existimat quodque a Graecis philanthropia dicitur et significat dexteritatem quandam benivolentiamque erga omnis homines promiscam, sed “humanitatem” appellaverunt id propemodum, quod Graeci paideian vocant, nos eruditionem institutionemque in bonas artis dicimus. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.17

The problem is that education has been conceptually transferred from a public good back to a luxury item. The divestment in education has paralleled the collapsing of our commitment to social welfare. And, I suspect, this is a legacy of a backlash against civil rights and greater diversity and inclusion: think only of the rise of the anti-tax, anti-welfare centrists in the 1980s. The result of this will be an incremental return to the notion and the reality that the higher order intellectual pursuits are only for certain people.

The influence of race on our public divestment should not be ignored, but what I want to focus on here is the dehumanization of everyone that has occurred at the same time. Here is where Bruni’s argument and those like it miss the mark most severely. The entire conversation reduces the value of human beings to their salary potential. Our worth can only be communicated in respect to how we can serve corporations. And I don’t want you to think I mean a symbolic dehumanization. Our educational system is helping to support the creation of a new aristocracy. We are in the process of offering most new students a mere technical education for modern wage-servitude. Art and literature? These are for the leisure class.

“When he saw a massive parade of gold and silver carried about, Socrates said: “How much there is I do not desire!”

Socrates, in pompa cum magnavis auri argentique ferretur: Quam multa non desidero! inquit.  Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, 5.91

So here is where we need to open our eyes to the dilution of content and form that occurs when we talk about humanities as job training. At a fundamental level, the corporatist attack on the humanities is an attempt to eliminate the very disciplines that have the best potential to question the basic assumptions of late-stage capitalism. History, philosophy, English, Classics—these disciplines are those that widen our spirits and open our minds to other ways of being, to other lives worth living.

When we as humanists argue that studying the humanities is great for job training we have already lost because this is a lie (and I am not the first classicist to say so). The humanities are great for helping us think deeply about what it means to be alive, to be a person, to exist in a continuum of human beings.

The fashions of the hour may start a movement, not in the best direction, which may go on until the path is difficult to retrace. The humanities, if they cannot prevent such a movement, can do something to temper and counteract it ; because they appeal to permanent things, to the instinct for beauty in human nature, and to the emotions ; and in any one who is at all susceptible to their influence they develop a literary conscience. R. C. Jebb, Humanism in Education

The lie is even more dangerous because it sets people up for severe disappointment. Real, sustained study in the humanities will probably not make you a happy computer programming drone or a satisfied serf of the nation of Amazon or a willing bannerman of our tech-lords of sacred commerce. Let’s stop with the BS and be bold: we need the humanities to save us from a future in which we are little more than temporary parts for a meaningless consumption machine.

“A lack of education is the mother of all suffering”

᾿Απαιδευσία πάντων τῶν παθῶν μήτηρ, Stobaeus, Attributed to Pythagoras (2.23.96)

The fight for the humanities in public education needs to be carried on at every level. If we only get training for jobs we will always be too harried and ignorant to fight for collective rights, to question widening inequality, and to live lives of meaning beyond consumption and production of consumables. I dare say that we already see the effect of over a generation of divestment in public good in recent elections and in the impoverished nature of our public discourse.

So, let’s thank Mr. Bruni for getting me riled up, but why not use that pulpit to challenge readers to think? Why not take a risk and speak some truth? “Aristotle’s death” is weak clickbait for a crisis of our culture’s soul. We can–and must–do better.

“For have we not seen how great nor how many things there are, but our sight lays open a path of investigation and lays the bedrock of truth so that our inquiry may move from well-known things to hidden and discover something older than the world itself…”

Nec enim omnia nec tanta visimus quanta sunt, sed acies nostra aperit sibi investigandi viam et fundamenta vero iacit, ut inquisitio transeat ex apertis in obscura et aliquid ipso mundo inveniat antiquius…Seneca, De Otio 5

*Note: The title for this essay is meaningless clickbait. In essence, Aristotle is more theoretical and abstract, while Xenophon is more pragmatic. Both figures are genre-making polymaths from the city of Athens. But one is definitely considered sexier than the other. I chose this title in imitation of Bruni’s “Aristotle’s…Death” title. His piece says nothing about Aristotle and only lazily uses the author’s name as a metonym for humanistic education.

 

Year-End Advice for Teachers: How to Leave a Party

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men (On Rhetoricians)

28 Marcus Epidius, famous for blackmailing people, started a school of elocution and among others he taught Marcus Antonius and Augustus. When these two were once mocking Tiverous Cannutius because he aligned himself with the powerful faction of the the ex-consul Isauricus, Cannutius responded that he would prefer to be a student of Isaurius instead of a slanderer like Epidius.

This Epidius maintained that he was descended from Gaius Epidius from Nucerina. People claim that he jumped into the headwaters of the Sarnus river and came out soon after with golden horns on his head. Immediately he vanished and was counted in the number of the gods.”

Epidius, calumnia notatus, ludum dicendi aperuit docuitque inter ceteros M. Antonium et Augustum; quibus quondam Ti. Cannutius, obicientibus sibi quod in re p. administranda potissimum consularis Isaurici sectam sequeretur, malle respondit Isaurici esse discipulum quam Epidi calumniatoris. Hic Epidius ortum se a C. Epidio Nucerino praedicabat, quem ferunt olim praecipitatum in fontem fluminis Sarni, paulo post cum cornibus aureis exstitisse, ac statim non comparuisse in numeroque deorum habitum.

Books As Dining Room Decoration

Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind 9

“For pursuits in which expense is still most respectable it is reasonable as long as it is moderate. What’s the worth of countless books and libraries when their owners are barely able of reading the titles in a lifetime? This mob of books overwhelms a learner instead of teaching—and so it is much better to turn yourself over to a few authors rather than to get lost among many.

Forty thousand books burned at Alexandria—let another worship this as the most beautiful monument to regal wealth as Titus Livius did (and he says that this was the most outstanding evidence of the elegance and care of kings). But this is neither elegance nor care but instead studied luxury—no, not even studied since they produced it not for the sake of learning but as a spectacle. This is the same way many who are ignorant even of a child’s level of literacy have books not as tools of learning but for dining-room decoration.

So, let a number of books be gathered which is enough, but none for show.”

Studiorum quoque, quae liberalissima impensa est, tamdiu rationem habet quamdiu modum. Quo innumerabiles libros et bibliothecas, quarum dominus uix tota uita indices perlegit? Onerat discentem turba, non instruit, multoque satius est paucis te auctoribus tradere quam errare per multos. Quadraginta milia librorum Alexandriae arserunt. Pulcherrimum regiae opulentiae monumentum alius laudauerit, sicut et Liuius, qui elegantiae regum curaeque egregium id opus ait fuisse. Non fuit elegantia illud aut cura, sed studiosa luxuria, immo ne studiosa quidem, quoniam non in studium, sed in spectaculum comparauerant, sicut plerisque ignaris etiam puerilium litterarum libri non studiorum instrumenta, sed cenationum ornamenta sunt. Paretur itaque librorum quantum satis sit, nihil in apparatum

Reverence Due to Teachers: Aristotle and Alexander for #TeacherAppreciationWeek

Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

“Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant.

We have written before how much our teachers shaped our lives (especially our Latin teachers). Here is a repeated formulation from the ancient world about teachers’ impact on our lives.

Aristotle’s sayings according to Diogenes Laertius (5.21)

“When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well.”

ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι.

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 8

“He wondered at Aristotle and used to love him no less than his father, as he used to say, because he was alive thanks to one but lived well because of the other…”

᾿Αριστοτέλην δὲ θαυμάζων ἐν ἀρχῇ καὶ ἀγαπῶν οὐχ ἧττον, ὡς αὐτὸς ἔλεγε, τοῦ πατρός, ὡς δι’ ἐκεῖνον μὲν ζῶν, διὰ τοῦτον δὲ καλῶς ζῶν…

Gnomologium Vaticanum, 87

“When he was asked whom he loved more, Phillip or Aristotle, Alexander said “both the same—for the first gave me the gift of life and the second taught me to live well.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνα μᾶλλον ἀγαπᾷ, Φίλιππον ἢ ᾿Αριστοτέλην, εἶπεν· „ὁμοίως ἀμφοτέρους· ὁ μὲν γάρ μοι τὸ ζῆν ἐχαρίσατο, ὁ δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν ἐπαίδευσεν.”

The three versions are slightly different, with Plutarch using participles and the others using articular infinitives. The use this construction seems slightly less forced in Diogenes Laertius’ rendition. In Diogenes, however, Aristotle is the source of the sentiment, while in the Alexander tradition it is the great conqueror himself.

 

 

During the Renaissance this anecdote reappears. Based on the wording in the Latin (especially non minus = οὐχ ἧττον,), I would hazard the guess that Guarino is drawing on Plutarch (but note the difference in the use of a form of esse instead of the Greek “to live”).

Battista Guarino, de ordine docendi et studendi IV

“They should show a sort of paternal respect when honoring their teacher; for, if they disrespect the teacher, it necessarily follows that they will disrespect the teaching as well. It should not be thought that the ancients acted capriciously when they desired that the teacher should be treated like a respected parent; this was done so that the teacher could instruct the pupils with greater diligence and benevolence, and the students would reverently believe that they must observe the teacher’s precepts as though they flowed from the font of parental affection. Therefore, let them imitate the example of Alexander the Great in this matter. He used to claim that he owed no less to Aristotle than to his own father, because though his father had given him only life, but Aristotle had given him the secret of living well.”

Deinde in praeceptore colendo paternam sibi constituant sanctitatem; nam si eum contempserint, eius quoque praeceptionem contemnant necesse est. Neque enim existimandum est maiores illos temere praeceptorem sancti voluisse parentis esse loco; sed ut ille maiore cum diligentia benevolentiaque eos instrueret, ipsi autem venerabundi eius dicta velut a paterna quadam affectione manantia observanda esse crederent. Quocirca ea in re Alexandri magni exemplum imitabuntur, qui non minus se Aristoteli praeceptori quam Philippo patri debere praedicabat, propterea quod ab hoc esse tantum, ab illo et bene esse accepisset.

Plutarch, Can Virtue Be Taught 439f

“ ‘If people are not made better through education, their teacher’s pay is wasted’  The teachers are the first to guide children after they leave their mother and, just as nurses help shape the body with hands, teachers shape their character: with their habits they put children on the first step toward excellence. This is why the Spartan, when asked what he accomplished through teaching, said ‘I make noble things appealing to children.’ ”

“εἰ μὴ γίνονται μαθήσει βελτίονες ἄνθρωποι, παραπόλλυται ὁ μισθὸς τῶν παιδαγωγῶν”; πρῶτοι γὰρ οὗτοι παραλαμβάνοντες ἐκ γάλακτος, ὥσπερ αἱ τίτθαι ταῖς χερσὶ τὸ σῶμα πλάττουσιν, οὕτω τὸ ἦθος ῥυθμίζουσι τοῖς ἔθεσιν, εἰς ἴχνος τι πρῶτον ἀρετῆς καθιστάντες. καὶ ὁ Λάκων ἐρωτηθεὶς τί παρέχει παιδαγωγῶν, “τὰ καλά,” ἔφη, “τοῖς παισὶν ἡδέα ποιῶ.”

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School of Aristotlefresco by Gustav Spangenberg.

Some Student Projects from Ancient Greek Class

When I was a sophomore in high school my Latin teacher assigned us each some new part of grammar to teach to the class. For most teachers now, this probably seems like a rather simple exercise, but for me then it was the first time I had encountered such an assignment. I got the double dative construction. I have never forgotten it.

Even though I had this important experience, I never really thought about its impact until years later. Like many of us, I started to teach Latin and Greek because I love the literature–this means my whole focus in teaching has been to shove as much grammar and vocabulary into young minds as possible so that they can get to the ‘important’ work as soon as possible.

But as I taught–or more often, failed to teach–Greek over the years and learned more about pedagogy and assessment, I kept returning to that exercise in Latin class. Over the years I have tried to integrate active learning and experiential learning into daily language instruction. I have also moved away from conventional grading–I have long made it a rule that if you mess up all semester but can read Greek to the level needed at the end of the course, whatever percentages are on the syllabus really don’t matter.

(From experience and theory, I don’t think grades do what we want them to do in general. But when it comes to learning something as incredibly complex as a language over multiple semesters, grading the wrong way is a serious impediment to learning.)

Over the years I have tried many alternative types of assessments in lieu of heavily graded exams: I tried self reflection sheets and questions for each chapter; I tried small group work with portfolios and self-assessments. I tried these in concert with regular quizzes (especially on vocabulary and morphology). I’ll basically do anything to get better results in class. But I am really skeptical that my methodological changes make that much difference.

One thing that does seem to help are student projects. I always have these too close to the end of the semester to be truly impactful (ideally they should be spread throughout the semester). I leave things really open: students have to pick something they don’t understand or want to learn about and design some sort of ‘teaching tool’ to  help either introduce the topic or practice using the material.

Invariably the students design activities that are more creative and more fun than anything I do in class. Here’s a selection of what some of my students designed this semester

  1. Principal Part Connect the Dots: One student decided to design a connect-the-dot that required you to know principal parts, Bonus points for Greek-Themed Images.

2. Word Puzzle: Another student took sentences from Plato and broke them up into words. We had to put the sentences back together based on our understanding of Greek Grammar. This and the last would work great in digital form as well

 

3. Irregular Verb Jeopardy: Like Jeopardy, but with Irregular verbs. This is harder than you think.

4. Imperative Menu and Fortune Cookies: Another student made an elaborate restaurant menu of imperative types and, as part of dessert, made a bunch of Greek fortunes (she even tried to make the cookies for the fortunes–the cookies didn’t happen, but the Greek prose comp did.

 

5. Lego Participles! Another student submitted a set of Legos modified for the construction of Greek participles. How cool is that?

Other projects: Songs to remember conditionals (with written music); a form of twister adapted to the use and generation of imperatives; and songs/chants to remember prepositions with multiple meanings.

A Reminder: One Who Is Disordered Cannot Create Order

Plutarch’s “To the Uneducated Ruler” has no relevance today, at all (780a-c)...

“The majority of kings and rulers are stupid–they imitate those artless sculptors who believe that their over-sized figures seem large and solid if they make them with a wide stance, flexing their muscles, mouths gaped open. For these types of rulers seem merely to be imitating the impressiveness and seriousness of leadership with their deep voice, severe glance, bitter manners and their separate way of living: but they are not really any different from the sculpted colossus which is heroic and godly on the outside, but filled with dirt, stone or lead within.

The real difference is that the weight of the statue keeps it standing straight, never leaning; these untaught generals and leaders often wobble and overturn because of their native ignorance. For, because they have built their homes on a crooked foundation, they lean and slide with it. Just as a carpenter’s square, if it is straight and solid, straightens out everything else that is measured according to it, so too a leader must first master himself and correct his own character and only then try to guide his people. For one who is falling cannot lift others; one who is ignorant cannot teach; one who is simple cannot manage complicated affairs; one who is disordered cannot create order; and one who does not rule himself cannot rule.”

Ἀλλὰ νοῦν οὐκ ἔχοντες οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν βασιλέων καὶ ἀρχόντων μιμοῦνται τοὺς ἀτέχνους ἀνδριαντοποιούς, οἳ νομίζουσι μεγάλους καὶ ἁδροὺς φαίνεσθαι τοὺς κολοσσούς, ἂν διαβεβηκότας σφόδρα καὶ διατεταμένους καὶ κεχηνότας πλάσωσι· καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι βαρύτητι φωνῆς καὶ βλέμματος τραχύτητι καὶ δυσκολίᾳ τρόπων καὶ ἀμιξίᾳ διαίτης ὄγκον ἡγεμονίας καὶ σεμνότητα μιμεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν, οὐδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν τῶν κολοσσικῶν διαφέροντες ἀνδριάντων, οἳ τὴν ἔξωθεν ἡρωικὴν καὶ θεοπρεπῆ μορφὴν ἔχοντες ἐντός εἰσι γῆς μεστοὶ καὶ λίθου καὶ μολίβδου· πλὴν ὅτι τῶν μὲν ἀνδριάντων ταῦτα τὰ βάρη τὴν ὀρθότητα μόνιμον καὶ ἀκλινῆ διαφυλάττει, οἱ δ᾿ ἀπαίδευτοι στρατηγοὶ καὶ ἡγεμόνες ὑπὸ τῆς ἐντὸς ἀγνωμοσύνης πολλάκις σαλεύονται καὶ περιτρέπονται· βάσει γὰρ οὐ κειμένῃ πρὸς ὀρθὰς ἐξουσίαν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ὑψηλὴν συναπονεύουσι. δεῖ δέ, ὥσπερ ὁ κανὼν αὐτός, ἀστραβὴς γενόμενος καὶ ἀδιάστροφος, οὕτως ἀπευθύνει τὰ λοιπὰ τῇ πρὸς αὑτὸν ἐφαρμογῇ καὶ παραθέσει συνεξομοιῶν, παραπλησίως τὸν ἄρχοντα πρῶτον τὴν ἀρχὴν κτησάμενον ἐν ἑαυτῷ καὶ κατευθύναντα τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ καταστησάμενον τὸ ἦθος οὕτω συναρμόττειν τὸ ὑπήκοον· οὔτε γὰρ πίπτοντός ἐστιν ὀρθοῦν οὔτε διδάσκειν ἀγνοοῦντος οὔτε κοσμεῖν ἀκοσμοῦντος ἢ τάττειν ἀτακτοῦντος ἢ ἄρχειν μὴ ἀρχομένου·

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782b-c

“Among the weak, base and private citizens, ignorance when combined with a lack of power yields little wrongdoing, as in nightmares some trouble upsets the mind, making it incapable of responding to its desires. But when power has been combined with wickedness it adds energy to latent passions. And so that saying of Dionysus is true—for he used to say that he loved his power most when he could do what he wanted quickly. It is truly a great danger when one who wants what is wrong has the power to do what he wants to do.

As Homer puts it “When the plan was made, then the deed was done.” When wickedness has an open course because of its power, it compels every passion to emerge, producing rage, murder, lust, adultery, and greedy acquisition of public wealth.”

Ἐν μὲν γὰρ τοῖς ἀσθενέσι καὶ ταπεινοῖς καὶ ἰδιώταις τῷ ἀδυνάτῳ μιγνύμενον τὸ ἀνόητον εἰς τὸ ἀναμάρτητον τελευτᾷ, ὥσπερ ἐν ὀνείρασι φαύλοις τις ἀνία τὴν ψυχὴν διαταράττει συνεξαναστῆναι ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις μὴ δυναμένην· ἡ δ᾿ ἐξουσία παραλαβοῦσα τὴν κακίαν νεῦρα τοῖς πάθεσι προστίθησι· καὶ τὸ τοῦ Διονυσίου ἀληθές ἐστιν· ἔφη γὰρ ἀπολαύειν μάλιστα τῆς ἀρχῆς, ὅταν ταχέως ἃ βούλεται ποιῇ. μέγας οὖν ὁ κίνδυνος βούλεσθαι ἃ μὴ δεῖ τὸν ἃ βούλεται ποιεῖν δυνάμενον· αὐτίκ᾿ ἔπειτά γε μῦθος ἔην, τετέλεστο δὲ ἔργον (Il. 19.242). ὀξὺν ἡ κακία διὰ τῆς ἐξουσίας δρόμον ἔχουσα πᾶν πάθος ἐξωθεῖ, ποιοῦσα τὴν ὀργὴν φόνον τὸν ἔρωτα μοιχείαν τὴν πλεονεξίαν δήμευσιν.

782

“It is not possible to hide wickedness in power. But, as when someone with vertigo* might go up in a high place and move around, only to become dizzy and uncertain, thus revealing their suffering, so fortune amplifies the untaught and ignorant a little with some wealth, reputation or offices and, once they have risen up, it shows them falling. Or rather, it is the same as when you cannot tell which of some containers is solid and which is cracked but when you pour water into them, the culprit leak is clear: rotten minds cannot manage power, but they ooze out random desires, rages, improprieties, and base manners.”

Οὐδὲ γὰρ λαθεῖν οἷόν τε τὰς κακίας ἐν ταῖς ἐξουσίαις· ἀλλὰ τοὺς μὲν ἐπιληπτικούς, ἂν ἐν ὕψει τινὶ γένωνται καὶ περιενεχθῶσιν, ἴλιγγος ἴσχει καὶ σάλος, ἐξελέγχων τὸ πάθος αὐτῶν, τοὺς δ᾿ ἀπαιδεύτους καὶ ἀμαθεῖς ἡ τύχη μικρὸν ἐκκουφίσασα πλούτοις τισὶν ἢ δόξαις ἢ ἀρχαῖς μετεώρους γενομένους εὐθὺς ἐπιδείκνυσι πίπτοντας· μᾶλλον δ᾿, ὥσπερ τῶν κενῶν ἀγγείων οὐκ ἂν διαγνοίης τὸ ἀκέραιον καὶ πεπονηκός, ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν ἐγχέῃς, φαίνεται τὸ ῥέον· οὕτως αἱ σαθραὶ ψυχαὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας μὴ στέγουσαι ῥέουσιν ἔξω ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις, ταῖς ὀργαῖς, ταῖς ἀλαζονείαις, ταῖς ἀπειροκαλίαις.

*The original Greek seems to be about people with epilepsy (tous epilêptikous)

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