My dear old Classics teacher passed away today. He was, without question, the best teacher I ever had. He taught me two indispensable skills: how to parse Latin sentences, that is to say, how to discern order and meaning in apparent chaos; and how to approach the interpretation of ancient civilisations.
The key to understanding Homer’s worldview was, he stressed, to completely forget all Christian values. This is where I learned the concept of context. In his lessons on Euripides, I learned that his drama was the birth of psychology.
Is not all real education psychology, the discourse or science of the soul searching for truth? In my college, there were many lecturers scrambling for prestige and power — many haughty and smug. But there was only one teacher, and in his lessons, one experienced something rare in modern education: wonder.
He was such a quiet and humble man — far too aware of the absurdity of life to be proud. Are there any scholars like him left? Will anyone read Classics in the future? Will teachers in times come to say that to understand the mindset of this era, one must completely bracket out reason? Will there even be such a thing as a teacher?
Cicero said, docendo discimus, by teaching we learn. But who today wants to learn anymore? For a student to learn, he must be awakened to wonder. Today the regime they call education is designed to abort that awakening — students leave the faculties still-born in ignorance.
In some of those Greek and Latin classes, there were perhaps two or three students. No one studies Classics anymore. Think about this for a moment. Most scholars leaving the university today are unable to read over a thousand years of scholarship. Most of the patristic literature of the Church is untranslated. That means that most people are completely ignorant about the most important period of human history. It is called the “Dark Ages” because we lack the light to read it!.
One of the plagues of our time is the absence of subtlety in reasoning. Ancient Greek is full of particles. So many of their sentences express notions of balance and weighing of ideas. Everything is “on the one hand this” and “on the other hand that” — ou, men, gar, ti etc. — as though philosophy was the origin of language itself.
Today there is no more balancing, no more pondering, no more critical reflection; education is the inculcation of the “Idea” — and woe unto him who has not grasped the Idea!
Plato would expel the “poets” from his Republic; for they fill the minds of its youth with false ideas. Is that the function of culture today? Socrates says they make spaces in young children’s minds, spaces or topoi. Is that not the function of education today, to make spaces out of the minds of our youth, empty topoi? Has not the university become a morbid, grotesque and farcical topology?