08 February, 2010

Classics (Now) and Humanism (Then)

The student of the Wittenberg Reformation quickly realizes that today's academic field of classics is but a shadow of its former self. Put more elegantly than I could, Joshua Hayes, a Renascentes Musae reader, has this observation to make:
The spirit of humanism no longer lives in Classics. The two are not mutually exclusive by an means, but they are distinct. Classics is more of a modern, "scientific" endeavor--an observation of things classical. Latin (and Greek), therefore, is more of a tool of the trade. It is akin to the scientist's microscope. It gives him insight to another world, but it is not a goal in itself. Thus most classicists are perfectly content to be able merely to read Latin, but they read (usually by translating into a quasi English-Latin hybrid) just to get the info. Style and beauty of expression are seldom noticed or appreciated. I do not say never, but seldom and only secondarily.
The spirit of humanism, on the other hand, is not primarily observation, but participation in things classical. This, I believe, is the distinguishing factor. Humanists don't just observe, they want to participate in Latin (and Greek). They don't just want to translate Latin to cull information; they want to read Latin, appreciate its beauty, speak it, live it. That sort of activity is the goal of humanism: improving the self, participating in studia humanitatis.
Sic. Which means that Greek and Latin aren't even at home in their own living room any longer. The Wittenberg approach to classical antiquity is not dissection, but living appropriation.

1 comment:

Rev. Sean L. Rippy said...

This point was highlighted by several books I've read recently.

Having been influenced by liberal post-modern thought, the classics departments are rather embarrassed by the Greco-Roman ideals expressed in their writings. Feminism, marxism, socialism, post-colonialism- these are the things that the liberal classicist craves and are normally not found in Greco-Roman literature. Thus, the classics departments at universities have become a place to bash the classics. As a result, many students have no desire to take courses in classics. If there's nothing really to learn from Greek and Latin writers, except how not to think, live and act, why study them?

Rev. Sean L. Rippy