Author Topic: De-Classifying the Classics  (Read 3046 times)

Dave Benke

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De-Classifying the Classics
« on: February 08, 2021, 03:10:13 PM »
Like many of my generation of students in the Missouri Synod system, I was privileged to be immersed in what's called a Classical Education.  Enormous doses of German, Latin and Greek language learning, accompanied by equally enormous doses of Greco-Roman and 19th Century German thought, literature and art, accompanied by everything up to and including the way our cheerleaders led cheers in Greek.  This was a gift from the 19th century, actually, when during the Enlightenment the Classics were re-discovered anew after their initial rediscovery during the Renaissance. 

In our case, of course, the Glory that was Greece and the Grandeur that was Rome were put in the context of Sacred Scripture, which was the depository of certainly the Greek language learning but also the German and Latin thought process theologically.  Ordnung - order was the order of the day.  But the content of the classics in terms of history, culture and ethics was sub-ordinate to the Biblical order, and in some cases, of course, in direct conflict with it, according to the Lutheran overlay of two realms.

So the article I'm linking caught me up, as it evidences the ways in which the classics have been used, and the way some are attempting to either deconstruct or just blow them up.  Your thoughts appreciated, especially in the context of how Lutheran language training and its classical involvement line up with the baseline ethics.  Should we not be able to dispossess ourselves of the weaknesses so manifest in the classics as does the central figure in the article?  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/magazine/classics-greece-rome-whiteness.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab.

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John_Hannah

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2021, 04:11:32 PM »
Two comments from another recipient of that Missouri Synod classical education.

1.  Padilla is correct. The ancient Greek and Roman worlds were like not our white, middle class, suburban American world. For example, the armies of Xenophon and Caesar were populated with soldiers who daily lives were filled drudgery and pain. Common households were supported by slaves. It is ignorant to imagine classical life to have been a White Superemist's dream world.

2.  The Missouri Synod has actually abandoned that classical tradition for its theological candidates. I think it was great but it is no more. It is gone and found in only a handful of pastors and candidates. Nonetheless . . .

Hurrah for Padilla!!!

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

peter_speckhard

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2021, 04:17:45 PM »
The sins of America are symbolized perfectly by the neo-classical style of the Capitol. The guy in the Visigoth hat was right to storm it.  ::)

More seriously, the campaign to fix the world of the future by changing its past is Orwellian.   

peter_speckhard

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2021, 04:38:22 PM »
From the article-- Padillaís vision of classicsí complicity in systemic injustice is uncompromising, even by the standards of some of his allies. He has condemned the field as ďequal parts vampire and cannibalĒ ó a dangerous force that has been used to murder, enslave and subjugate. ďHeís on record as saying that heís not sure the discipline deserves a future,Ē Denis Feeney, a Latinist at Princeton, told me. Padilla believes that classics is so entangled with white supremacy as to be inseparable from it. ďFar from being extrinsic to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity,Ē he has written, ďthe production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of classics.Ē

My wife taught Classics at two elite schools Laurel School in Shaker Height, Ohio and John Burroughs School in Ladue, Missouri. I married a girl who liked Latin class and now all six of my children are white. Coincidence? The production of whiteness indeed. In the ancient world, murder, enslavement, and subjugation were unknown outside of Greece and Rome. Natives of Africa, Asia, and the Americas never warred, conquered, or murdered. They were taught to by people flaunting their whiteness.

But seriously (again), nearly every place outside of the U.S. and the U.K. has experienced some absolute disconnect from whatever its roots in the ancient world might have been. Ancient China no longer lives in China in the same sense that ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel live on in modern America. Most countries have experienced some cataclysm-- abject defeat, displacement, colonial occupation, cultural revolution, or outright dying off due to plague-- that allows the people there today to disavow the sins of their ancient ancestors or those who inhabited their land thousands of years ago. Such sins things have no living, relevant connection to them. In "Western Civ" we are plagued by having to answer for people who lived long ago because we claim to have uninterrupted cultural connection to them. Padilla would love us to have a Great Leap Forward in order to cut off the flow of sap from those ancient roots so they can be studied critically as dead things.     

 
« Last Edit: February 08, 2021, 06:10:56 PM by peter_speckhard »

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2021, 04:57:23 PM »
I've been listening to a Yale open course on the American revolution taught by Professor Joanne Freeman.

https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-116

In the lectures, she points out the indebtedness of the founders of American government to classical learning. So the roots of this go back at least to the 17th century. Truly, we should say that this is a Renaissance interest far before the Enlightenment.

Our representative style of government is rooted in that classical tradition. Much of the study of that tradition samples things that happened in ancient Greek and Rome and contrast it with totalitarian or oppressive governance. I think there is still great benefit in reading that history broadly as a learning experience that has born good fruit: modern representative government, expectations of freedom and fairness and rule of law that have guided our nation to become strong.

At the same time, I appreciate the world history movement that is edging out the customary teaching of Western Civ. If there are examples of other civilizations that can also teach us about good governance, that would be valuable.

A missing element in those other civilizations, however, will likely be the biblical tradition. I believe it is the biblical tradition that has balanced out the values sought in western civilization. That is the leaven that has made Western Civilization strong and dominant.
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pastorg1@aol.com

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2021, 04:58:23 PM »
Reading Platoís The Meno.

First line: ďTell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught?Ē
Basic Socratic answer through my Mother-in-lawís advice: ďGood, better, best; Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.Ē

Peter (People will let you down now and again) Garrison
« Last Edit: February 08, 2021, 05:06:32 PM by pastorg1@aol.com »
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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2021, 05:14:17 PM »
When I was newly arrived in Oxford, I wandered through Christ Church Meadow and reflected on how the golden buildings along its north edge were endowed with wealth extracted from people's pain: from the Enclosure Acts, the East India Company, the child labor in the coal mines and the mills and factories, the exploitation of colonial peoples.

My reflections concluded, probably self-servingly, that I could still study theology there, but only if I did my very best, honest work.

There is no innocence to be found. We have to cultivate the virtues appropriate to our sinful state.

Peace,
Michael
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peter_speckhard

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2021, 05:22:30 PM »
I've been listening to a Yale open course on the American revolution taught by Professor Joanne Freeman.

https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-116

In the lectures, she points out the indebtedness of the founders of American government to classical learning. So the roots of this go back at least to the 17th century. Truly, we should say that this is a Renaissance interest far before the Enlightenment.

Our representative style of government is rooted in that classical tradition. Much of the study of that tradition samples things that happened in ancient Greek and Rome and contrast it with totalitarian or oppressive governance. I think there is still great benefit in reading that history broadly as a learning experience that has born good fruit: modern representative government, expectations of freedom and fairness and rule of law that have guided our nation to become strong.

At the same time, I appreciate the world history movement that is edging out the customary teaching of Western Civ. If there are examples of other civilizations that can also teach us about good governance, that would be valuable.

A missing element in those other civilizations, however, will likely be the biblical tradition. I believe it is the biblical tradition that has balanced out the values sought in western civilization. That is the leaven that has made Western Civilization strong and dominant.
The problem is that the world doesn't have a history in the sense that history is relevant to the present. Today is built on yesterday, which is built on the day before that. The foundation of this building is not the same thing as the study of building foundations. Continuity is key. We don't celebrate the Wright brothers for what they can teach us about flying. Any high school physics student knows more about it than they did. We celebrate them because theirs is the discovery that the history of flight flows through. If it turned out that we discover an ancient biplane frozen in Siberia that proves someone else invented air travel long before the Wright brothers, that would be an interesting curiosity. But it wouldn't teach us anything we don't know about flight and it still wouldn't be the invention that the history of flight flows through. A modern jet is connected to the Wright brothers in a way that no airplane will ever be connected to that other "first" airplane in Siberia. Even if the Siberian biplane from a thousand years ago were way better than the Wright brothers' plane, it would be largely irrelevant culturally and historically. The Siberian plane would factor into the story the way some long-lost uncle who had no children factors into your family tree. Might be a great guy, but he isn't your ancestor. Western Civ is not about biological ancestry but is about cultural inheritance. The Wright brothers changed the world for people of every race. That hypothetical Siberian airplane changed the world for nobody.   

pearson

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2021, 06:23:44 PM »

Iíve read the New York Times article twice, and I confess I canít tell if Padilla is arguing (a) for the field of academic Classics to tell its story honestly, including (and perhaps emphasizing) all the brutal information that can be documented; or (b) that the field of academic Classics is already so thoroughly malign and corrupt that its story should no longer be told.   If itís the former, thatís understandable, even commendable.  If itís the latter, thatís just more academic cheese.

Tom Pearson

Dave Benke

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2021, 07:44:54 PM »

Iíve read the New York Times article twice, and I confess I canít tell if Padilla is arguing (a) for the field of academic Classics to tell its story honestly, including (and perhaps emphasizing) all the brutal information that can be documented; or (b) that the field of academic Classics is already so thoroughly malign and corrupt that its story should no longer be told.   If itís the former, thatís understandable, even commendable.  If itís the latter, thatís just more academic cheese.

Tom Pearson

I'm in the same boat, and think he's personally in between right now, but will probably land on the former.  And I think that would provide the bridge to hearing more and different stories with both their elevating and brutal aspects. 

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Dave Benke

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2021, 07:50:41 PM »
When I was newly arrived in Oxford, I wandered through Christ Church Meadow and reflected on how the golden buildings along its north edge were endowed with wealth extracted from people's pain: from the Enclosure Acts, the East India Company, the child labor in the coal mines and the mills and factories, the exploitation of colonial peoples.

My reflections concluded, probably self-servingly, that I could still study theology there, but only if I did my very best, honest work.

There is no innocence to be found. We have to cultivate the virtues appropriate to our sinful state.

Peace,
Michael

I agree with your conclusion and thank you for the images of those golden buildings at Oxford. 
We journeyed once upon a time when journeys were allowed to Toledo, Spain, and walked through those arches of gold brought by the Conquistadores and fashioned into the cathedral.   Of course, to see that is to utter "Holy Toledo."  But it is also to think of the extraction of that gold and what was happening in the Americas to get it back to Spain and again, no matter the magnificence, there is no innocence.

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Charles Austin

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2021, 07:56:29 PM »
Looking back on my own liberal arts education, I learned something in the decades following college. In college (B.A. 1963), the "Western Civilization" course and the World History courses, which were quite good (for what they were) probably suggested (by the absence of anything else) that "western" civilization and "our" history was all that mattered. The Greeks existed in noble ways to give us language and philosophy and democracy; and the Romans, well, we know it was a mixed contribution, but the Renaissance did come from them.
Whether "art," or "culture" or "philosophy" or order might have existed elsewhere was doubtful. There were nods to China and Confucianism, because of the "opening" due to trade, but otherwise Asia just didn't exist  until Dec. 7, 1941.
Africa? It was the "dark continent," location of grand explorations by Richard Burton, John Speke, David Livingston and other Europeans.
I believe the flaw in my early education was not in learning the classics, but in concluding that there was little else but those worthies.
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Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2021, 08:22:01 PM »
I've been listening to a Yale open course on the American revolution taught by Professor Joanne Freeman.

https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-116

In the lectures, she points out the indebtedness of the founders of American government to classical learning. So the roots of this go back at least to the 17th century. Truly, we should say that this is a Renaissance interest far before the Enlightenment.

Our representative style of government is rooted in that classical tradition. Much of the study of that tradition samples things that happened in ancient Greek and Rome and contrast it with totalitarian or oppressive governance. I think there is still great benefit in reading that history broadly as a learning experience that has born good fruit: modern representative government, expectations of freedom and fairness and rule of law that have guided our nation to become strong.

At the same time, I appreciate the world history movement that is edging out the customary teaching of Western Civ. If there are examples of other civilizations that can also teach us about good governance, that would be valuable.

A missing element in those other civilizations, however, will likely be the biblical tradition. I believe it is the biblical tradition that has balanced out the values sought in western civilization. That is the leaven that has made Western Civilization strong and dominant.
The problem is that the world doesn't have a history in the sense that history is relevant to the present. Today is built on yesterday, which is built on the day before that. The foundation of this building is not the same thing as the study of building foundations. Continuity is key. We don't celebrate the Wright brothers for what they can teach us about flying. Any high school physics student knows more about it than they did. We celebrate them because theirs is the discovery that the history of flight flows through. If it turned out that we discover an ancient biplane frozen in Siberia that proves someone else invented air travel long before the Wright brothers, that would be an interesting curiosity. But it wouldn't teach us anything we don't know about flight and it still wouldn't be the invention that the history of flight flows through. A modern jet is connected to the Wright brothers in a way that no airplane will ever be connected to that other "first" airplane in Siberia. Even if the Siberian biplane from a thousand years ago were way better than the Wright brothers' plane, it would be largely irrelevant culturally and historically. The Siberian plane would factor into the story the way some long-lost uncle who had no children factors into your family tree. Might be a great guy, but he isn't your ancestor. Western Civ is not about biological ancestry but is about cultural inheritance. The Wright brothers changed the world for people of every race. That hypothetical Siberian airplane changed the world for nobody.

Consider Herodotus. He was very interested in other cultures and civilizations and he is considered foundational to the efforts of Western Civilization to write history.

In college I had a class on East Asian History. Turned out to be both interesting and useful for understanding the present although it taught me little about my heritage.
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John_Hannah

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2021, 09:17:15 PM »

Iíve read the New York Times article twice, and I confess I canít tell if Padilla is arguing (a) for the field of academic Classics to tell its story honestly, including (and perhaps emphasizing) all the brutal information that can be documented; or (b) that the field of academic Classics is already so thoroughly malign and corrupt that its story should no longer be told.   If itís the former, thatís understandable, even commendable.  If itís the latter, thatís just more academic cheese.

Tom Pearson

Yes; it is confusing. I took him as your (a) and addressed that.

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

Dave Benke

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2021, 09:45:19 PM »

Iíve read the New York Times article twice, and I confess I canít tell if Padilla is arguing (a) for the field of academic Classics to tell its story honestly, including (and perhaps emphasizing) all the brutal information that can be documented; or (b) that the field of academic Classics is already so thoroughly malign and corrupt that its story should no longer be told.   If itís the former, thatís understandable, even commendable.  If itís the latter, thatís just more academic cheese.

Tom Pearson

Yes; it is confusing. I took him as your (a) and addressed that.

Peace, JOHN

I just keep seeing that Dominican kid in the shelter, the only person in the place reading the classics - all the rest of it aside, it was a transformative moment that led to the place he's at and the platform he has today - veni, vidi, vici.

Dave Benke
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