History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Penniless students of Greek

December 26th, 2011 · No Comments

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jan/12/do-classics-have-future/?pagination=false: Do Classics Have a Future? Quick answer, the same future as that of the study of Sumerian, a vital zone of academic/university studies….but not exactly mainstream.
I recall walking through a major university library (Columbia) where the study rooms still had endless copies of well-used classics texts, often the old Loeb classical editions next to annoted texts of various masterwokrs, shelf after shelf, once used by a majority of liberal arts students in general degree study. Then a few years later they all disappeared in a makeover of the facilities. Many university students used to study little else, then find a place in life on that basis. But now studying classics is a risky business.
Having been a classic major myself I can refuse to answer the question on the grounds that the truth of the matter is alarming, and too painful to discuss: the joke about the penniless student of Greek isnt’ too funny when taken literally. You walk out the door with a degree and noone, in the university, or out, wants anything to do with you. Still, the experience taught me to be an outsider, most ironically, not the classic outcome for establishment classicists. Highly trained, but no place whatever anywhere in the business (or academic) world, you become a rebel against reality. At least you can look down on science grunts preening their feathers, they are especially nauseating. Guaranteed employment, they become insufferable prigs, without realizing it. And proud of their ignorance beyond their specialization. Better to be trained in something that has no purpose. Employers literally choking at the Greek/Latin major, overqualified, bye! But that is a new and transient phenomenon: the final dissolution of classics must have started just after my time, in the seventies, when a real nosedive began.
But my experience was not at all standard. I am a special kind of idiot, and majored in a vacuum. I in fact lost interest in classics the first week of my freshman year, having been a high school classics whiz, and coasted to a degree in three years, to the alarm of my professors, and they handed me my degree as fast as they could before I puked in their face and forgot what I knew in high school. What can I say, it was the best education you can get. The only way to escape utilitarian mind control in the career circuit is training to be a beggar. Next stop, a crash course in hitech beggary, the panhandler. Actually, I took a course in calculus my senior year, and found it refreshing. Thence embarking on a study of mathematics, which revived my spirits, but didn’t land me a job.
Meanwhile, Greek, like Sumerian, will always be studied. But not so much in the common rooms of the Ivy League study halls. A new technology is needed to create a new venue of fast-learning on computers that can accelerate learning, and surveying. Or else simple study in translation. Reading Homer in the original isn’t all that hard, and a computerized course on a Greek Tragedy text to save time on the scholarly sidetracks could revive the subject as form of recreation.

The passing of the classics, like the passing of all Axial Age traditions is a timed mechanism, strangely, and I think my generation in college was the last of the old-fashioned classics crowd. Now the situation is approaching the scientitic/archaeological study of greater world history, as culture moves to create a new classics tradition, in the future ‘old english’ of the modern, soon ancient, world as students in 3000 AD pore over Shakespearian texts, wondering about the death of the classics.

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