The usefulness of Classics: part five

The following points come from The Teaching of Classics (CUP 1961). Some of them are in the original words, but most are paraphrased.

  • A study that requires a close inspection of the written word, and careful scrutiny, and structured thinking rather than vagueness, has a role in preserving literacy and scholarship. The skills that Latin demands are needed at a time when careless speech and tendentious language are pervasive.
  • As a subject for study by a wide range of pupils, the precision that Latin requires is its greatest educational asset. If the study of it be continued for only four, three, or even two years, then during this time a habit of accuracy can be acquired.
  • English can be well spoken and intelligently read by people who do not know much of Latin or Greek. But those who do possess such knowledge gain additional awareness of their native language and confidence in how to use it with exactitude.
  • A child does not need to be studying philology to derive both interest and practical use from the fact that Latin is the direct ancestor, not only of many English words, but of five modern national languages, the so-called Romance languages: French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, as well as of Provençal, Catalan, Corsican and Romansh.
  • As for vocabulary, the student who knows words in Latin finds that he or she will recognise them in any Romance tongue—and so the reading of these languages is simplified and accelerated.
  • As well as history, at Sixth Form level, there is politics. If this subject is to be studied at an academic level, it will go more deeply into the meaning of citizenship than is involved in discussions of current affairs or in factual learning about the machinery of modern government, vital though these things are. If such a deeper aim is to be achieved, it will inevitably involve the views of thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and the man Dante called ‘the master of them all’, Aristotle. The Republic and the Politics are timeless books, though written with the problems of a particular age in mind. One Cambridge scientist, speaking on the dangers of specialisation, suggested that every undergraduate, whatever his or her branch of learning, should be familiar with the Republic.
  • Much of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and it was in the Graeco-Roman world that Jesus lived and St Paul travelled.
  • Classical literature represents episodes in history when human beings were at their most thoughtful, when the individual counted for most, when in spite of limited resources the most was achieved, and when material things were most subjected to ideals. If education is to give a knowledge—and understanding—of the thoughtful and useful things done or said in the world, then Classics has its place in that process.