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Classical Education

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Do people become more virtuous by studying Latin or Greek?

Yes, I do
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Some people
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No, I don't
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Classical Education

Postby Señor Boethius » Fri Oct 14, 2005 5:54 am

Do you think people become more virtuous by studying the classics? Are you a more virtuous person after studying Latin or Greek? Do you think schools should return to the classical education model?
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Postby classicalclarinet » Fri Oct 14, 2005 10:28 pm

Virtue, as the ancients thought? Which?
I don't think a classical education would make sense in these modern days; we have much more stuff to contend with, in order to be educated.
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Fri Oct 14, 2005 11:25 pm

Classics *can* make people more disciplined, more inspired, and expand their view of the world. I think of the word "virtuous" as having the right frame of heart and no, I do not think Classics education can change that.

It's a pity not more people are interested in the Classics. That being the case, I do not think imposing more classics-oriented curricula would do much good. I recently for a test had to write a document-based essay about the progression of Renaissance educations (which was mainly studying the classics) and it was fascinating to see how the Renaissance education went from being a quest for wisdom to being a quest for prestige and social status (people were learning Latin and Greek to say they knew Latin and Greek and move up in society, not because they cared about Latin and Greek for their own sakes).
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The Trivium

Postby Señor Boethius » Sat Oct 15, 2005 3:09 am

Classicalclarinet, you are right. I was being vague with my terms. Obviously, Latin and Greek teach intellectual virtue, but moral virtue, according to Aristotle, is acquired through habit, and I was wondering if the study of Latin and Greek, and a classical education in general, helps one become morally virtuous. I am sure there are many examples of people like GlottalGreekGeek writes about that took Latin and Greek for the sake of prestige and social status. The interesting question is: does a classical education aid one's moral development? By being constantly exposed to great things, by reading about examples of great people, does one have a better chance of becoming morally virtuous?
I recently finished Tracy Lee Simons' book Climbing Parnassus and he argues for the return of a classical education. I thought the book was excellent, and it propelled me to study more Latin and to ask these questions.
More questions: if given the choice, would you put your kid in a school which teaches a classical curriculum? Do you regret not having one? Have you had one, and do you recommend it?
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Re: The Trivium

Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Sat Oct 15, 2005 3:38 am

Señor Boethius wrote:More questions: if given the choice, would you put your kid in a school which teaches a classical curriculum? Do you regret not having one? Have you had one, and do you recommend it?


Since there are not many pre-college schools which teach classics anymore, it would not be a large concern. But granted the option, I still think I would weigh other factors much more heavily. If I wanted my hypothetical kid to learn classics, and he/she wanted to learn, I would probably try to teach him/her myself.

I am teaching myself Ancient Greek, and I like the level of control that grants me.
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Postby classicalclarinet » Sat Oct 15, 2005 6:05 am

If what is presented in classics is real virtue, then yes, I would think it would be more conducive than not to make people virtuous. If you made people, especially children, go to church every other day, you would have more people influenced by the tenets of christianity, for example.
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Postby Episcopus » Sat Oct 15, 2005 12:31 pm

Intellectual virtue, yes; moral virtue depends entirely upon the person and can not really be changed by classics alone, though I find it has helped clear my mind in a way.
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Postby Bardo de Saldo » Sun Oct 16, 2005 5:28 am

From Juan Boscán's Respuesta de Boscán a Don Diego de Mendoza:

(...)

El estado mejor de los estados
es alcanzar la buena medianía,
con la cual se remedian los cuidados.

Y así yo por seguir aquesta vía,
heme casado con una mujer,
que es principio y fin del alma mía.

(...)

De manera, señor, que aquel reposo
que nunca alcancé yo, por mi ventura,
con mi filosofar triste y pensoso,

una sola mujer me lo asegura,
y en perfecta sazón me da en las manos
vitoria general de mi tristura.

(...)

Ternemos nuestros libros en las manos,
y no se cansarán de andar contando
los hechos celestiales y mundanos.

Virgilio a Eneas estará cantando,
y Homero el corazón de Aquiles fiero,
y el navegar de Ulises rodeando.

Propercio verná allí por compañero,
el cual dirá con dulces harmonías
del arte que a su Cintia amó primero.

Catulo acudirá por otras vías,
y, llorando de Lesbia los amores,
sus trampas llorará y chocarrerías.

Esto me advertirá de mis dolores;
pero volviendo a mi placer presente,
terné mis escarmientos por mejores.

(...)

.

Francisco de Quevedo's Desde la torre:

Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos,
con pocos, pero doctos libros juntos,
vivo en conversación con los difuntos
y escucho con mis ojos a los muertos.

Si no siempre entendidos, siempre abiertos,
o enmiendan, o fecundan mis asuntos;
y en músicos callados contrapuntos
al sueño de la vida hablan despiertos.

Las grandes almas que la muerte ausenta,
de injurias de los años, vengadora,
libra, ¡oh gran don Iosef!, docta la imprenta.

En fuga irrevocable huye la hora;
pero aquélla el mejor cálculo cuenta
que en la lección y estudios nos mejora.

.

Bardo de Saldo's La luz:

¿Iluminación?
Una buena mujer
vale por tres budas.

"Anda, lumbreras,
apaga la luz
y vente a la cama."

.

Synopsis in English: A good woman makes me virtuous, and the Classics let me know that I'm not the only fool in the world.
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Classics Dying Down Under

Postby Ianus » Sun Oct 16, 2005 8:33 am

Here in Australia, I'm of a rare breed. Classics and renaissance literature are dying, ever so slowly. At Melbourne University for example, many Renaissance Literature courses are being replaced with 'pop-culture' courses on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Desperate Housewives, to give some examples. In fact, at my high school I'm considered strange because I read Ovid!

If the Classics were nurtured, instead of ignored, perhaps we may be able to return to a virtuous and enlightened age.

I mean, come on, Buffy the Vampire Slayer??? :x
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Re: Classics Dying Down Under

Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Sun Oct 16, 2005 7:19 pm

Ianus wrote:If the Classics were nurtured, instead of ignored, perhaps we may be able to return to a virtuous and enlightened age.


I'm not convinced that the Classical or Renaissance ages were all that virtuous or englightened, at least not any more than our age. Humanists made a tiny minority of the Renaissance population, and the Classical authors had plenty to complain about their contemporaries.
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Re: Classics Dying Down Under

Postby Paul » Sun Oct 16, 2005 7:41 pm

Ianus wrote:Here in Australia, I'm of a rare breed. Classics and renaissance literature are dying, ever so slowly. At Melbourne University for example, many Renaissance Literature courses are being replaced with 'pop-culture' courses on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Desperate Housewives, to give some examples.

I mean, come on, Buffy the Vampire Slayer??? :x


It is deplorable indeed that such courses are replaced at all. But take it from me, it's possible to drink deeply of the western canon and to love Buffy. :)

Cordially,

Paul
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Postby Señor Boethius » Sun Oct 16, 2005 11:05 pm

Bardo de Saldo, from what I can understand, I like the poems, especially the one by Juan Boscán. I'm accustomed to the Nortena variety of Spanish more than the 16th century, but I like older Spanish because it feels more like Latin.

As for schools dumbing down their curriculum, this has been going on for a long time. The idea that students should choose their own classes is a great misfortune; schools treat students like customers instead of students. Harvard started the fad back in the early 1900's, I believe, and other schools followed. If given a choice, what 18 year old would choose Ovid over Buffy? (Present Textkitters excluded, of course).

There are some schools in the USA which have a classical curriculum. Some are private prep schools, others religious schools, and there are a few charter schools.
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Postby classicalclarinet » Sun Oct 16, 2005 11:34 pm

In fact, at my high school I'm considered strange because I read Ovid!


So in Austrailia some high-school Ovid readers are not considered odd? Cool country.
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:19 am

Señor Boethius wrote:As for schools dumbing down their curriculum, this has been going on for a long time. The idea that students should choose their own classes is a great misfortune; schools treat students like customers instead of students. Harvard started the fad back in the early 1900's, I believe, and other schools followed. If given a choice, what 18 year old would choose Ovid over Buffy? (Present Textkitters excluded, of course).


Can you prove that there really has been a dumbing down? From what I gather from my dad's education experience 40+ years ago, there were some really rotten Latin courses back then too.
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Postby Señor Boethius » Mon Oct 17, 2005 1:50 am

By dumbing down I meant that instead of teaching Latin, a school teaches Taco Bell Spanish. Instead of Ovid, they teach Buffy. Instead of geography, they teach Star Trek studies (Next Generation, of course). Instead of the history of western civilization, they teach the history of Peru from 1907-1912. (That last example was an argument against specialization.)

As for your father's Latin class some 40 years ago, that's a different issue. What were his experiences?
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:33 am

My father's experience was, in spite of studying Latin for three years, he never learned much Latin. I think his Latin SAT score was around 400. Perhaps lower. His impression was that all of his Latin teachers didn't really know Latin themselves, which would explain why he didn't learn much.

Anyway, I strongly support giving students choice in their studies and specialization when feasible. While there is a need to have a broad education, there is also a need to go in-depth to catch the subtleties of a given topic. Obviously one can't do this for everything, but I think people need some highly specialized courses so they can know the experience of moving beyond the generalizations. Your argument that universities should lay out a plan for students to passively follow rather than students actively participating in their education has the assumption that universities would prescribe classics for their grateful little lambs to suck. What if the university decided, for whatever reasons, to require all students to take a course in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I would go hunting for a loophole at the very least.

Anyway, I think the Classics are something which must be approached, not something which can be imposed upon somebody. Sure, a school can require all students to learn Latin and Greek, but that does not guarantee at all that the students would reap wisdom from the ancients. English/Literature classes have proven to me that the merits of literature can merely be presented to students, and their inner value can only be sought by the students themselves.

However, I agree that universities cutting back on classics courses is sad, as it removes the option of being introduced to the classics (except for auto-didacts like me, heh heh). While I am not thrilled by the notion of a class on Buffy, I think focusing so much on that one point weakens your argument, rather than demonstrating that this is a broad phenomenon.
Last edited by GlottalGreekGeek on Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:28 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:52 am

I wonder what you think of this (rather long) passage :

" The student may read Homer or AEschylus in the Greek without danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in some measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their pages. The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity. They seem as solitary, and the letter in which they are printed as rare and curious, as ever. It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations ... Men sometimes speak as if the study of the classics would at length make way for more modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and however ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? ...

"There are those who, like cormorants and ostriches, can digest all sorts of [literary garbage], even after the fullest dinner of meats and vegetables, for they suffer nothing to be wasted. If others are the machines to provide this provender, they are the machines to read it. They read the nine thousandth tale about Zebulon and Sophronia, and how they loved as none had ever loved before, and neither did the course of their true love run smooth -- at any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get up again and go on! how some poor unfortunate got up on to a steeple, who had better never have gone up as far as the belfry; and then, having needlessly got him up there, the happy novelist rings the bell for all the world to come together and hear, O dear! how he did get down again! For my part, I think that they had better metamorphose all such aspiring heroes of universal noveldom into man weather-cocks, as they used to put heroes among the constellations, and let them swing round there till they are rusty, and not come down at all to bother honest men with their pranks ... All this they read with saucer eyes, and erect and primitive curiosity, and with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations even yet need no sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher his two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella -- without any improvement, that I can see, in the pronunciation, or accent, or emphasis, or any more skill in extracting or inserting the moral. The result is dulness of sight, a stagnation of the vital circulations, and a general deliquium and sloughing off of all the intellectual faculties. This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and more sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every oven, and finds a surer market ...

"Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become acquainted with them ... One who has just come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom he can converse about it? Or suppose he
comes from reading a Greek or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are familiar even to the so-called illiterate; he will find nobody at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it. Indeed, there is hardly the professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered the difficulties of the language, has proportionally mastered the difficulties of the wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to impart to the alert and heroic reader; and as for the sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me even their titles?"

If you recognize what this passage is from, kudos to you.
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Postby Kopio » Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:47 am

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I love that quote! No, studying classics doesn't make you anymore virtuous than studying your navel.
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Postby classicalclarinet » Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:47 am

the Classics are something which must be approached, not something which can be imposed upon somebody


Exactly. It's more important for classics to be available for the students, rather than vice versa.
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Postby Señor Boethius » Mon Oct 17, 2005 5:01 am

First, most students are not competent enough to decide for themselves what they should study. Most college students approach their classes as a giant buffet where they take what they want and then leave as more or less satisfied customers. I am not saying that all students need to learn Homeric Greek, though it wouldn't hurt, but what I am saying is that a college program needs to be sequential, and most students are in no way qualified to decide for themselves what they need. I think a college like St. John's is ideal for a liberal arts education.

Also, obviously, classics doesn't transform one into St. Augustine or Bono, but are you saying, dear Moderator, that you can get the same out of studying your navel as you can from studying Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, or Plutarch? By studying the greatest thoughts, by being exposed to the most humane ideas, this does not change one in any way? Gildersleeve said, “It seems to be impossible to live in constant communion with the first minds of antiquity and not imbibe something of the spirit of moderation, of self-control, of cautious wisdom, that breathes through their counsels.” Of course, classics does not instantly transform someone into Morally Virtuous Man, but classics can be a strong stimulus to moral virtue, and this was precisely the point of education since the time of the Greeks until the early 20th century.

Yes, it’s great if a young one can somehow find the classics and imbibe their spirit (i.e., .0002% of the population), but how much better if a young person is exposed to Latin and Greek and Homer and Plato at a young age?

As for Hank’s quote, he is a great poet, but he must not be taken seriously as an educator. He writes for people like himself, not for the mass of men who live lives of quiet desperation like myself. (No, I just said that to be funny. I love Hank.)
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Oct 17, 2005 5:47 am

Well I don't know that the bureaucrats who run universities can pick what's best for students either. I believe there should be basic requirements to ensure breadth of a student's studies, and everybody connected to the student, including family, friends, and teachers, should offer guidance, but I am wary of somebody who does not know me well giving me an exact prescription for what I study. Something deep inside me resists being put dispassionately into an educational formula, to be processed in some standardized education machine.

In high school, I have been given freer reign with my course load than ever before (mainly because I insist on it), and the results work well for me. Had I not engaged forcefully in many discussions with counselors and teachers, I would be a French class where they almost never speak French in class (a waste of time), I would have had to have taken a math class where the teacher had the most astounding inability to communicate with the students at all, I would not have been able to take the Physics course (since Physics is my weakest point in the sciences) before it was made a freshmen-only course (whereas in my freshman year it was an upperclassmen-only course, ha!), and I would be in an English class where the focus is on preparing for the AP exam rather than the literature itself (I can still remember one of the teachers saying "But you belong in the AP class." I love her as a teacher, but in this instance I think I made the right choice to go for a mere honors class where there is no AP exam hovering over us, and we can just dive into the literature). And of course, if I hadn't been so creative with my schedule, I would not have been able to have so much free time to work on Ancient Greek :D

I have frequently followed the advice of my family and my teachers, but this is my education, and if I am to be a functioning adult in this world, I need to learn how to take control of my education, since learning does not stop after school.

I generally feel that universities are overrated. But both of my parents had bad experiences in college, especially my mother since she was all but forced to go into a field she wanted to leave, so I'm biased.

And considering how much a college education costs these days, I do feel like a customer. I agree that that is not the best attitude, but as I said, I believe learning happens outsiide of insitutions as well as within.

This is the first I've heard of Thoreau as being called "Hank".
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Imposing Latin and Greek

Postby Ianus » Mon Oct 17, 2005 7:03 am

Its true what you've all stated about latin or Greek being imposed on learners. No one should be forced to learn classics- but when people aren't even given the chance to study classics, what's the point in education?

The dumbing down of the Australian Education system is due to one great error of our most glorious government (sarcasm intended, naturally). They are forcing, pretty much, all students to study what is known as the VCE or HSC- even if they do not intend on going to university.

Once, these certificates were given only to academic students- with no practical skills (though they could be both practical and academic- not to mention artistic). Now that those who are less able to cope with the rigorous studies of the VCE and HSC are studying, the courses have been dumbed down- and this in turn dumbs down our University courses.

Such is life, I suppose.

PS: Yes, in some circles in Australian high-schools Ovid is seen as hip and groovy :D
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Freedom to chooose

Postby Ianus » Mon Oct 17, 2005 7:07 am

Yes, GlottalGreekGeek- Freedom of Choice is important. If I had listened to the advice of our Career Counsellor I would be doing Woodworks (not that that isn't a respectable class for some). This whole year, for instance, I have been living in fear that my French Class might be cancelled. Thankfully it hasn't been.
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Postby classicalclarinet » Mon Oct 17, 2005 9:39 am

I am wary of somebody who does not know me well giving me an exact prescription for what I study. Something deep inside me resists being put dispassionately into an educational formula, to be processed in some standardized education machine.


You've pinned down what I find to be the worst aspect of high-school education. At least at my district, where omnipresent vending machines and 'McTeacher's Night's lurk while students are forced 3 semesters of PE, and Alaska Studies and Ecominics are meticulously penciled in.

But anyway, the question arises, is Greek literature is more virtuous than Latin? Or are they both required, if one is to learn virtue from classics?
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Postby Paul » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:22 pm

Señor Boethius wrote: I think a college like St. John's is ideal for a liberal arts education.


I suppose that you mean the college with campuses in both Annapolis and Santa Fe. How do you come to know of it?

Cordially,

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Postby Bardo de Saldo » Mon Oct 17, 2005 4:13 pm

"... from what I can understand." ~Señor Boethius

Excuse my lyrical peroration (ending with a pedoration) in Spanish. I had assumed that you were Sonoran, or at least Mexican.
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Postby Señor Boethius » Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:33 pm

I think this thread has split into two different questions. (1) does studying the classics make one morally virtuous? and (2) should students have a sequential curriculum and thus no choice over their classes?

Imagine a school where the students start learning Latin, Greek, math, and geography from a very young age. Imagine those students having a sequential curriculum that taught them history and literature and science so they could actually see how everything relates to each other. Imagine students in high school reading Homer and Plato in Greek and Ovid and Seneca in Latin. This has happened in the past for a few lucky individuals. Imagine, GlottalGreekGeek, other students taking Greek with you and a teacher competent to teach it. Perhaps this is a dream, but if done correctly, it would be an amazing liberal arts education. If done incorrectly, it would be the nightmare that you fear.

By the way, classicalclarinet, I like the question whether Greek literature is more virtuous than Latin literature. My answer: both contain excellent works to stimulate virtue. Ideally, students should learn both languages. Much of what I have been saying is from the book I mentioned earlier by Tracy Lee Simmons: Climbing Parnassus.

As for St. John’s (http://www.sjca.edu/asp/home.aspx) , yes, I should have clarified that I meant the 4 year liberal arts school in Annapolis and Santa Fe. I originally heard about it in high school, but I scoffed at the idea as being ridiculous back then, but now I regret not going there. I spent much of my collegiate experience picking and choosing classes as if I were at a smorgasbord, and I ended up knowing a little about a few things, but I didn’t have an understanding of the big picture. My study of Greece and Rome started just a few years ago.

Finally, my cover is blown. No, I’m not Mexican (I'm a Gringo), though I live in Mexico. I’m married to a Mexican and I teach English in Hermosillo, Sonora. Presently, I’m trying to get out of the EFL racket, and I’d really like to go back to school to learn more Latin and eventually teach it at some ideal school. My wife, however, is usually annoyed with me because I spend more time studying Latin than Spanish.
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Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Tue Oct 18, 2005 12:44 am

Señor Boethius wrote:Imagine a school where the students start learning Latin, Greek, math, and geography from a very young age. Imagine those students having a sequential curriculum that taught them history and literature and science so they could actually see how everything relates to each other. Imagine students in high school reading Homer and Plato in Greek and Ovid and Seneca in Latin. This has happened in the past for a few lucky individuals. Imagine, GlottalGreekGeek, other students taking Greek with you and a teacher competent to teach it. Perhaps this is a dream, but if done correctly, it would be an amazing liberal arts education. If done incorrectly, it would be the nightmare that you fear.


While that is a nice agenda, it is not the ideal sequence even for me. Where do I get to train my body? I need some dance, fencing, stage combat, martial arts, or something really physical in my schedule. I suppose I could exhaust my physical energy outside of class (or even exhaust it in class - but that would ruin the class for everybody), but it would be a waste to not train my body and my physical energy. After all, the brain is only a small portion of the body.

I would also recommend putting some voice lessons so the students can become good orators, among other things. But then of course, I am the GLOTTAL Greek geek, so I am clearly biased on this issue.

However, now that you have given sufficient detail, I agree that sequences are good. But there must be different sequences for different students, which the student must choose. There is no universal sequence for all students. For example, this is the fourth year I have studied Theatre in high school. Beyond the fact that I have chosen to study theatre, I have no choice in my theatre classes; they are chosen by the faculty. It has been a wonderful experience since the classes are (mostly) good. Even the classes/roles which I strongly dislike, such as Directing (I despise directing plays) serve a good purpose (such as functioning better with directors because I see the method in their madness). Some of the benefits and the cross-connections are only evident after a few years.

However not everybody has prospered as well as I have, and do you know what those people did? They left. Which makes everything better for everybody, including themselves. Somewhere, the student has to submit themselves to the education, and not let others submit them.

Of course, you still have to account for the occasional theatre student who wants to learn Ancient Greek so they can access Aeschylus without the translation :D
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Postby Kynetus Valesius » Wed Oct 26, 2005 10:16 pm

Francisco de Quevedo's Desde la torre:

Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos,
con pocos, pero doctos libros juntos,
vivo en conversación con los difuntos
y escucho con mis ojos a los muertos.


Hey, I'll just have a go at the above stanza:

Pacibilis istis ex locis desertis egressus
paucis verum doctis cum libris
cum et defunctis mercans versansque
luminibus ausculto mortuos illos

But perhaps my comprehension of Spanish is as faulty as my latin composition skills. I was only attempting a translation and no metrical effects. Pretty inelegant I'd say.
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