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Res Publica

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Res Publica

Postby vinobrien » Tue May 27, 2003 10:55 am

There is one issue which perplexes me in the study of classics and which came to mind as I was sitting in my car in Eton at the weekend and idly looking out at inscrptions on the school walls in Latin and Greek. ::)<br /><br />Throughout the best part of the last two millenia, education of leaders in Western Europe has focussed on Latin and Greek civlisation and culture. Here in England schools immersed the future leaders of empire in Greek and Latin.<br /><br />The languages, literature and history learned were centred on two periods: the end of the Roman republic (generally seen as a bad time) and the zenith of the Athenian democracy (generally seen as a good). <br /><br />So, for the school child, republic and democracy are good and emperors and oligarchs are bad.<br /><br />Why then is "post classical" history one filled with kings, emperors and oligarchies preserving these systems when their studies as children would have told them these very, very naughty indeed? Did they just not listen to their schoolteachers? ;)<br /><br />Byzantium's long history of aristocracy is certainly justified by its education system being based on Homer, but the Western Empire was different. Any thoughts?
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Re:Res Publica

Postby annis » Tue May 27, 2003 12:21 pm

[quote author=vinobrien link=board=13;threadid=131;start=0#618 date=1054032954] <br />Why then is "post classical" history one filled with kings, emperors and oligarchies preserving these systems when their studies as children would have told them these very, very naughty indeed? Did they just not listen to their schoolteachers? ;)<br /><br />[/quote]<br /><br /><wild simplification coming><br /><br />A democracy killed Socrates. So democracy became suspect in the minds of later philosophers.<br />
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Re:Res Publica

Postby Raya » Thu May 29, 2003 2:45 pm

My thoughts are rather on the nebulous side, so I hope the following makes sense...<br /><br />On Education<br />There is learning from experience and learning from communication (books, etc). That which we learn in school is usually in the latter category, which is usually not as powerful as the former... not to mention, when it comes to students, they tend to be young people - many of them tending towards rebelliousness and/or naivete - and it wouldn't surprise me if they don't just swallow the views of their tutors (which they cannot test).<br /><br />However, I would agree that education serves as a 'limiting factor' in that it suggests ways of thinking. For the most part, people seem to believe either:<br />[1] what they are taught<br />[2] the opposite of what they are taught<br /><br />- and the geniuses/madmen (depending who you ask) are those who manage come up with something totally different. With reference to this example, notice that the political ideology which keeps coming up is oligarchy - one which is taught about. Totally different systems - for instance, anarchy - don't come into play.<br /><br />On Power<br />People covet it and want to hold onto it - so, if you're not in power, democracy sounds like a great idea since it gives you a slice of power (however small). But, if you're already in power (whether voted in or self-appointed), democracy compromises what you can do because you have to consider what The People say. Some degree of autonomy is essential to carry out any task - your effectiveness can be severely hampered if you have to take into account people who don't understand (or don't agree with) you.<br /><br />And in conclusion...<br />If we're talking about the education of children who expect, some day, to be in power... whatever they might be taught about democracy and oligarchy, the life experience of a young person tends to be quite restricted - so I would expect a young person to feel the need for autonomy more strongly. Thus I can understand finding favour with oligarchy, which gives a ruler more power (though perhaps, more responsibility) than democracy...
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Re:Res Publica

Postby Milito » Thu May 29, 2003 3:27 pm

[quote author=Raya link=board=13;threadid=131;start=0#622 date=1054219538]<br />And in conclusion...<br />If we're talking about the education of children who expect, some day, to be in power... whatever they might be taught about democracy and oligarchy, the life experience of a young person tends to be quite restricted - so I would expect a young person to feel the need for autonomy more strongly. Thus I can understand finding favour with oligarchy, which gives a ruler more power (though perhaps, more responsibility) than democracy...<br />[/quote]<br /><br />That may actually explain the monarchy fixation, too, if you think about it. A monarchy gives a single person the power to "fix" things, if necessary, and if you're dealing with an "ideal" monarch who actually does place the interests of the people he/she is ruling over everything else. If a young person is in a position of being not only under the authority of teachers and parents, but of dealing with pressure from peers to act, think or feel in ways completely at odds with his/her own inclinations, the idea of not having to deal with conflicting demands from anyone - particularly in cases where the majority/mob direction is seen to be short-sighted, harmful or both - could be very appealing. I also suspect that, as people grow up, there's an inclination to cling to that "if only we didn't have to deal with committees!" feeling, which is why adults are willing to teach the literature which so contradicts political ideologies. A couple of Rudyard Kipling stories (of all things!) come to mind in considering the question, actually. The first is "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", which is a semi-autobiographical short story and concerns a kid who gets labelled a "black sheep" (before he starts school!), and winds up in social isolation at home and at school as a result. The second is a full-scale book, "Stalky and Co", about some kids at a boarding school. Again, the characters do not tend to be of the "go with the crowd" sort, and again, there are autobiographical elements in the book, so I'd venture to suggest in both cases that an example of an "outsider" literary figure looking for an ideal authority figure to make injustice go away can be seen. (Then there's the chapter in "Stalky" which involves the sabotaging of a Latin exam, which is very funny......)<br /><br />Kilmeny
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Re:Res Publica

Postby vinobrien » Thu May 29, 2003 3:49 pm

As I understand it, your arguments are based on the scholar's desire to maintain a status quo so that he would simply consider classical literature to be a kind of science fiction. <br /><br />Maybe. <br /><br />This still seems a bit odd when we realise they had read about the rape of Lucretia, the assassination of the (not quite yet) divine Julius, the horrors of Spartan oligarchy and even, maybe, Harmodius and Aristogiton. Wouldn't this have coloured their understanding somehow? <br /><br />How about the influence of religion and the conflict between Christianity and the classical world?
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Re:Res Publica

Postby jagorev » Sun Jun 08, 2003 9:56 pm

"How about the influence of religion and the conflict between Christianity and the classical world? "<br /><br /><ignorance of history about to show><br /><br />I always gathered that Christianity was THE form of learning for the first millenium...until say the 12th to 14th century, only a few scholars had even heard of Aristotle. Ancient Greek thought was essentially lost.<br /><br />Thomas Aquinas "brought back" Aristotle in the Summa Theologiae, and there was a general rediscovery of Ancient Greece during the Renaissance.<br /><br />Certainly, post classical history until the Renaissance was entirely about autocratic government. Since the Renaissance, haven't we seen a rising tide of democratic republics established? That could have something to do with studying the Ancient Greeks.
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Re:Res Publica

Postby annis » Mon Jun 09, 2003 8:56 pm

[quote author=jagorev link=board=13;threadid=131;start=0#753 date=1055109405]<br /><br />Certainly, post classical history until the Renaissance was entirely about autocratic government. Since the Renaissance, haven't we seen a rising tide of democratic republics established? That could have something to do with studying the Ancient Greeks.<br />[/quote]<br /><br />But probably doesn't. :)<br /><br />It's the party line that Athens leads to the Magna Carta, then on to Liberal Democracies of the sort current in western nations. But an engaging book called "From Plato to NATO" destroys that notion soundly. I recommend hunting down reviews of the book for more a detailed overview, and then the book itself. I'd provide more info on the book, but my copy is in a box somewhere in this house.<br />
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Re:Res Publica

Postby Skylax » Wed Jun 18, 2003 2:54 pm

[quote author=vinobrien link=board=13;threadid=131;start=0#618 date=1054032954]<br /><br /><br />So, for the school child, republic and democracy are good and emperors and oligarchs are bad.<br /><br /><br />[/quote]<br />I'm not sure of that, because the younger pupils learn less about political systems than about big men, strong personalities, and moral behaviour. For example :<br /><br />The stories of early Rome, commonly read in schools, show models of virtue and honesty... or bad guys (or girls, like Tarpeia), who are heavily punished and scorned.<br /><br />Caesar : The Gallic War, a propaganda leaflet, shows to the pupils a man of uncommon energy, clear-mindedness...<br /><br />The Roman histories (Sallust, Livy...) are chiefly about moral behaviour.<br /><br />Cicero was an oligarch, a supporter of the optimates .<br /><br />And remember :<br />Plato hated democracy.<br />Xenophon was an oligarch and told about the education of Cyrus, King of Persia...<br /><br />And so on...<br /><br />So, the ideals conveyed by classical studies can be perfectly conservative.<br /><br />Best regards,<br />Fernand.<br /><br /><br />
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Re:Res Publica

Postby Alundis » Sat Jul 26, 2003 3:43 pm

Here's a quote from Bernard Knox (which I found while reading his introduction to Fagles' translation of the Iliad)<br /><br />
Petrarch had tried to learn Greek but gave up; Boccaccio succeeded and also in 1360 had a chair of Greek founded in Florence. But before Petrarch, Dante, though he put Homer in his limbo of non-Christian poets, had never read him, and could not have read him even if he had seen a text.
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Re:Res Publica

Postby Hamilton » Sat Sep 20, 2003 4:32 am

For those struggling with the origins of democracy, I recommend the following works:<br /><br />(1) Federalist Papers;<br />(2) Enlightenment philosophers Locke and Hume;<br />(3) Biographies of Jefferson, et al where they cover their Classicist training;<br /><br />
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Postby polemarchos » Fri Mar 26, 2004 6:25 pm

"the ideals conveyed by classical studies can be perfectly conservative"

I agree with this judgement. The impression I got from reading Plato was that he thought all beings are in a vertical order, and the natural order of things is the better rules the worse. So the classical education could be very conservative. We can see this point in the thoughts of Allan Bloom, and, of course, his teacher, Leo Strauss'. The democratic reading of classical works was just an invention of modern world. Nietzsche might be greatest thinker to recover the original color of pagan world.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sat Mar 27, 2004 10:55 am

I don't think that reading the classics was generally something that promoted democracy, for one thing quite a few authors hated democracy, like Plato for example (and not only because the democracy killed his teacher, but most importantly because of the Peloponnesian War. Plato's pride had been hurt by the fact that great Athens had messed up the war so much with wrong decisions and lost against Sparta. Maybe that's why he based his model of an ideal state on Sparta in the end.)
In fact most aristocratic school children didn't study Greek texts, as especially during the middle ages Greek was nearly totally forgotten. They did study Latin I guess, and that would mean Cicero. He conveniently summed up ancient philosophy and so his works were the ones being read and which had an influence on the monarchs. And as you may guess that means they were not brought up to think of democracy as something good.
The influence of Christian teaching shouldn't be underestimated either. Education of a future ruler often consisted of letting him read texts in which the power of monarchs was justified, Bible texts first and later on philosophical texts.
The older they were the more they read probably, but I believe that these early teachings probably played a most important part. People don't want to give up power, but they also have a need to think of themselves as the good guys and to justify their way of life somehow, and early teachings that they not only have the rights, but indeed the moral obligation to rule the 'stupid peasants', were what stuck in their minds.
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