Saving the Classics from Classicists

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annis
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Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by annis » Tue Dec 06, 2005 5:45 pm

I'm posting this in response to a particular thread in which edonnelly says this:
edonnelly wrote:these "expert" classicists (who, I would argue, bear a significant responsibility for the declining interests in the classics)
but I wish to empahsize that this notion has been aired several times in this forum. Needless to say I myself continue to find it a bit bizarre to blame the decline of classical studies on the very people writing the textbooks (new ones every year), deepening our knowledge of the classical world via archaeology, history, etc., producing both beginning and advanced commentaries on classical works, etc., etc. But let us pass over my objections for now.

Let's assume, for the sake of this thread's question, that it's true that classicists are the main reason for the decline in classical studies.

What do you all suggest we do to save this patient?

Before you answer, consider this hypothetical situation. Imagine your local school system has a small number of classics faculty — just Latin, say — and they've hit another budget crunch (taxes being sinful these days). They have two choices that'll perfectly match the shortfall - they can remove the classics faculty, or they can remove the football program. Which choice would cause the most uproar in your community? I know what'll get the cut in all the places I've lived.

With that thought in mind, I ask what workable plan for preserving the classics would people offer? For surely the minds so wise as to identify, without doubt, the classics profession as the primary cause of the decline, can with similar ease offer solutions to the problem.* I emphasize "workable" in my question — anything starting with "make people X" must consider the cost of making people do things.

I don't have any solid ideas yet to offer here myself — I look forward to the results of collective Textkitten wisdom — but I know what isn't working. Saying that studying Latin will improve your scores on college entrance exams reduces it to a merely instrumental study, something to leave aside once the tests have been taken.

_____
* No wonder Plato's popular. Socratic sarcasm is so satisfying in impassioned rhetoric.
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Post by nostos » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:25 pm

I think edonnelly made a necessary distinction between studying and teaching the classics. I wouldn't go so far as to blame the decline of classicism on classicists quite so drastically as he does, however (not that he's saying it's the only cause). From what I've understood, he was only reacting to whiteoctave's dismissal of Hans Ørberg.

I think the only way to save a classical education is to make it appeal to the popular mind beyond 'improve your SAT scores (and then drop the bloody thing)!' Though I don't currently see how. Otherwise Oxford and Cambridge may be among the only institutions left teaching it, as most people can't see the relevance of Skylla to themselves. English majors generally don't care about etymology, much less learning languages to read poems, prose, and plays in the original.

I'm not even sure what drives me to learn, or if I want to figure it out (that might be the drive's fall). This leads me to think that perhaps people just have tendencies which go beyond explanation (playing an instrument, for instance).
Last edited by nostos on Tue Dec 06, 2005 8:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by Adelheid » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:31 pm

annis wrote:what workable plan for preserving the classics would people offer?
I was very interested last year in finding out what the relevancy of the classics (I use that word to include both the study of the languages and of ancient history) these days could be.
I felt I had to defend my interest in the subject somehow, to the rest of the world, even to myself.
I read a few books about it, but the plans they offered (if they offered any) to push the classics back to the forefront ("Think And Live Like The Greeks!" is one example) seemed totally out of touch.

It is my belief that the classics will not return to the forefront of education. But is there a real need for a plan to actually preserve the classics? It has receded into rank and no longer has a privileged place in our education, but it is not lost, I think. There will always be people studying it, may it be, perhaps, at a lower level than before.
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Post by edonnelly » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:33 pm

Let me start by saying that it may not necessarily be the goal of the classicists to have the classics be studied widespread. They are free to study for their own reasons and do not "owe" anything to the rest of the world. Thus, for me to say it is their "fault" is a little of an overstatement -- it would only apply to those classicists who see the preservation (or even growth) of interest in the classics as a part of their duty.

Personally, I think the answer to annis' question is the same as the answer to another question often discussed here: "Why should I study the classics?" (or latin, or ancient greek, etc). Those of us who come to this forum probably all agree that there is value here, but the general consensus among most of the population seems to be that the value is not that great. Thus the decline. Perhaps, in fact, it is better that students spend more time on math & science at the expense of latin. I don't think so, for I think a good study of the classics helps to develop the mind and general "thinking" skills in a way the other subjects alone cannot, but I may be wrong. [If I am wrong, then it would be a good thing that the study of the classics has declined.]

Getting rid of the football team would create a much greater uproar than getting rid of latin at the local high school. But what about football or math? Football or science? I would bet that getting rid of either math or science would cause a much greater uproar -- because people see great value in these topics.

The other problem is that, while the classicists have been "writing the textbooks," they have not necessarily been doing it well. Many students find the rote memorization of conjugations, etc. tedious. In the teaching of most other foreign languages, "direct" and "natural" methods are being used much more frequently with better results than the traditional grammar-oriented methods.

With out-dated teaching techniques and a general lack of appreciation for the value of the classical languages, it is no surprise to me that interest has declined.

So, to bring my uncharacteristically long post to a close, I will offer my opinion of what would help save the patient:

1. Better identify the benefits of studying the classics.
2. Do a better job getting that message out to the rest of the world.
3. Modernize the teaching of these languages, especially at the high school level.

(With, in Asimov style, a possible addition of:

0. Decided if the classics should be saved in the first place.)
The lists:
G'Oogle and the Internet Pharrchive - 1100 or so free Latin and Greek books.
DownLOEBables - Free books from the Loeb Classical Library

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Post by Carola » Tue Dec 06, 2005 9:55 pm

When people ask me why I bother to learn Latin & Greek I tell them about all the texts found at Oxyrhynchus, the new discoveries in archaeology, being able to find out how people actually thought and behaved so long ago. By this time they are so keen they are just about signing up for Latin and Greek on the spot.

I think our teaching concentrates too much on the old tried and true texts, we should widen our field and study a much wider variety of material, including inscriptions, fragments from Oxyrhynchus texts, even old book-keeping records. People like astronomy and science because they feel they might discover something new, sports are exciting because there are records to break. What has Latin or Greek got to offer if we only translate Ceasar's Gallic Wars or Xenophon for the 250,000th time? Sure, we need this stuff, but let's introduce some more exciting material - even if only the odd words from an old hand written text.
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Re: Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by annis » Tue Dec 06, 2005 11:46 pm

Adelheid wrote:It is my belief that the classics will not return to the forefront of education. But is there a real need for a plan to actually preserve the classics? It has receded into rank and no longer has a privileged place in our education, but it is not lost, I think. There will always be people studying it, may it be, perhaps, at a lower level than before.
This, I think, is the heart of the matter.
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;

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Post by annis » Tue Dec 06, 2005 11:52 pm

edonnelly wrote:1. Better identify the benefits of studying the classics.
Such as? And what sort of benefits? Economic? Intellectual? Esthetic? Ethical? Does a non-economic reason to study the classics have any chance of attracting a sturdy base of support among communities that elect school boards and pay for the schools?

(These are questions to the air, not edonnelly in particular.)
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
τίς πατέρ' αἰνήσει εἰ μὴ κακοδαίμονες υἱοί;

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Post by chad » Wed Dec 07, 2005 3:27 am

hi, yes i think the classicists are to blame for the decline. classics is currently taught completely through grammar. other languages aren't. this grammar approach is fine for us here but most people hate it. that's why they hate classics, not because they're uninterested completely.

the unit of grammar is the word, while for language it's probably phrases or clauses. the possible permutations of each word form kill off most people who begin greek, while if you started with teaching phrases or clauses, only later showing how these can be modified (i.e. where grammar is relevant), people would actually get through something in greek using the language parts of their brains. there are heaps of stock repetitive phrases and clauses in interesting genres of greek.

i've said all this before here, i think you could probably teach someone to read standard-form a)ne/qhken type inscriptions + repetitive parts of homer + repetitive rhetorical topics in lysianic speeches + repetitive clause-structures in aristotle (in each case teaching to understand at a clause level) before you could teach them to read even a book of xenophon word by word.

there's no reason that this approach wouldn't be practical if someone really wanted to bring back the classics in society, but like many here i'm not particularly fussed because i like all this stuff in its current form and i don't mind if most people in the real world don't.

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Re: Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by Democritus » Wed Dec 07, 2005 5:33 am

This idea of "universal education" is something rather new in human history. It was not long ago that children were not expected to spend their youth in schools, let alone in universities.

Rather than looking at the "decline" of the Cassics, instead look at the vast increase in the number of students attending high school and universities. Far more people go to university now than in 1900.

When would be the "golden age" of the Classics -- the 1800's ? The early 1900's? Whichever years it was, it makes sense to step back and ask, who was going to school at that time, and what did they expect to get out of it?

Today's population of students are not necessarily looking for the same things as the few who attended colleges many decades ago.

To put it more simply: Why shouldn't the number of people studying the Classics be small? It always was small.

Some of the people who skip the the Classics today might have skipped school entirely, in previous generations.

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Post by TADW_Elessar » Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:54 am

annis wrote:
edonnelly wrote:1. Better identify the benefits of studying the classics.
Such as? And what sort of benefits? Economic? Intellectual? Esthetic? Ethical? Does a non-economic reason to study the classics have any chance of attracting a sturdy base of support among communities that elect school boards and pay for the schools?
Quite a vexata quaestio :)
I think there are two main reasons to study classics:

1) You may know a famous anecdote about Euclide: someone who had begun to read geometry with him, when he had learnt a theorem, asked Euclid, "what shall I get by learning these things?" Euclid called his slave and said, "Give him three talents, since he must make gain out of what he learns."

Studying classics teaches the values of education and learning as otium (or scholé, if you prefer): you can read the Iliad and Cicero's orations for themselves, it is not that important to "make gain out of what we learn."

2) Latin language was not only the (dead?) language of Cicero, Caesar, Livy, Virgil, Catullus etc.
It has been the primary language of culture and science until the 18th century. Here's the book that revolutionized physics (and possibly many other scientific disciplines): http://dibinst.mit.edu/BURNDY/Collectio ... metica.htm. And Newton wrote it in Latin.

Those who don't know Latin are excluded from the whole cultural tradition: from theology to medicine, from natural sciences to physics; they are condemned to ignore the origin (the actual "roots") of whatever knowledge domain they are involved in.
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Post by Adelheid » Wed Dec 07, 2005 9:08 am

TADW_Elessar wrote:Those who don't know Latin are excluded from the whole cultural tradition: from theology to medicine, from natural sciences to physics.
Due to all the work put into translating, by many diligent people, I would say that this statement is a little bit exaggerated. It is not all as black and white as that.
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Post by TADW_Elessar » Wed Dec 07, 2005 9:56 am

Adelheid wrote:
TADW_Elessar wrote:Those who don't know Latin are excluded from the whole cultural tradition: from theology to medicine, from natural sciences to physics.
Due to all the work put into translating, by many diligent people, I would say that this statement is a little bit exaggerated.
Yes, it is exaggerated, but, you know, translation is not the original text. ;)
It is less precise and less universal: I think it is more difficult to understand translated theological or philosophical books than original versions.

Precise terms and concepts (e.g. ens, actus essendi and so on) were often universally accepted, recognized and precisely defined. A translation always involves a loss of precision and, since different translators choose different words, it may become very difficult to recognize and compare such concepts.
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Re: Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by Deses » Wed Dec 07, 2005 11:27 am

annis wrote: With that thought in mind, I ask what workable plan for preserving the classics would people offer?
Surely, you are joking. The classics are alive and well. According to Rosetta Stone, Latin enjoys tremendous popularity among millions of people, including numerous very influential individuals:

Join NASA, Fortune 500® executives, U.S. diplomats and millions of learners worldwide in discovering the fastest way to learn Latin.


http://www2.rosettastone.com/en/individ ... ages/latin
<a href="http://www.inrebus.com"> In Rebus: Latin quotes and phrases; Latin mottos; Windows interface for Latin Words </a>

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Post by edonnelly » Wed Dec 07, 2005 1:54 pm

annis wrote:Does a non-economic reason to study the classics have any chance of attracting a sturdy base of support among communities that elect school boards and pay for the schools?
In the past several years where I live there have been many "budget crises" in different local school systems. Often it is the art, music and after school extracurriculars (like band) that the school board threatens to cut. People raise quite a stink when there is talk of cutting these things, not because they think they are necessary for the children's future earning potentials but because they think they are important for the development of the full person.

Maybe a better analogy is history. What would we think of a high school that didn't teach history? At one time, I think, the thought of not teaching latin in high school would be as untenable as the thought of not teaching history would be today. In a way, the reasons for studying the two are very similar. Neither is directly applicable to most future careers, but both can be important to intellectual development and can aid in the understanding of our modern world. Latin, however, has lost its position in the hearts of most people while history has retained its perceived value.

So, I do think that the population at large and the school boards, etc., would support such a program if they believed in it. We are likely too far down our current path, though, to change the way things are.
Adelheid wrote:It is my belief that the classics will not return to the forefront of education.
I agree, but I think it is a shame.
The lists:
G'Oogle and the Internet Pharrchive - 1100 or so free Latin and Greek books.
DownLOEBables - Free books from the Loeb Classical Library

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Post by antianira » Wed Dec 07, 2005 2:39 pm

I hate having to flaunt my ignorance, but who on earth is Hans ?berg (and what is that funny letter everyone keeps spelling his name with?)

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Post by Adelheid » Wed Dec 07, 2005 2:45 pm

antianira wrote:I hate having to flaunt my ignorance, but who on earth is Hans ?berg (and what is that funny letter everyone keeps spelling his name with?)
Perhaps you should take a look here :wink:
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Re: Saving the Classics from Classicists

Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Fri Dec 09, 2005 3:36 am

annis wrote: Imagine your local school system has a small number of classics faculty just Latin, say and they've hit another budget crunch (taxes being sinful these days). They have two choices that'll perfectly match the shortfall - they can remove the classics faculty, or they can remove the football program. Which choice would cause the most uproar in your community?
My high school has neither Latin nor a football team. We do have a four year Russian program and a mock trial team (the closest thing we have to a team sport). While the mock trial team has a dedicated core, and is very successful (we won the city championship last year), removing the Russian program would cause a far greater uproar.

In a high school which had both the Latin and the football, I think it would heavily depend on the popularity of the Latin teacher(s) and the football coach. If a school had a Latin teacher as popular as our Russian teacher and the football coach was unpopular or even just mediocre, I would bet in favor of Latin.

In my opinion, the best thing to expand the classics is to produce a greater supply of excellent teachers. This is far easier said than done, however I think it is unreasonable to demand this. I do not think the Classics have declined : as said above, more people attend school, and when Classical education was at its so-called peak many of the students were forced, by curriculum or by a need for social status, to take Classics, and were not searching for something to make them a fuller person. I prefer having less people studying classics, provided they are devoted to the classics, over having more people studying the classics simply because it is a duty.

Many references have been made to the argument that since modern languages are no longer taught like classical languages, the classical languages should follow the lead of the moderns. First of all, the old fashioned style isn't as dead for modern languages as some here think. When I was in French class, I had to do some translations, and one of my favorite French books is very old-fashioned - many French-English and English-French exercises following a very grammar-oriented approach. I took the grammar approach in conjunction with the immersion/English-free/think-in-French approach. I was very grateful to have the whole grammar layed out for me in English so I could grasp the details, rather than having to blindly absorb it. I do not think the grammar approach should be used alone, in modern or classical languages, but I do not think it should be discarded either.

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Post by Episcopus » Sat Dec 10, 2005 3:14 pm

"saving classics from expert classicists" - so do people here believe that classicists such as whiteoctave are responsible for the decline in the subject? on one hand this might be true - that people could be deterred by some harsh comments. normal people seem to loathe the haughty attitude and become offended by it. i do not bear such sentiments myself because i find it more funny than worthy of scorn. however, there seem to be fewer classicists specialising in the languages, patently the most rewarding and interesting area of classics, and the more people who lean toward ancient history the more classics becomes assimilated with the subject of history, which i find boring. every one asks me, how come you seem not the studious type, how come you like rap yet study something so boring as latin. i reply, how do you know it to be boring? you have never studied it yourself: if you did, and were sufficiently apt in the respect of linguistic pursuits, then you would realise the similarity between latin and rap music, and the innumerable benefits of both.
somehow this generalisation that latin and greek be "hard and boring" needs to be diffracted. those cantabrigienses tried to do this by means of the Cambridge Latin Course - it is no longer hard but ridiculously long tedious and easy to the extent of caninity even at the final page of the 4 x 200 page series. we had Ecce Romani which is quite simply a scottish haggisibus studentis version of the CLC. whiteoctave incidentally used this book himself. quantum perditorem! the extent of classicists' desperation to provoke a resurgence in the study of the latin language is indicated by Minimus the Mouse and Latin and Greek NOT DEAD t-shirts worn by cweb255's mother (indeed I must prestinate one of these). then we have your lingua latina course which, i concede, is better than all of the above mentioned but seems to compel the learner to insist, when writing, on marking every single macron. and the line is thick and completely parallel with the horizontal lest it be considered an acute or grave which don't even exist in latin anyväg. none of it is in english which might indeed be embraced by those such as Lucus but in reality an assiduous lack of english translation in the vicinity of your original latin text will be nigh impossible and impede your progress as a learner. the more you read the less you require a translation, as i have in my own experience found out; but there is always a need of it. i must proclaim, however, the sentiments of Lucus to be far better than those of 'learners' who insult the authors in the gravest manner by reading the texts not in the original but in translation, and with almost pre-natal naiveté consider the translation to render precisely the true meaning and emotions conveyed by the latin/greek text, merely in their own language. to summarize quant[am] insolentiam! exoriantur d'ooge reprints!

~E
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Post by Michaelyus » Sat Dec 10, 2005 5:59 pm

My school is so heavily football-oriented that there is no way Latin could even take root, even if the (rather large) amount of those who want to be law-students took Latin.

I quite like the grammar oriented way: it's clear, simple and provided you can memorise, fast. I used it when I was doing French GCSE early; being stuck in the class is not pleasant especially if the other students are still pronouncing their final -s and mispronouncing their j's.
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Post by Adelheid » Sat Dec 10, 2005 10:51 pm

Episcopus wrote:the more people who lean toward ancient history the more classics becomes assimilated with the subject of history, which i find boring.
And knowledge of Latin and Greek wasn't even mandatory to major in Ancient History way back in 1988. Well, not at my university at least.
Episcopus wrote:those of 'learners' who insult the authors in the gravest manner by reading the texts not in the original but in translation, and with almost pre-natal naivete consider the translation to render precisely the true meaning and emotions conveyed by the latin/greek text, merely in their own language
For a historian of Ancient History, I agree that translations are out of order. But wait, when I was a student, there WERE students with very bright minds, but without any knowledge of the classic languages, who nevertheless contributed a lot to the study of classical history. Hmmm.

And I confess that some texts I also only read in translation. And I don't even feel guilty about it.
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Post by Zaarin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:18 am

Personally I think one of the major reasons for the decline of classics is precisely the one identified by Hale is his quasi-famous-round-here "Art of Reading Latin" article/speech, written well over a hundred years ago - it seems to take far, far too long to learn the languages, and be far, far too much effort for too little gain.

Put plainly, Latin and Greek are very, very badly taught; I don't mean, however (as one or two other posters said) that we should half-abandon grammar and wax communicative about our daily routines a la French (the communicative method destroyed my chances of learning French - I'm now starting on it afresh with a wonderful book from the 1930s that is so old-fashioned and grammatical that it introduces the past historic/preterit/simple past before the perfect.)

I went through seven years of Latin in school (interspersed with a couple of periods of home-education which didn't really change anything on the classics side of things) - and at the end of that, I could barely read a thing. I started off really enjoying it, but my interest waned as I kept getting nowhere, even after "completing" the "grammar". By the last couple of years, I could barely wait to get away from it - and yet now I'm re-teaching the languages to myself, my interest has undergone a sudden revival.

This lack of progress in school was primarily because classics teaching generally makes the languages far more complicated, and difficult to remember, than they need to be. One of the best examples: imagine my surprise when I came back to Latin recently, after losing most of it, and found that it's possible to learn the entire regular Latin verbal system without learning a single full paradigm. Even esse (and hence also posse - my school-taught latin made no attempt to point out that these two verbs are related) are much, much more regular than I ever suspected. It's perfectly possible to learn the entire regular system in no more than a week (I did it in two or three days, but then I had some latin to start with). Even slow-paced courses would take no more than five or six weeks. And yet I spent two or three years on the verbal system in school (interspersed with other things of course), learning a paradigm of every tense, often four times for each conjugation, which makes it incredibly easy to forget (the subjunctive never really stuck with me). Now I can look at almost any latin verb, even if I don't know what it is, and say exactly what it can and can't be, simply by analysing it morpheme by morpheme - it may not sound like much, but one or two weeks of learning the system properly was more effective than seven whole years previously.

My classics teachers were for the most part very sincere, and most of the time good teachers. But they simply had no clue that maybe they should re-analyse the old teaching methods, stop telling people the gerundive meant "requiring to be", notice the the verbal system was far more regular than they thought, and so on - Classics has always been an intensely traditional thing, mostly for obvious reasons. Some of this is harmless, if annoying (writing prefaces to critical editions in Latin and so on), and some of it is devastating (like the abovementioned clinging to incredibly bad teaching methods).

The decline of writing in greek and latin is also a reason for people not getting a good command of the language; the scanty "English-to-Latin/Greek" (as composition is now called on the eastern side of the Atlantic) sentences we did in school were next-to-useless. But the old method of "any construction not used regularly by Cicero, Caesar or Livy will not be admitted!" with teachers forcing people to translate incredibly boring passages from the dregs of the imaginitive output of the human race is hardly something to look back to as a glorious time.

But in the end I think the greatest reason for the decline of Latin in schools is because it is taught in schools - places intentionally designed to stop people thinking for themselves, when Classics is precisely the sort of discipline that needs that most. Schools are also very good at teaching people that it's never worth doing anything you won't be examined on, and I don't blame people who have been throught the school system for having that attitude.

In a wider sense, almost no one seems to bother with trying to understand how the languages work - they're just a hurdle to be passed on the way to greater things. No one, not the teachers, the university lecturers, the grammars, the dictionaries, pays any attention to derivational morphology for example. I learned that "pugno" was "fight" and "oppugno" was "attack". No one attempted to explain the perfectly logical and interesting link between those two and, because of the way it was taught, I never really thought about it either. It was slightly better in Greek, but not much.

Another thing, I think, is that it would be good to introduce classics students to palaeography if at all possible - so few ever are. The incredible divide most students feel between themselves and the editor of, say, an OCT might start to lessen then, and I think it would make the whole linguistic and textual side of the thing seem less daunting and monolithic. Of course this is much more difficult than it sounds, since the vast majority of places hardly have handy manuscripts lying around, but it's an idea.

Maybe the whole problem of people not continuing with classics is that they feel such a massive gap in so many ways between themselves and the "experts", far more so than in any other discipline I've come across.

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Post by SimianHeretic » Sun Dec 11, 2005 7:14 pm

Being slow to grasp the new technology of the Internet, I am surprised at the amount of resources available for personal study. I'm in heaven, for I don't need to attend a school or even spend any money! :D I don't think that the Classics will die, although they may find arid soil in the colleges and universities. Only the Few may be interested, too small in numbers to keep a faculty department employed. For instance, when I attended UC Santa Cruz in 1980, that was the end of Classical Studies there. There weren't enough students for that, I heard.

I believe there will always be the Few, but they will learn and study outside of the old college and university pathways. They will study for its own pleasure, not because they'll have a diploma. The colleges and universities will take care the Many, teaching them practical things like computer science, and the Few will yet find their own way. I exaggerate, but colleges and universities are seen by the Many as mere trainers for "jobs".

But here we are, and we are making progress without schools of higher learning. We have wonderful resources, and much more freedom. Will the Classics die? The many won't value them, but we few will keep them alive in our own minds, alive in our own cyberagora.

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Post by Zaarin » Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:43 am

Well said, SimianHeretic. That is, of course, if enough of the books are kept affordable and the Great Research Libraries (whose instinct is to become vaults) keep occasionally letting people other than university staff and students in, which is a rare event as it seems. What's on the net, though it may grow in times to come, isn't really enough to fuel much beyond beginner's level unfortunately.

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Wed Dec 14, 2005 5:29 am

I do not understand you comment on "Great Research Libraries"
Zaarin wrote:What's on the net, though it may grow in times to come, isn't really enough to fuel much beyond beginner's level unfortunately.
I disagree. I use offline materials because a) they are more convienient b) some of them better quality than online alternatives, but if I had no offline materials at my disposal, I think I could still do well in my studies, and I am well beyong the beginner's level. Perhaps you have not looked much beyond the beginner's material.

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Post by Carola » Wed Dec 14, 2005 6:22 am

Zaarin wrote:Well said, SimianHeretic. That is, of course, if enough of the books are kept affordable and the Great Research Libraries (whose instinct is to become vaults) keep occasionally letting people other than university staff and students in, which is a rare event as it seems. What's on the net, though it may grow in times to come, isn't really enough to fuel much beyond beginner's level unfortunately.
Are you talking about University libraries? You do usually have to belong to a university, but they often have reciprocal borrowing rights with other universities.
At our State Library I just have to send a request via internet for books to come out of storage and by the time I get to the city about 20 mins later they are waiting for me in a collection area. I think your access to books might depend on where you live - in a larger city there are lots of resources but in a small town there would not be much.
The copyright laws prevent any recent material from reaching the Web, but there is a lot of older material available.
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Post by annis » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:26 pm

Zaarin wrote:That is, of course, if enough of the books are kept affordable and the Great Research Libraries (whose instinct is to become vaults) keep occasionally letting people other than university staff and students in, which is a rare event as it seems.
Where do you live, Zaarin? In the U.S. at least, most public (state-owned) colleges are seen as a community resource. Anyone living in the state of Wisconsin, say, can have access to University libraries (for a nominal yearly fee to cover administrivia).
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Post by Zaarin » Fri Dec 16, 2005 4:46 am

Ah. The bliss of walking into a US university library without challenge - I have experienced it a couple of times. No such luck in the British Isles; I am currently attached to a university (two in fact) with excellent libraries, so I have no reason to complain myself, I was just making a general point - for the average person around here it's not easy.

I don't know what it's like in the US, but in the UK there's a widespread implicit view that only academic staff, and research postgrads, are capable of research or any serious academic work. This means that research libraries are deemed somewhat out of the ken of the commoner (and, often, the undergraduate). So far from being a "community resource", the community is viewed almost as a threat. A library with more than a hundred thousand volumes in the UK is with very few exceptions little more than a vault for the priviledged few; it's only the small universities with comparatively miniscule libraries that are open, and even then most charge high prices.

They really hate undergrads too. Just to give an example, a recent report of the library of the Institute of Classical Studies in the University of London - one of the best classics libraries in the country - reported widespread serious concern about the "indiscriminate widening of undergraduate access" to the university's libraries. A proposed merging of this library with another classics collection was deemed "unacceptable" because it could be a "potential pretext" for open access to students. This is absolutely typical of what happens around here.

Apologies if I sound like a bit of a fanatic here, I don't mean to. I just get a bit wound up by the academic aristocracy hoarding knowledge for themselves. Shouldn't really have gone on a rant about it in this forum, so sorry about that - I will now proceed to shut up and let the real discussion continue. :)

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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Fri Dec 16, 2005 5:59 am

Yup, in the US many, if not most, universities let the community in.

I myself live two blocks away from a medical school, and I can come into their library whenever they are open and use their computers or look through their books (though I have little interest in health and medicine.) I remember, when I was about five years old, I enjoyed running around in the vaults of their lowest level (there were so few people down there, nobody ever really noticed, and my dad supervised me). I would have to get a subscription if I wanted to check books out, but it's reasonably priced.

EDIT : I believe the rarest/highest-price-on-the-black-market books are kept in specially secured rooms away from public access, but this is only a small fraction of their collection, and if I desperately wanted to get access to one of those books I could probably find a way.

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