Who Killed Homer

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Democritus
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Who Killed Homer

Post by Democritus » Fri Sep 24, 2004 8:58 pm

Have any of you read this book:

Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom -- by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath

Many of the opinions in this book are spot-on. However, I think they are a little too harsh on Classics professors. If interest in the Classics has waned over the past few decades, it cannot be blamed completely on the professors themselves. The world has simply become a more complex place, and there is so much more for students to choose from. As an academic pursuit, the Classics simply has more competition. (For example, computer science, genetics & bioinformatics, etc.)

Also, the decline of the Classics may be partly illusory, since the percentage of young people attending university altogether has increased.

Are any of you planning to do graduate work in the Classics? I'm curious to know what you think of this book.

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Post by 1%homeless » Sat Sep 25, 2004 5:38 pm

I've read most of it, but I couldn't finnish it. I agree that it put too much blame on the professors. If that were the case, the same can be applied to Math and other horribly taught subjects in Academia. I think it has more to do with academic administration than professors. People only take classes if required or pressured to take classes that they don't see as practical. If classics has always been voluntary classes from the start of the 1900s, my guess would be that the statistics would show not much difference from other humanities subjects... *shrugs*
Are any of you planning to do graduate work in the Classics?
Nope. I like learning on my own leisure.

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Post by Emma_85 » Sat Sep 25, 2004 6:00 pm

I haven't read the book, but I wouldn't think it's the professor's fault if less people are interested in classics... maybe it's because ancient Greek and Latin are not taught in school as much they used to be?
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Post by Karl » Sun Sep 26, 2004 3:10 am

I read the classics before I went to college.
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Post by chad » Mon Sep 27, 2004 12:30 am

hi, yep i read it cover to cover: it's easy to read in one go because it's so spot on and so funny, particularly near the end where they're talking about one academic who accused the author of being the unabomber/unibomber (whatever it is: i don't want to google it or i'll be flagged hehehe), because the academic was so inflamed at the authors' previous writings. i found the authors' discussion about how schools and unis use the stress (rather than pitch) accent interesting, and it was the text list at the end which made me start reading sophocles' ajax.

btw i do think it's the professors' fault. if they teach in a boring outdated way something which we know isn't boring, you can't blame anyone else.

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Post by PeterD » Sat Oct 09, 2004 4:59 pm

Hi,

While some professors leave alot to be desired, they did not "kill" Homer. I would attribute the lack of interest to the overall dumbing down of society. It takes brains to read Homer whether it be in Greek or in translation.

~PeterD

p.s. War is peace; peace is war (see what I mean?). :?
Fanatical ranting is not just fine because it's eloquent. What if I ranted for the extermination of a people in an eloquent manner, would that make it fine? Rather, ranting, be it fanatical or otherwise, is fine if what is said is true and just. ---PeterD, in reply to IreneY and Annis

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Post by Moerus » Sun Oct 10, 2004 2:04 am

I only know one thing: Old Greek did kill all the Greeks and now it's killing me! And for Latin and the Romans: They are all dead, cause Latin did not had an article. Of course you will all agree that this made the empire fall ...

LOL ;)

Professors and students of classical Latin and Greek can only beg at a coctail party!

We will always have persons saying bad things about us, but simply don't worry about that. Most of them never openend a Latin or Greek book, but they all know it better than we do of course ...

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Post by chad » Mon Oct 11, 2004 12:43 am

While some professors leave alot to be desired, they did not "kill" Homer. I would attribute the lack of interest to the overall dumbing down of society. It takes brains to read Homer whether it be in Greek or in translation.
anyone could learn greek, if it was taught the right way. you don't need brains to learn greek, just determination to work under a defunct language teaching style, like sitting through a bad lecturer teaching an interesting topic.

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Post by PeterD » Mon Oct 11, 2004 2:15 am

chad wrote:anyone could learn greek, if it was taught the right way. you don't need brains to learn greek, just determination to work under a defunct language teaching style, like sitting through a bad lecturer teaching an interesting topic.
Hi Chad,

Blaming the teachers is no different than blaming the messenger. And, like I said before, although some teachers leave a lot to be desired , as is the case in any subject area, the majority are intelligent, dedicated and enthusiastic. That is my experience in dealing with Classics teachers/tutors online.

Plus, I had the opportunity last year to take an introductory Greek course in college. The class started with about 40 students. By the end of the first month, there were only about 20 of us left. I can assure you that it was not the teacher's fault for the 50% drop-out rate; she was, in my opinion, an extraordinary teacher. No, the crux of the problem lay in the fact that most students, even though they somehow got into college, still had no grasp of basic English grammar. How can you expect someone to learn the intricacies of Greek grammar when they have no clue that a sentence must contain, at a minimum, a subject and a predicate (and, let's not go to participles!). Heck, the teacher would spend half the class time going over basic grammar. I used to joke that I had enrolled in an English course, instead.

No, Chad, I sincerely believe in the dumbing down of society. How else can the retard, who has many times stated does not like to read, in the White House be explained?

I do agree with you that anyone can learn Greek; but, it is still a very difficult language. The Romans, when they weren't too busy conquering new lands, still had a difficult time of it -- and they had the benefit of live Greek tutors!

Take care,

~PeterD

p.s. Cicero: "I have spared no pains to make myself master of the Greek language and learning." Indeed, he didn't stop learning Greek until his throat was cut.
Fanatical ranting is not just fine because it's eloquent. What if I ranted for the extermination of a people in an eloquent manner, would that make it fine? Rather, ranting, be it fanatical or otherwise, is fine if what is said is true and just. ---PeterD, in reply to IreneY and Annis

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Post by tdominus » Mon Oct 11, 2004 4:28 am

PeterD, I agree that what we are witnessing is not the fault of particular academics but rather of a general decay throughout society. One may think of Hesiod's concept of the ages. (reflecting a greater Indo-European tradition, found also in, for example, Hinduism,which says we are now in the Kali-yuga.)

That said, I feel you should read the book itself. :) They give many examples of teachers failing at their jobs, more interested in their careerism than in any ideals of learning or truth.

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Post by chad » Mon Oct 11, 2004 6:33 am

hi, i'm not saying anything against the enthusiam or dedication of classics teachers. what i'm saying is that greek teachers have adopted a way of teaching greek which aims towards language knowledge rather than ability. whenever i've spoken with someone who has studied greek for years, and ask them to speak in greek a bit, they lapse into some tangent excuse... they can't use greek as a language because that's not what they've been taught to do... instead they're masters of all the rules and exceptions in the books, and of analysing all the ancillary stuff like the meaning and motifs in certain texts, &c &c, and that's all they can really use, their language knowledge.

teachers choose to teach students in this knowledge rather than in language ability, and thid language knowledge (about aorists and moods and stuff) only appeals to a few people. that's why i say the teachers are to blame... if they used more modern approaches to teaching greek, i.e. by teaching language ability even at a basic level, appealing to the language-learning part of the brain rather than the analytical part, i'm sure the idea of learning greek would be less detested

edit: i know that someone will tell me that learning grammar is a necessary condition of language ability. i think so too, but there's the qn about when to dump all the grammar on students--and this comes down to what your 'ideal' is... if you're teaching students to get greek 100% correct, and you penalise mistakes, then you're aiming for accuracy and the 1800s method of teaching rules and principles will be the method you use to teach. but if like in modern languages you aim for fluency as your ideal, then you'll learn language ability with simple sentences until you're comfortable thinking and talking in the new language, and then as students get more advanced you start dumping the grammar: i'm just thinking about the structure of a typical modern language course.

learning language ability, you acquire accuracy over time. but learning language knowledge will not, over time, give you language ability, that's my point, and it's the teachers who could change it if they wanted

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Post by tdominus » Mon Oct 11, 2004 7:58 am

chad, interesting post.

Do you feel that the modern idea of teaching "reading greek" (or latin) , without requiring any translations from English into Greek, may also act in detriment to students becoming fluent in the language?

Grading students, not in terms of the gradus ad parnassum, steps towards a higher goal, but rather in giving a numerical score by which to rank students, also pushes towards a quick-answer style yes / no style of assessment. I believe this encourages the type of petty non-understanding knowledge-of-trivia for which some academics are notorious. In my opinion, if each step of learning is not evaluated in terms of a higher goal, then every lesson or course will be seen in terms of more facts, not of steps towards something superior than any particular detail.

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Post by Eureka » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:32 am

I agree with you, Chad. I did a couple of years of high-school Latin, and all we did was drone out the conjugations. There was no emphasis on correct pronunciation (What’s a stress accent?).

They managed to turn a language into nothing more than a set of daunting rules. Needless to say, it made it appear impossible to learn (this wasn’t helped by my laziness, at the time).
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Post by Emma_85 » Mon Oct 11, 2004 7:02 pm

I've got to disagree I'm afraid. What would be the point of learning how to speak ancient Greek or Latin? With who would I talk? No - for me the whole point is to read the masterpieces of the ancient world in the original and I do not have to know how to say 'Hello, how much does that apple cost?' in ancient Greek in order to do that. If a teacher wanted to teach me how to speak ancient Greek I'd tell them not to be stupid. Sorry for having to say that Chad :wink: . It might be fun to teach the little 10 and 11 year olds how to ask if they may please go to the loo in Latin (which they do now), but the aim should not be to speak the language. That can be an aim of study too, if you are a linguist, but not if your goal is to just read the stuff in the original. Some people may find all this di-gamma and ablaut stuff fascinating, it is to a certain extent, but I don’t think there is much point in really learning to speak the language. It might be fun, but it would not be any different from learning another modern language, only more difficult because of the lack of native speakers and a bit pointless - again because of the lack of native speakers. It would be much better to learn a modern language if that's what you think is fun and rewarding.
The only way to make all this grammar learning more fun is to have a good teacher - teachers are the key. If the teacher really knows what he's talking about and thinks it's really important and can teach (I'm being very demanding here :wink: ) - then the subject can be fun. Or if you're just so interested in reading Plato in the original that you're prepared to learn all about the optative to be able to do so. And I'm guessing that more people think that after starting a course in ancient Greek because they really wanted to read Plato in the original that maybe an English translation will do and they'd rather learn French instead and so drop out. Or as I said before - as Greek and Latin are often not on the highschool curriculum they don't know who this Plato guy is anyway (exaggerating a bit :P ).

I think PeterD is right to some extent. I don't think it's the student's fault they don't know basic English grammar even - just like I don't think it's my fault I don't know how to bake bread. No one ever showed me how so even with a cook book (or grammar book) the result would be terrible. Basic English grammar should be taught in junior school and that it no longer is - that's dumbing down (or maybe it was never taught, only in elite schools anyway, in which case no dumbing down has happened only that more schools exist now, which just aren't put to the standard of the old elite schools, but that depends on which country you're in if that's the case or not). Things are certainly being dumbed down in Germany. We used to have to suffer dictations in class in German. I was a good pupil, never failed a test, except for German dictations. Too many people failed those apparently so now they changed the system to make these 'horrible' things more bearable for pupils. You know what my younger sister's dictations were like? The teacher did a mock dictation before the test, then they went through it in class and next day they had the real dictation - the same text exactly! :shock: What sort of useless dumbing down is that? :evil:
But it gets even worse... the brother of a guy in my year his 'dictation' consist of just copying down a text and the trick is not to make many mistakes while copying the text :shock: ! And his brother of course made no mistake copying the text and his teacher was shocked - apparently no one had ever managed zero mistakes copying a text:!: . Hell how much more intelligent and hard working must Daniela have been, she always had zero mistakes in proper dictations. I don't think the pupils now are any less intelligent though...
Sorry for all the exclamation marks and so on, but I'm just shocked, really. I mean I never did well in dictations, but I know with 100% certainty that my spelling would be even worse than it already is if I had not been forced to do these things. I'd spend hours practicing with my mother or with my dad for dictations and sometimes even managed a pass. Without making that effort my German writing would probably be much worse.
The same goes for other subjects, although I've not heard too many horror stories concerning those yet, although not knowing basic English grammar counts as a horror story I suppose. If the teachers (or examination board in most cases) don't expect a pupil to know certain things, then the pupil won't go to the extra effort of knowing them if they are not told that they are actually basic knowledge. If your teacher doesn't tell you that English grammar is important, you probably won't think: Ah, I think I have the sudden urge to learn English grammar, as it's important. If you're not told that grammar exists, you probably wont even know what verbs and nouns are :wink: .
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Post by Bert » Mon Oct 11, 2004 11:55 pm

While reading Emma's reply, I can almost imagine her furiously typing away (except that I don't know what she looks like.) :)
I am not as critical of Chad's position.
With the system he describes, one would be fluent enough in Greek to be able to feel slight differences in various sentences.
I had to translate something from Dutch into English. I agonized over this more than I do when I translate from Greek to English. Going from G to E, if I get the words right, and the end product makes sense, then I figure I have done a good job. From Dutch to English is different. I am fluent in both languages so I am always thinking: "Well... That's close but not quite right."
Chad's system would work toward this sort of feeling for the language(If I understood him right that is.)
Chad, I am wondering; Would reading lots and lots of Greek cultivate this sort of language ability?
Because, like Emma said, it is hard to converse in Ancient Greek. For me it is impossible because I don't have a teacher. Sometimes I get a little discouraged that the only thing I am able to read is something I have read before. Even when I am reading easy readers, I spend more time in the lexicon than in the text.
(Even so, I still enjoy it.)

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Post by Emma_85 » Tue Oct 12, 2004 2:45 pm

Hehehe :lol: , I wrote this post just after reading a thread on another site which made me 'a bit angry'. I'm not very good at taking my time writing posts and thinking about what I write first :wink:. Plus you wouldn't really want to meet me when I'm angry :P .
But I do think that learning to speak ancient Greek isn't really well, uh, needed.
From Dutch to English is different. I am fluent in both languages so I am always thinking: "Well... That's close but not quite right."
Once you've read and translated enough texts you'll start to get that feeling too, but often you then just use the words you've learned but in your mind you'll know what the text actually means. Just need some experience. After translating a word for the 50th time you'll sort of get a feel for when to use which of the many meanings this word has and when it might be better to translate the text a bit more freely and so on. When it comes to such words that don't have an adequate equivalent in English a teacher is really helpful.
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Post by didotwite » Wed Oct 13, 2004 8:03 pm

I agree with Emma that speaking Ancient Greek, especially, is an absurd undertaking. Will you speak Lesbian? or Attic? or Ionic? How 'bout Epic, and entirely artificial language that, in effect, no one ever spoke?

How exactly are classics professors meant to give their students this mysterious "language ability" that you speak of? My students are able to capably read Cicero and explain exaclty why a given sentence means what it does. It seems to me they display both ability and and "knowledge."

You do not seem to take into account that there is nothing out there to honestly teach Latin or Greek as if they were modern languages. Think about trying to teach someone English using only Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare and Wallace Stevens. There's simply no material.

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Post by tdominus » Thu Oct 14, 2004 3:06 am

didotwite wrote:I agree with Emma that speaking Ancient Greek, especially, is an absurd undertaking. Will you speak Lesbian? or Attic? or Ionic? How 'bout Epic, and entirely artificial language that, in effect, no one ever spoke?
Homer and the other bards spoke it, and quite enthusiastically and dramatically at that! andra moi ennepe. Homer was, after all, a performing poet, not an academic who performed grammatical anaylsis on Greek morphology and syntax.

Would you argue against learning English, because learning, say, American English is not the same as British English, or Australian English, and so on?
didotwite wrote: How exactly are classics professors meant to give their students this mysterious "language ability" that you speak of?
The same way that Spanish teachers, for example, give their students the "mysterious language ability" to converse in the language they have studied for years.

It is not at all absurd to learn Latin or Greek; this is the point of Who Killed Homer.. they teach a world view, the ideas at the foundation of Western Society, have a unique virility, passion, and realistic outlook on life.

Sure, it's much easier for a teacher to resign to having his students be able to identify the accusative singular form of a 3rd declension noun, then finding the corresponding verb in order to piece together a sentence... but in my view, seeing this as the goal is the absurd way of looking at things!

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Post by Timothy » Thu Oct 14, 2004 4:46 am

I've got to disagree I'm afraid. What would be the point of learning how to speak ancient Greek or Latin? With who would I talk? No - for me the whole point is to read the masterpieces of the ancient world in the original and I do not have to know how to say 'Hello, how much does that apple cost?' in ancient Greek in order to do that. If a teacher wanted to teach me how to speak ancient Greek I'd tell them not to be stupid. Sorry for having to say that Chad . It might be fun to teach the little 10 and 11 year olds how to ask if they may please go to the loo in Latin (which they do now), but the aim should not be to speak the language. That can be an aim of study too, if you are a linguist, but not if your goal is to just read the stuff in the original. Some people may find all this di-gamma and ablaut stuff fascinating, it is to a certain extent, but I don’t think there is much point in really learning to speak the language. It might be fun, but it would not be any different from learning another modern language, only more difficult because of the lack of native speakers and a bit pointless - again because of the lack of native speakers. It would be much better to learn a modern language if that's what you think is fun and rewarding.
I really have to disagree with this; at least for Latin. I can’t speak about Greek but I think it applies equally.

Latin isn’t meant to be read silently. Without learning it as a spoken language, you miss the important part the it. It’s like trying to understand Beethoven by sheet music alone and never hearing the music. You won’t get it unless you hear it. It treats a spoken language, one that is very easily learned to pronounce, as if it cannot be spoken. The result is makes the language vastly more difficult to learn. And people spend vast amounts of time

'Hello, how much does that apple cost?' This isn’t a valid argument. No beginner, whether they learn to speak or not, starts with masterpieces.

But if the aim isn’t speaking, but to reading, why learn to write? The answer is because it helps understanding; that there is much more to understanding a language than simply translation of the words. This is why humor is so hard to translate.

But why do this at all? If the goal is reading then what is so special about the reading the original language? The reason is because a translation loses some of the “flavor” of the original; in the same way that the written loses the flavor of the spoken word.

Lack of native speakers doesn’t hold either. When a student is learning to German in Ohio it doesn’t mean much that there are millions of native speakers of German on the other side of the planet. That knowledge or lack of it doesn’t help learn the language at all. Nor does it hinder him that he can only speak to classmates and listen to audio. It has the opposite effect. The language is easier to learn.

I’m going to speak out of order here for a second, and I may regret doing so, but over the past month or so I (and some others) have been working on an audio project for learning to speak Latin as a supplement to the language books. I’m now concerned that there is this level of resistance to learning speak these languages which I wouldn’t have expected here. I’m honestly surprised by this. :cry:
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