Reflections of a Dinosaur:
Most of my students days were spent with the language and literature of Greece and Rome. I learned to write prose and verse in both Greek and Latin so I belong to a dying breed. Was our education too limited? Most people now would think so, and many would contemptuously call it sexist, racist and Euro-centric. It was very much based on the notion that some books are ‘classics', which is to say of the highest class, not a popular view in our post-modern world. Are the classics a hill worth defending? A too rigid canon of 'great books’ is unlikely to gain universal acceptance. The Bible, the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy and several of Shakespeare’s plays and poems will probably find a place on everybody’s lists, but the inclusion of other titles, however honoured, may only attract local or national support. My preferred approach to the liberal arts is traditional yet flexible, focusing primarily on the core subjects of the classical curriculum - on the acquisition of skills and the getting of wisdom - rather than on content. The material of the trivium and quadrivium may vary from place to place and from age to age, but their purpose is perennial: learning to think, to express thoughts, to persuade and to hone the qualities of mind and spirit that set human beings apart from the whole of creation. And what of the languages themselves - should they yield to the vernaculars? Up to a point that has already happened and there is no path back, but Latin, particularly, will always remain an indispensable tool for scholarly study in many areas of language, history and literature.