“It is an unfathomable absurdity to stick a vision of the contemporary world on texts dating from 2,000 years ago. This is a sordid historic and moral revision.”
— French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer
The French have a reputation for being prickly about their language. Its Academie Francaise is a government body that literally exists to prevent foreign words and phrases from taking root.
That’s not to say the country discourages its people from studying other languages. In fact, earlier this week, education officials from France, Italy, Cyprus and Greece announced a new initiative for “the promotion and development of Latin and ancient Greek.”
French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer says the country’s schools will start offering the classes to students in middle and vocational schools. He wants to make sure France’s youth “develop their culture” by reading works like The Odyssey or Antigone. It’s even better if they can read the texts as they were written.
As Blanquer told The Times of London, ancient Greek and Latin are Europe’s “foremost link”… and “our first federating element.”
In other words, he thinks a greater appreciation of ancestral languages will strengthen European unity.
Here in the United States, the Classics are being discarded as divisive and racist.
Over the summer, Princeton dropped its Greek and Latin requirements for a degree in the Classics. “We condemn and reject in the strongest possible terms the racism that has made our department and our field inhospitable to Black and non-Black scholars of colour,” says a statement.
The move was championed by Princeton professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta — whom we’ve discussed before. He justified his school’s draconian decision to a Greek newspaper by saying, “there is a history of race and racism within Classics and that Classics as a discipline is very much a part of broader constructions, Euroamerica and global constructions of white supremacy.”
Then there’s Howard University, a “historically black” college that’s eliminating its Classics department. The school hasn’t said it’s a racial justice thing — just a lack of student interest. We say it means incoming freshmen don’t understand what the Classics are or why they should care.
Anya Leonard, my Sessions guest this week, will be talking to Dr. Anega Rathore, who once taught the Classics at Howard University. While they’ll be discussing “who should be on the Canon” — the essential writings of the ancient world — I imagine they’ll get into why historically black colleges should want to read the likes of Aristotle and Cato.
Anya reminds us that Fredrick Douglas — the runaway slave turned oratator — “very famously said when he reads the Classics he feels free.”
We also talked about some of Anya’s favorite guests to her podcast. There’s Zena Hitz, author of Lost in Thought, which is “about the hidden pleasures of living an intellectual life.”
Interestingly, Ms. Hitz has found a patron in rapper M.C. Hammer. Anya tells us that the man behind songs like “Can’t Touch This” and “To Legit to Quit” is “quite a champion of philosophy.”
We also discuss Anya’s interactions with historian Victor Davis Hanson. He always brings “an intellectual powerhouse to the conversation,” she says.
You’ll get to hear my full conversation with Anya tomorrow.
And if you’re wondering why you should care about the loss of the Classics in American classrooms — or what you can do about it — I urge you to read the Demolition of the American Mind, here.
Follow your bliss,
Founder, The Financial Reserve