Why You Should Read the Classics

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that nothing is new under the sun, and the old books remind us that we’ve been here before. (via Ace)

We can learn from classics that most of us are more likely to resent superiority than to reward it, to distrust talent than to develop it. With classical training, our impatient youth might at least gain some perspective that the world is one where the better man is often passed over — precisely because he is the better man.

There is a profundity about the human soul in that truth. It grates. It offends. Man is not Just. Man is indeed wolf to man, as the old Roman proverb goes (homo homini lupus). We find ourselves then seemlingly forced to choose between abandoning justice or abandoning man. But neither choice seems right, does it?

And thence, to the discussion of the rerun of the decadence of ancient Rome that we are experiencing:

It is not just that plenty of slaves, purple dye, marble, forced vomiting, and piped-in water mean that we don’t have to rise at dawn to hoe the vineyard and bathe in ice-cold streams and therefore become lazy, corpulent, and decadent. Rather, material progress is usually accompanied by moral regress largely because of the leisure to master a critical consciousness and intellectual gymnastics well apart from the fears of religion: if we can explain, in a sophisticated and convincing manner, why something bankrupt is true, then it surely must be true: Vero possumus! Who is to say that Lindsay Lohan is not more interesting than Gen. Mattis?

Language in the postmodern world becomes more layered — and fluid — (compare “overseas contingency operations“ for terrorism or “investments” for deficit spending). The sophistic citizen has the leisure and training to third-guess ancient protocols. Without a soul, the good life here is it. Sarcasm, cynicism, skepticism, and nihilism so abound that there must always be a third and fourth meaning.

Languages ceases to be a tool and becomes a game, and then a hustle, and finally an incomprehensible fog. We wound our own nature, as creatures which name things, when we dance these monkeyshines. We condemn ourselves, as creatures of rationality, to confusion, and helplessness, and ignorance, because we have convinced ourselves that knowledge is impossible.

The good news is, as the classics remind us, is that these moments of decline are not the end. Falseness and weakness do not survive. Achilles may suffer at Agamemmnon’s hands, but Agamemmnon is going to get got.

The truth will set you free.

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Read the Classics

  1. Languages ceases to be a tool and becomes a game, and then a hustle, and finally an incomprehensible fog. We wound our own nature, as creatures which name things…

    Very nicely put.

    The game, the hustle. The sophists at play. Truth does not enter into their calculations, only the Win.

    I had reason to look up Aristotle’s description of rhetoric — ethos, pathos, logos. — to try to understand the mastery of this tool in the hands of the White House, and the complete inability of members of Congress, our representatives who might want to counter it, to counter it. With words. Words!

    1. Just so.

      But remember, the sophists only seem all-powerful. Socrates showed them up.

      Aristotle contains multitudes. I’m dipping my toe in the Politics myself. Good luck to you on the Rhetoric – it’s full.


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