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The Great Gildersleeve’s Fight for the Classics

Though no longer a household name, Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve [1] (1831-1924) was the most important American classical scholar of his generation. When a group of scholars dedicated a collection of essays to him on his 70th birthday, it was an event significant enough to be covered in the Baltimore Sun [2].

The son of a Presbyterian minister and a lifelong Presbyterian himself, Gildersleeve, having attended the College of Charleston and Jefferson College (now Washington & Jefferson), graduated from Princeton at 18. He went on to receive his doctorate at 22 from the University of Göttingen in Germany and was responsible for bringing the more advanced methods of German philology to North America, thereby making American classics something much more sophisticated than mere parlor-room belles-lettres. In addition to teaching at the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University, he served (twice) as the president of the American Philological Association and was the long-time editor [3] of the American Journal of Philology, which he founded.

Here are some representative titles of his work in classics: “Problems in Greek Syntax”; “Temporal Sentences of Limit in Greek”; “Contributions to the History of the Articular Infinitive”; “On εἰ with the Future Indicative and ἐάν with the Subjunctive in the Tragic Poets”; “The Consecutive Sentence in Greek.” At this point the reader may be tempted to shake his head and stop reading. But he should pause for a moment first.

For, in addition to these highly technical works—important as they are (and they are important)—Gildersleeve also dilated on matters of more catholic interest. These are mostly found in Essays and Studies, Educational and Literary [4] and a collection of three lectures called Hellas and Hesperia [5]. One such essay will serve presently as our theme.

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That essay is “Limits of Culture,” a lengthy discussion of education first published in Southern Review in 1867 and later included as the first piece in Essays and Studies. As Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun: almost a century before C.P. Snow [6]’s influential The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution [7], Gildersleeve had already taken up the question of the place of humanistic studies in relation to the hard sciences. We may think that current arguments about the role of the study of language, literature, and history in relation to STEM fields are of relatively recent vintage, but they are not. They became current almost as soon as the explanatory power of the new science was evident, and Gildersleeve had broached the question even before the famous late 19th-century dispute between Matthew Arnold and Thomas Huxley over science, culture, and education. Gildersleeve and Snow are alike in having seen the necessity for each type of intellectual endeavor, but where Snow took up the cudgels on behalf of the hard sciences, Gildersleeve took them up on behalf of classical philology, the study of ancient languages. It was a pursuit he considered no less scientific, that is, capable of yielding real knowledge and subject to exacting disciplinary standards, than chemistry or botany. At the same time, he was much more positive about the genuine goods of scientific advance than Arnold. He therefore provides a good model of something usually conspicuous by its absence in public debate—which is to say, Gildersleeve’s approach has the marks of sanity and real thought.

The background against which Gildersleeve was writing was the perennially worrisome zealotry of educational reformers, who often make up with enthusiasm what they lack in understanding. In particular, Gildersleeve wished to lodge a protest against the elimination of the mandatory study of Greek and Latin in American higher education. By the by, imagine a time at which that seemed outrageous: today’s technocratic heirs to these reformers would be happy to do away with them altogether, at every level. As Gildersleeve says (emphasis added):

Year by year the classics have been pushed back in the regular curriculum of Northern Colleges. In many of them, we believe, Latin and Greek are elective studies during the last two years of the course; and fierce champions of ‘scientific’ pursuits are hedging in the poor Greeks and Romans until they will be forced into quiet niches from which they can do no harm. Meanwhile the character of the controversy is degrading. The delicate thing to be educated, the wonderful human mind, is pulled about and snarled over by these “educationists” as if they were dogs and that a bone.

One is sad to say that Gildersleeve was a prophet. And because prophets are despitefully used in their hometowns, it goes without saying that for that reason few of our own reformers would pay any attention to what he has to teach.

We should, moreover, bear in mind that these reforms were proposed in an era in which “Great Books” education did not exist as such. If one wanted to read the “Great Books,” or even the pretty good books, of Greek and Roman writers, or those of the Middle Ages or much of early modernity, it was still (happily) expected that one would learn Greek and Latin to do so, despite Ralph Waldo Emerson’s comment about translations in his essay “Books [8]”:

I rarely read any Latin, Greek, German, Italian, sometimes not a French book, in the original, which I can procure in a good version. I like to be beholden to the great metropolitan English speech, the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven. I should as soon think of swimming across Charles River when I wish to go to Boston, as of reading all my books in originals when I have them rendered for me in my mother tongue.

The sidelining of Greek and Latin, then, meant in Gildersleeve’s day the sidelining of the Greeks and Romans as well. Gildersleeve rightly would have had little interest in trying to preserve the latter without the former, in attempting an education that relied solely on translations and did not insist on the rigorous inculcation of the original languages. And not for frivolous reasons: as he notes, there is just too much of importance that gets lost in translation. “Words in different languages seldom cover one another,” he writes, “perfect equivalents are rare, and not only so, but every classic author is studded with technical terms, as it were, which must be read by the light of that author’s peculiar language and which defy a strict transfer to another tongue.” Because that is so, “the ancient languages are the means of access to the ancient mind” and therefore are “of priceless value to humanity,” as he quotes John Tyndall [9] as saying. Because “the history of the world is one” and there is an “inseparable union of antiquity with modern life,” we cannot understand ourselves without understanding the Greeks and Romans. For that reason, “classical philology [is] a study of indispensable importance.”

Gildersleeve’s position does not come from a naive idealism about the past; “[w]e do not say unreservedly ‘the old is better.’” He could be vicious about certain aspects of antiquity. For instance, of some minor authors of the first century AD, he opines:

Away with Marcus Manilius, Valerius Flaccus, Silius Italicus and tous ces garçons-là, as Scaliger called them with deserved contempt; and we earnestly hope that professors of Latin do not generally deem themselves bound to read, as Addison considered himself bound to quote, these vapid productions.

Indeed, there are bits of “Marcus Tullius Chickpea” that, he says, might be better left aside. But none of this negates the real value that antiquity and its languages have for proper education as one part of a whole. “We shall not,” he cautions, “imitate the bigotry of those who cry down the study of the classics, and we shall admit as freely as any one the claims of the sciences which are called by eminence the inductive.” But the point is that such sciences cannot form a complete education, just as the study of antiquity alone cannot do.

But we should perhaps back up a touch. For much comes down to the crucial question, “What is education?” To answer it, Gildersleeve insists on “distinguishing sharply between ‘education’ and ‘instruction.’” He continues:

Education is the normal development of the powers that lie in man’s nature, and is not to be confounded with instruction, which merely furnishes the means and appliances of education. It is your merely ‘instructed’ man that often amazes you by a want of comprehensive power, not your really ‘educated’ man; and when teachers of physical science complain that untaught minds grasp the propositions and sequences of inductive reasoning more readily and firmly than those which have been ‘educated’ in classical learning, they confound accumulation with appropriation.

Education, then, is not mere information delivery. And in fact a knowledge of Latin helps to correct our bastardized English idiom even here. Understood etymologically, to in-form (from Lat. informare) is to shape, mold, develop. As Gildersleeve remarks, “‘[I]nform’ and ‘information’ have been reduced in modern times to the mere acquisition of facts, instead of a plastic process of assimilation.” But that “plastic process” is what is really wanted: the comprehensive formation and maturation of man’s mental powers as an organic whole. Properly conceived, “instruction” is instrumental in “education” rather than tautologous with it.

Again, such development cannot be reached through the sciences alone—or through languages alone. No, the hard sciences, language, literature, history, philosophy—all are needed, and the absence of any leads to poverty in the whole. It would be ridiculous to cut off our educational nose to spite our societal face, but that is precisely what has often occurred in the recent history of education. It need not be so. Basil Gildersleeve is eloquent as to why it should not be so, and as to why the study of the Greeks and Romans is essential to it not being so. I have alluded to some of those reasons above and shall take up some more in a subsequent foray. For the present I will simply say with Gildersleeve that “the ‘fast’ youths of our country might take many a lesson from the Nicomachean Ethics of the ‘stout Stagirite”!

E.J. Hutchinson is associate professor of Classics and director of the Collegiate Scholars Program at Hillsdale College. His research focuses on the reception of classical literature in late antiquity and early modernity.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "The Great Gildersleeve’s Fight for the Classics"

#1 Comment By Nate On August 23, 2018 @ 10:48 pm

This battle is nearly lost. Classics programs are closing all over the country. Even the study of old and middle English is under attack. The motives for the attacks on these languages (and the memory of their societies) are not worth rehearsing here. Finding some new way to preserve this knowledge in new people is mission critical.

#2 Comment By Matt Simonton On August 24, 2018 @ 12:02 am

A fascinating figure I don’t know enough about–but enough to know that I’m pleased to have been published in his journal. As for his willingness to criticize some classics, though — come on, that is a who’s who of quondam “Silver Latin” authors who are now rightly receiving sustained scholarly attention, not “boys” but poets in their own right. It’s a shame they seem to have discontinued the Gildersleeve Prize since 2015.

#3 Comment By Interguru On August 24, 2018 @ 12:09 am

” Meanwhile the character of the controversy is degrading. The delicate thing to be educated, the wonderful human mind”

I wonder what Basil Gildersleeve would have thought of the German concentration camp commando, after overseeing a busy day slaughtering thousands, relaxing while listening to Beethoven?

#4 Comment By Old West On August 24, 2018 @ 5:57 am

Very good and timely article. I have, all of my life, felt intellectually hindered by my lack of formal Greek and Latin training. What little I know I have taught myself, and it is inadequate for taking on real classical literature.

Scholars of the past achieved feats that simply cannot be replicated today. They had achieved a good reading knowledge of Greek and Latin by, say age 12, which meant that they were doing the advanced stuff while at university, and could spend their late teens and beyond learning Ugaritic or Coptic, or half-a dozen modern languages by the time they left university. By 30, they were doing ground-breaking original work that most university professors today couldn’t do in their 60s (based on my observations).

I fear the chain has been broken, and that it would take centuries to recover what has been lost in the course of just 50-75 years in America, even with the greatest of efforts. But not all is bad about the modern era–we can Tweet…

#5 Comment By Jon On August 24, 2018 @ 10:32 am

Translation in my religious background has been regarded as a form of exegesis. In fact, it was considered mandatory to read the urtext with the Aramaic translation when it came to studying the Pentateuch along with Targum Onkelos. A translation is not a word-for-word swap but sheds a subtle light on the original writing.

However, translation often fails to capture the subtleties of the original language. The wordplay of the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas is lost to its English translation.

Also, idioms and syntax structure provide one with a hint on how the speaker (qua writing) viewed his world. Alas, with regret, I have not studied the classics in the original. Thus, I am bereft of the subtleties found in Greek and Latin, its turns of phrase, its tropes, and its idiomatic expressions and remain clueless about how their grammar reflects on their authors’ weltanschauungen.

However as a painter, I am linked to a brotherhood of visual artists that hark back to antiquities. No language offers a barrier and no need for translation.

The visual media preserved for the populace their narrative offering the legends of old in picture form. Unfortunately today with nearly all of the population being literate, the visual arts have been shunted aside. No recover is in sight. And yet in these margins I paint finding a connection with the past though the printed word has supplanted our story. Perhaps one day the painter and sculptor will survive but only as members of a secret brotherhood, a hidden confraternity that relishes each other’s creations.

#6 Comment By hooly On August 24, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

The same could be said for Hebrew and Aramaic. I can’t help but snicker when fundamentalist and evangelical Christian types quote chapter and verse from the King James Bible and having no knowledge of the original language the Bible was written in. This is the reason why Muslims insist on the Koran being in the original Arabic right? And the reason why Bible scholars who do know these ancient languages tend to be agnostics and atheists I think, they know what’s really written!

#7 Comment By Metronomicon On August 24, 2018 @ 2:37 pm

@Interguru

“I wonder what Basil Gildersleeve would have thought of the German concentration camp commando, after overseeing a busy day slaughtering thousands, relaxing while listening to Beethoven?”

Trotting out the Nazis means you have nothing to add.

#8 Comment By Jeeves On August 24, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

I liked the essay, which I admit I was drawn to by its title, taken from a radio comedy of the 40s and 50s that I remember fondly.
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#9 Comment By Thrice A Viking On August 24, 2018 @ 5:01 pm

Interguru, you make a valid point. But the Germans were just as highly esteemed in Science as they were in Art. And so the various apostles of the former – Comte, Marx & Engels, various more “bourgeois” thinkers – would have been just as flummoxed as Gildersleeve might have been.

#10 Comment By Peter Taylor On August 24, 2018 @ 7:22 pm

Perhaps it should be mentioned at this point in our history that Gildersleeve served in the Confederate cavalry, where he received a crippling leg wound. In The Creed of the Old South (1915) he summed up his feeling about the war: “It is something to have belonged in deed and in truth to an heroic generation. . . . That the cause we fought for and our brothers died for was the cause of civil liberty and not the cause of human slavery, is a thesis which we feel ourselves bound to maintain whenever our motives are challenged or misunderstood, if only for our children’s sake.”

#11 Comment By rick allen On August 24, 2018 @ 11:48 pm

“This battle is nearly lost. Classics programs are closing all over the country.”

It’s hard to keep the programs from closing if no one signs up for them. I took a year of Greek as an elective my senior year of college, and I’ve greatly enjoyed and profited from keeping it up all these years. But the classes had six students.

Now I’ve also met a large number of pre-Baby-Boomers who were required to study Latin, and who loathed it the rest of their lives. Requiring study of the language doesn’t seem to have done the trick. And, not being an academic, I’ve never met anyone who ever studied Greek, outside of clergymen.

“Finding some new way to preserve this knowledge in new people is mission critical.”

In some sense we live in a golden age of self-study. I learned Latin on my own when I was around forty. It’s still a challenge to read it, but, again, I’ve found it enjoyable and rewarding (even if I’ve never made a dime off of it).

Unlike poor Petrarca or Erasmus we can get Greek and Latin language resources cheaply and quickly–courses, grammars, lexicons, parallel texts, like the Loeb Classical Library or the I Tatti Renaissance Library or the Oxford Early Christian Texts. Gildersleeve’s own Latin grammar is still available on Amazon. Not to mention “Modern Latin” by my old Greek teacher, J.D. Sadler.

If you think learning Greek and Latin are important, learn them yourselves and tell others what you’ve gotten out of them. I’ve been pleased that one of my children, unprompted, suddenly expressed an interest in Latin a year or two ago.

I’ve always suspected that the older universally required Latin proficiency was wide but not deep or lasting. The enthusiasts have always been few. I’ve been reading a lot of Erasmus lately–not because of his love of a polished Latinity, but as an example of keeping the faith and not going off the rails when the Church hierarchy seems irredeemably corrupt. He had the particular failure of advocating a universal, colloquial Latin right before the explosion of the vernacular.

The classical languages are there for just about anyone who wishes to pursue them. But they can’t be acquired easily, and are easy to ridicule in an age that has so much contempt for learning. Still, it bothers me that so many lament their passing who haven’t tried to acquire them themselves. It’s never too late. It’s said to postpone senility (those who know me doubt it).

#12 Comment By Ben On August 25, 2018 @ 6:41 am

Of my two biology professors one was greek and the other spoke greek. Coincidence? If we returned to studies of classics not only would they benefit our knowledge of the humanities but I suspect we could do away with tedious memorization of the meaning of scientific terminology. In addition English majors should learn middle and old English. If one wants to have a good grasp of the English language they should not just rely on often superfluous Latin and French words but be able to communicate poetically with Anglo Saxon words.

#13 Comment By Mark VA On August 25, 2018 @ 7:14 am

In my view:

The article’s main technical ideas are praiseworthy: study of languages expands the cognitive skills, instruction is just one tool of education, and the humanities together with the sciences are needed for the refinement of the mind;

What is problematic is that history is much less sanguine about the touted civilizing powers of these ideas. Twentieth century abounds with men well versed in the humanities and the sciences, who nevertheless wreaked havoc, destruction, and unimaginable barbarism on their fellow men. Previous centuries do too, even with lower technological advancement of the time. It seems something important is missing from this article’s thesis;

Even in the case at hand, it is disturbing to find out that a refined scholar of the humanities would, in his time, and with plenty of (Yankee) counter thoughts, think like this:

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Perhaps the “subsequent foray” would care to expand the current framework, and reflect on why true Civilization remains so elusive.

#14 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 25, 2018 @ 10:44 am

If teachers of ancient languages want to save them, they have to be willing to step up to the plate. I’m an Egyptologist at a research 1 university, with a teaching obligation of two classes per term. But to offer a full slate of Egyptian language and culture classes to my small graduate program, I routinely offer five or six classes per term, some to only one or two students. Let’s see my colleagues put their time and devotion where their mouths are.

#15 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 25, 2018 @ 10:49 am

“That the cause we fought for and our brothers died for was the cause of civil liberty and not the cause of human slavery, is a thesis which we feel ourselves bound to maintain whenever our motives are challenged or misunderstood, if only for our children’s sake.”

Yes of course, he would say that. I suppose in his place I would have said it, too. But it’s hardly an objective assessment, or one that comports with the bare, public, well-known facts of the origins of southern secession.

#16 Comment By Robert Anderson On August 25, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

There are many advanced civilizations in world history, and much of our culture comes from them. I agree that study of all ancient civilizations and languages is important, but It is silly to concentrate only on Greece and Rome.

#17 Comment By Mark VA On August 25, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

Egypt Steve:

Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but I read it (“…feel ourselves bound to maintain”) as either mendacity, or an inability to accept the necessary conclusions. A few are bound to this party line even today;

P.S. If I may seize the opportunity: my college age son has been fascinated with ancient languages since he was little (thanks to him I know something about the Sasanian dynasty, and my prior knowledge of it was zero). Is there an introductory book on Egyptian hieroglyphics that is readily accessible to a lay person?

#18 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 25, 2018 @ 8:45 pm

Mark VA, this is pretty good:

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#19 Comment By rick allen On August 25, 2018 @ 9:45 pm

Mark VA: I am obviously not Egypt Steve, but I very much enjoyed “How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs” by Mark Collier and Bill Manley…not that I ever spent enough time with it to actually read Egyptian hieroglyphs.

#20 Comment By debts paid On August 25, 2018 @ 10:53 pm

I realized I’m late to this article but I felt compelled to post. I rarely comment here but I find the American Conservative to be an interesting site.

As for the topic at hand, there is a reason why interest in the classics is waning: society as a whole has already incorporated everything of value to be learned from antiquity. I find the classics fascinating – it’s the reason I clicked this link in the first place. But there are no new extant classical texts; most recently a few lines of a poem of Sappho was discovered. Western culture will never rediscover the lost classics. These days, academics have been reduced to 3D modeling of burnt to a crisp scrolls from Julius Ceasar’s father in law’s estate i.e. the Oxyrhynchus Papyri; and they still haven’t discovered anything new.

Nearly all the major cities of antiquity have been excavated and dug up. There’s really not much left other than to find some major battle sites and even most of them are fairly well located. When the first capitalist publishers printed books they printed all of the extant classics and today we call those original books ‘incunables’. And they have been studied for centuries.

Our forefathers studied every text, read them in the original language and those ideas were incorporated into the fabric of our society. We have the constitution as a direct result of our forefathers studying the ancients. Out of that grew today’s, arguably ridiculous, academia with it’s discussion of intersectionality, white privilege and the rest of that nonsense. Which they consider to be a natural progression of the ancients, while many others consider to be a perversion of the ancients.

That being said, you can’t fault us today for not knowing the classics because it’s already built into the fabrics of our western culture – from our architecture, to our politics, to our academics, to our education, and our culture – its never left us (maybe during the barbarian invasions for a while, but I digress).

In today’s world, there are so many other new things to learn – STEM, and specifically microprocessors being one, arguably the most complicated thing man has ever created. We keep moving forward, and studying ancient greek is not going to make my graphics card any faster. Mankind (and yes, I used that word gender inclusively) cannot move forward if we spend all our time looking at the past. There’s so many new things to learn. Everyone in America and the western world knows the names Plato, Aristotle and Socrates even if they can’t explain what they said, but it doesn’t matter, because your democracy, your architecture, your language, your values and culture are all the direct descendant of a handful of white male slave holding Athenians 2,500 years ago. Wait, what?

#21 Comment By Mark VA On August 26, 2018 @ 12:26 am

Thank you, Egypt Steve and Rick Allen!

If I may reciprocate:

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There was also a film (1966) based on this book. Here is a clip:

#22 Comment By redfish On August 26, 2018 @ 3:25 am

hooly..

The same could be said for Hebrew and Aramaic. … And the reason why Bible scholars who do know these ancient languages tend to be agnostics and atheists I think, they know what’s really written!

You’re kidding, right? You should tell that joke to some rabbis who studied in yeshiva.

At any rate, I agree on the value of understanding ancient languages, as well as classics studies more generally, but this is part of a big pot of things that have value and I wouldn’t have sided with those who wanted to keep them mandatory.

The author ends with a reference to the Nicomachean Ethics, and really, to that point, the loss of philosophy courses as part of mandatory studies has been far more devastating, in my opinion. I did read the Nicomachean ethics as part of a philosophy major, incidentally, and the book I was using had all sorts of footnotes about the original Greek, to help readers understand the nuances that were implied in the text.

#23 Comment By Matt Simonton On August 26, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

Mark VA: Thanks for posting that essay by Gildersleeve, which is truly hideous in its sentiment. As I said, I need to learn more about him, and this is not a very promising start as to the quality of his character.

#24 Comment By Thrice A Viking On August 26, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

Debts paid, I’m sure I won’t be the one to comment on your aggressive Philistinism. The problems I have with your “logic” are twofold. One, we can’t have social wisdom about the ancients – or anything else for that matter – without imparting it individually, to as many people as we think advisable. The benefits of art, music, and literature are lost on one who never views, listens to, and reads any of it, no matter how creative her/his society is.

And two, your post seems to indicate that you regard anyone who’s been dead for a while and has been well-discussed has no place in any present or future curriculum. Indeed, it may not be even long after the artist dies. Neil Simon, who died earlier today, hadn’t written anything much for a while now. And he’d received plenty of attention from the critics, both positive and negative. After a brief period of post-mortem reminiscing about his work, will he too be relegated to the past, and thus unworthy of our attentions in film schools? I would hope not, but I have to wonder if you would.

Now, this is not to say that the study of the ancient classics is beyond reproach. But it requires a rather more sophisticated approach than your new-good-old-bad one.

#25 Comment By EHH On August 26, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

Thanks for the article. I just downloaded Syntax of Classical Greek to add to my collection of grammars. I had not run across the name Gildersleeve before, or perhaps I should say, I had not taken note of it. I now find that he is acknowledged by both Smyth and Goodwin in their works. Some day, perhaps, I’ll get to a level where I can profit from is more specialized work.

#26 Comment By Suburbanbanshee On August 26, 2018 @ 5:48 pm

The Great Courses currently offers Latin 101 and Greek 101, a college-level set of courses. Many libraries offer free access to the course videos (no “guidebook,” though), and you can also subscribe to the Amazon Prime channel for the Great Courses.

It is ridiculous to say that all classical knowledge has been incorporated into general humanities knowledge. What, am I supposed to let someone two hundred years ago read the Greek tragedies for me? Am I going to understand Greek poetry and philosophy by sleeping on a book?

I read medieval scholars, in Latin, on Google Books and Archive.org. And I learn things that no Cliff Notes version of history or literature ever taught me.

As for Greek…putting one toe in that ocean this summer, through the Great Courses, has opened a whole world to me. Poetry, the Bible, the Greek Fathers, horrible ancient jokes… yup, nobody digested that for me. I had to learn it for myself.

#27 Comment By Youknowho On August 26, 2018 @ 8:15 pm

I am not so optimistic about the value of the Classics in the formation of character or providing a civilizing influence.

Exhibit A: The French Revolution. Those people were well versed in the Classics. In fact in their speeches they took as inspiration the Greeks and the Romans (Republic) and quoted them liberally.

All that grounding in the classics did not slow down the guillotine one bit.

#28 Comment By Mark VA On August 26, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

Regarding Basil Gildersleeve, of whom I know next to nothing (this article, and his April 18th 1864 article being the sum total of my knowledge): perhaps he “mellowed out” with age, and came to see some merit in the Yankee ideas – I hope so. Either way, I think students using his technical texts should also be informed about other aspects of the man – it being a lesson in itself;

Regarding the Greeks and the Romans, I believe we should remember that for all their refined thinking, they never managed to evolve out of being slave based cultures. This in no way diminishes the value of their ideas, but, it should humble us into accepting the limits of their civilizing power. In many respects, they remained on par with other cultures of the time – which, by the way, are equally worthy of study: