Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin

Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin

by Tracy Lee Simmons, William F. Buckley
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ISI Books

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Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Manirul More than 1 year ago
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This marvelous book is a work of humanism in the best and most encompassing sense of the word. It is an "apologia" - which is not an apology but rather a plea - for Greek and Latin. However, it is not the study of these supposedly "dead" languages alone Tracy Lee Simmons advocates but rather what they stand for. If, in André Gide's words, "culture is what remains when all else is forgotten", Greek and Latin are formative rather than merely educational. They need no utilitarian "defense", no claim that they help to train logical thinking, facilitate the study of law, medicine or theology, or open the door to "modern" (and therefore more "useful") languages. Merely functional arguments miss the point. Simmons' claim is more radical - and for some more "reactionary": If we treasure the culture most of us were raised in, and some of us still want to live in, if we hold our traditions to contain some of that "wisdom of the ages" Edmund Burke wrote about, if with Matthew Arnold we seek for "sweetness and light", we cannot but treasure the world of antiquity - the world without which we cannot truly understand ourselves. The "gradus ad Parnassum" on which Simmons leads us is not only about two languages nor is it dismissive of other cultures or traditions. It never compares, ranks or evaluates though it is certainly an antidote to the smuck version of modern multiculturalism. The book is a story born of love for the Western cultural heritage that cannot be reduced to the Greeks and Romans but would be nothing without them. It is also a potent poison pill for self-indulgent and simplistic Americanists who believe in the myth of a "new civilization" being born in the New World that no longer needs the Old. This very myth is, as users of one-dollar bills will know, itself expressed in elegant Latin and goes back to Virgil's "Eclogae" and beyond: "novus ordo seclorum". Classically educated persons, American or not, will object: "est constantia in rebus" - and yet there is continuity. The study of Greek and Latin, Simmons argues, is its own reward, much as music and philosophy are. The languages are difficult to learn and require intellectual discipline; yet for more than two millennia people of all nations have grit their teeth and labored with them. Some still do, though fewer and fewer, and they are handsomely rewarded for memorizing paradigms and studying syntax. Their prize is the access to a wealth of meaning and a much deeper understanding of what has made us what we are. When, in Part Two of his book, Simmons recounts the history of classical learning through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment to its flourishing in colonial and revolutionary America, he tells the story of a continuity the likes of which are unknown in any other culture - variations on a theme with a constant "basso continuo". One need not be a cultural conservative to appreciate and to want to protect this legacy. One needs only to desire understanding of oneself. But true and full appreciation of classical philosophy, literature, politics, science, and the arts is impossible without assimilating the languages in which they are clad and with which they are so intricately interwoven. This may be the author's strongest claim. More recent cultural achievements - from analytic philosophy to jazz and film - travel regardless of language. But the themes of freedom and dependence, gods and men, individuality and collectivism, truth and appearance, guilt and punishment, passion and jealousy, and the overriding theme of the good life, travel universally and best in the suits into which they were originally fitted. Though views may have changed, and indeed the variety of opinions on these issues was bewildering in antiquity itself, the languages provide the vessels of continuity for their travels. This is what Tracy Lee Simmons wants to communicate. This "doctor elegantiae" tells his story with such grace, style, erudition, and persuasion that