Victor Hanson & John Heath: Who Killed Homer?

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Hanson, Victor & John Heath. Who Killed Homes? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (New York: Free Press, 1998)

As stated by the authors, Who Killed Homer? "investigates why the Greeks are so important and why they are so little known" (pp. xv-xvi, Prologue) and makes three arguments:

First, Greek wisdom is not Mediterranean but anti-Mediterranean; Hellenic culture--an idea predicated on race--is not just different from, but entirely antithetical to any civilization of its own time or space. [..]

Second, the demise of Classical learning is both real and quantifiable. [...]

Third, our present generation of Classicists helped to destroy classical education.

(p. xviii-xiv, Prologue)

They decry "the Enlightenment's absolute and haughty confidence in the salvation of man through pure reason" (p. 41) and declare that "believers in modernism (who do not know Thucydides, Plato, and Euripides) have misunderstood the nature of man and the role of culture, and the proper balance between the two." (p. 42) The authors grind a mighty axe against the overblown PC culture of the 1990s university (hilariously--if infuriatingly--so in a "Poor Cyclops" rant on page 55) and rhapsodize excessively over the Greco-Roman military might. They direct their fire, however, primarily at other professors:

Tenure, promotions, leaves, salary, visiting lectureships, positions on editorial boards, prestige--these are the petty recompense for their wholesale destruction of Greek wisdom. (p. 151)

before broadening their attack to encompass our entire culture:

The irony here is that we have increasingly turned in despair to our university to do precisely what it cannot: to correct the fundamental malignancies of our modern culture. But no education--especially a college education--can undo eighteen years of earlier grade-school and parental failure. [...] In other words, without a functioning and effective polis (which we clearly lack now in America) children do not and will not become fully human--as Aristotle takes pains to remind us. (p. 210)

They see education as a potential--although highly unlikely--means of salvation:

The seats in college classes are filled with poorly-trained students of generation X with little factual knowledge and even less skill in verbal or written expression, desperately in search of ethical guidance and eager for a system of explication, not further chaos, disorder, and nihilism. (p. 227)

In the next century, we do not believe that Classics graduate programs will adopt our plan of correction. We do not think that the university will follow our radical ideas of curriculum reform. We are sure that at the present rate, Greek wisdom will be almost unknown to the general public within two decades. (pp. 248-9)

I'm rather fond of the Greeks, and I hope that the authors of Who Killed Homer? are wrong in their assessment.

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