Karen Glass, in Consider This, traces the idea of literature – of grammar – in the Classical Tradition from the ancient Greeks through the Victorian age. Originally, the idea of literature had meant the necessity of reading in the Classical Languages in Latin and Greek. She shows how the idea of grammar evolved and changed during that time and how,
“It is easier for us to follow the letter rather than the spirit of the law.” (pg 53)
Oh,how tragically true.
Latin and Greek went from a necessity in order to read the best in literature to the reasons we hear today – training the mind, logic, mental discipline, etc.
Studying Latin and Greek for these reasons brings about tedium. Glass condemns this result:
The tedium did not instill a lifelong love of learning. … The pupils might read some of the same worthy classic books, but if the reading were a drudgery, rather than a delight, the results would not be the same. If we implement classical practices without the impetus of the classical ideals, we will never achieve those ideals. (pg 55)
The tragedy is that this drudgery denudes the classics of their souls. Mason shows,in School Education (as quoted in Consider This, pg 55), how reading Homer was originally intended to inspire heroic ideas in its readers but had become a tool such that its life was ground out of it. Then Glass concludes:
If we pause a moment to consider the difference between these two approaches to the sae book, we can see that reading for “heroic ideas” is a synthetic approach, which encourages the apprehension of the whole story and all that it has to offer. … The sense and beauty of the whole story would be lost in the analysis of details.
I remember many years ago listening to Mars Hill Audio (maybe Vol 93?). One of the guests was being interviewed and said something to the effect of, “… I knew my Calvin. In the original languages.” I believe he went on to talk about the vast amount of literature still in Latin that has never been translated. I have since had this vision for my children to learn Latin in order to read Latin and Greek in order to read the scriptures. Glass’ discussion to remember the reason those languages was studied rather than the law to study the helps me to implement our study in a fitting manner.
As an aside, I didn’t simply select these passages because of the argument they make, but I love the balance and symmetry Glass’ writing has – the vocabulary and alliteration. It makes her writing a joy to read!