Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Founders and Classical Education: It Wasn't Just About Latin, It Was About Virtue

To a degree difficult for many modern Americans to understand, the Founding Generation was heavily shaped by classical literature from ancient Greece and Rome. Virtually every literate person had at least passing acquaintance with the stories, myths and literature of the ancient West, and a surprisingly large percentage of Americans could read those works in one or both of their original languages -- Greek and Latin. Yet, classical education in colonial and early republican America wasn't primarily about learning Latin, it was about training people in virtue and civic responsibility. E. Christian Kopff explores this aspect of early American education over at The Imaginative Conservative: Inspired by Liberty & Virtue: the Classical Education of the Founders of the American Republic. Tolle, lege.

4 comments:

JMS said...

So Mark, what are we to make of the article's claim that "[Joe] Paterno found in Aeneas a hero shaped by a commitment to his divinely given mission for family and people."

For all of its virtues, perhaps the classical canon cannot overcome its adherents' moral blind spots or take all the credit for "help[ing] to shape and defend our ethical and political ideals."

Mark in Spokane said...

I don't think that anyone would claim that a classic education on its own is a guarantor of virtue. It may be helpful but it isn't sufficient. There are plenty of cads, scoundrels and downright foul people in history who had classical educations.

Mark in Spokane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...


"Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for “vulgarity”; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful."

---from Apeirokalia and liberal education by Leo Strauss, 1959