Chemists Trace Lineage to Lucretius--Aristotle Important for Political Theory, Plato for Philosophy

The article printed below is the eleventh of a series written at the request of the Crimson and designed as a guide for undergraduates in selecting fields of concentration. These articles will cover all of the main divisions under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

When a lad comes to college with four years or more of Greek or of Latin or of both behind him, he not unnaturally feels, especially after new and alluring fields of human inquiry have been opened to him, that further occupation with the Classics would be a waste of time. He has undoubtedly derived benefit from his study of Greek and Latin grammar; he has learned from them to understand his own language better. He has studied great authors, but, perforce, studied them piece-meal with little comprehension of their art or the reasons for their fame. Tired of parsing and translating, he imagines that these acts make up the sum and substance of college courses in the Classics and turns with relief to something else.

If modern literature is the field to which he turns, he may some day be sorry that he did not take enough Classics in college at least to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek and Latin and to acquaint himself at first hand with some of the ancient masterpieces. For he will find that most of the great writers in our own literature and in the literatures of Italy, France, Spain and Germany were indebted to the ancients not only for phrases, thoughts, incidents and imagery, but for the larger matters of literary form. The moderns are not less original for this homage to tradition; in fact, it is not until we know tradition that we can know how original they are. If we should study the historical milieu of a writer to understand the purpose and the atmosphere of his work, it is no less necessary to examine his literary milieu, the books which have aroused his imagination and formed his taste. From this point of view, the Classics of Greece and Rome have been contemporary with every age. Even in the full flush of Romanticism, Shelley turns to Greece whose seal is set "on all the race of man inherits", and Words-worth can sigh with some wistfulness for a breath of Horatian freedom.

Classics Cover Many Subjects

Nor is literature the only domain of human interest in which the achievements of the ancients may be profitably examined today. Chemists trace their lineage to Lucretius. Darwin declared that he had lost twenty years by not reading Aristotle before he began his own investigations and that his "two gods, Linnaeus and Cuvier were mere school-boys to old Aristotle." Aristotle is no less important for the student of political theory, and the philosopher of today had better make sure that his latest discovery has not been anticipated in whole or in part by Plato. John Stuart Mill, whose word should appeal to students of economics as well as philosophy, declares after presenting his ideals of education, that


"ancient literature would fill a large place in such a course of instruction, because it brings before us the thoughts and actions of many great minds, minds of many various orders of greatness, and these related and exhibited in a manner tenfold more impressive, tenfold more calculated to call forth high aspirations that in any modern literature."

At Harvard, there is no quenelle ancients et des modernes. The purpose of the recently established examinations in the Bible, Shakespeare and a selected list of ancient and modern authors is to emphasize the continuity of all literature and to encourage students to cultivate the habit of reading, for pleasure's sake, in the best that men have written. A student of any literature will find it impossible to look at his subject narrowly; he will find that it concerns the history of man's best achievements in any age. He cannot hope to traverse all this vast domain, but he should not feel himself an outcast in any part of it. If he has the zeal of the explorer, he will niter with constant surprises, constant towards for his search.

Similarly, there is no feud in this college between humanism and science, between the Classics and philosophy or the subjects that have grown out of philosophy as the ancients knew it. If a student would devote his main attention to a more recent part of the broad realm of human interests, and yet would examine its relations to antiquity, he will find programmes of concentration described in the official pamphlets whereby a study of the Classics may be combined with Philosophy or History or Government or Economics or Fine Arts as well as with Modern Literature. If his centre of interest is the Classics, he may combine this subject with a less intensive pursuit of any of the subjects just mentioned. The ancient world touches our own at many points. Any consideration of their independence enlarges the mind.

Should Choose Dearest Subject

A student should choose for his field of concentration that subject which is of all most dear to him. Whatever his calling in life, he should provide the means, now while there is time, for building him a little world of the ideal in which he can find relief from his daily task and a new inspiration for it. The literature of Greece and Rome contains such a world, remote from the present and forever akin to it. Nor should a concentration restricted to the Classics be regarded as a narrow programme. The ability to read authors like Thucydides, Aeschylus, Horace, Tacitus in the original is of infinitely more value than the knowledge of somebody else's ideas about these men. Much may be learned from translations about an author's thought and the composition of his works, but nothing whatever of what Meredith calls the "fine flavors", and nothing of the music of his verse or prose. Many a man regrets, as the years go by, that he did not devote himself while in college to mastering the ancients in their own language. This means hard and steady work, with a constant interchange of ideas between teacher and student. In the senior courses, Greek 12 and Latin 12, which cover the whole field of Greek and Latin literature, the student has an opportunity to read, under the guidance of the professor, the works that interest him most.

Honors the Highest Prize

Such is the programme of a student whose concentration is in the Classics. By increasing his courses from six to eight, two of which may be in allied fields, and by attaining the necessary standing in his General Examinations, he can obtain the Degree with Distinction in either of the three grades, cum, magna cum or summa cum laude. For Honors, the highest prize that the Department of the Classics has to bestow, the student must show distinguished ability in the writing of Greek and Latin prose. This subject is no mere exercise in grammar; it clears one's thoughts and trains one's style. Many of the best writers in England undoubtedly owe part of their excellence to this practice. The successful candidates for Honors in the Classics have for many years been among the foremost scholars of their classes.

Whether a student takes his Classics singly or in combination with another subject, his work is under the charge of Dr. William Chase Greene, the official adviser appointed by the Department. Dr. Greene not only makes clear to a student how he should prepare for his General Examinations, but he teaches him to correlate his other studies and his general interests with his courses in the Classics. The Classics as thus presented become an outlook on life in general, as they have always been to the true humanist.

During recent years, there has been a steady increase in the number of men concentrating in the Classics. Among the nineteen possible fields of concentration, Classics now stands twelfth in the actual number of students. At present forty-one men in the upper three classes are concentrating in this subject, but there should be many more. Especially striking is the large proportion, 70 per cent, of Classical men who are candidates for Distinction in their field. This proportion seems to show that men who have chosen Classics as their subject find it of such interest that they wish to do more than satisfy the minimum requirement. Comparatively few of these men intend to become teachers. Many of them give as their reason for their plan of study the fact that Classical students must necessarily deal with a large range of human interests as varied as literature and the fine arts, philosophy and religion, history and politics. They find, moreover, that their instructors are able and willing to give them generously of their time and help in personal conferences.

If we think back to the eighteenth century or the Italian Renaissance, it is obvious that in our day and generation, the Classics are somewhat in eclipse. But there have been times when the clouds were even more thickly about them. As Odysseus remarked to his soul, "Bear it, brave heart; thou hast borne harder things than this." To those who know what treasures are laid up in the literatures of Greece and Rome, what opportunities for a culture at once nobly aristocratic and broadly human, there is no question that however long deferred, the day of the ancients will come again.

"The word by seers or sybils told,

In groves of oak, or fanes of gold,

Still floats upon the morning wind,

Still whispers to the willing mind.