Monday, March 02, 2020


A proposal to drop the epic poets is an indicator of a civilization that is losing its way.
The Oxford Student, the largest student newspaper of the nearly thousand-year-old teaching institution, reported in mid-February that the classics faculty has recommended that Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid be removed from the literae humaniores, an undergraduate program in ancient literature, history, and philosophy. The program has been criticized because of the difference in scores between male and female students, as well as because of differences in how much previous training its students have had in classical languages. This is an absurd standard. What will be taught if equality of grades between the sexes becomes the standard of choosing course material? The classics faculty would solve the grade-difference issue by shedding two of Western civilization’s core works.

A student studying classics at Oxford opposes removal of the two epic poems and is gathering signatures for a petition to end debate on their future at Oxford. Note that cutting off debate on difficult issues is not restricted to American universities.

The Oxford Student quotes the student’s objection to Homer-exit. It means, he says, that “Oxford would be producing Classicists who have never read Homer and never read Virgil, who are the central authors of the Classical tradition and most of Classical literature, in one way or another, looks back to Homer and interacts with the Iliad.”

It’s worse than that. Homer and Virgil are fundamental not only to classics majors or students who will eventually teach classics to other students. Homer, by himself, is the keystone of Western literature.

The Iliad is a story about human passions: anger, pity, remorse, compassion, revenge; men’s relations to forces greater than themselves; war and its horrors (and it is very horrible in Homer’s supremely elegant lines); and the beauty of art and nature. It is a complex and deeply insightful exploration of the soul, human fate, and immortality.


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