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Argues for the study of the Greek classics in education The answer to the attention-grabbing question posed by classicists Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath in the title of this passionate defense of their field (which is also a damnation of their academic colleagues) is not a pretty one. "It was," they admit sadly, "an inside job."
Why, at the end of the 20th century, should we give a hoot in the first place about a brutal, misogynist society that rose to greatness on the back of slaves? Because, they argue, it was the first place; for all the faults of ancient Greece, the seeds of what Western civilization is today were planted there. "What we mean by Greek wisdom," they explain, "is that at the very beginning of Western culture the Greeks provided a blueprint for an ordered and humane society that could transcend time and space, one whose spirit and core values could evolve, sustain, and drive political reform and social change for ages hence."
But Hanson and Heath are not content to simply make a fiery, articulate case for what's right about understanding this particular ancient civilization in a contemporary world where more and more non-Western societies openly seek to embrace the democratic spirit. They go on to launch a deliciously vituperative jeremiad on what's wrong with the priorities of those entrusted with passing on this wisdom. Classics departments, as portrayed in Who Killed Homer?, appear to be filled with politically correct, insecure footnote fawners who, steeped in minutiae, miss the Big Picture. Hanson and Heath have a plan, sure to raise the hackles of tenured professors, for reviving classical studies that emphasizes the importance of teaching, communicating, and popularizing over publishing arcane monographs in journals not even the writer's family will ever read, insisting that the alternative--the extinction of a vivid intellectual pursuit--borders on cultural suicide. --Jeff Silverman