Rusty old canon

Mary Beard, in a recent piece in the New York Review, takes an optimistic view of the future of the classics despite some striking figures. It seems only 300 people now take classical Greek at A-level (I’m not sure whether this figure includes Scotland). As long as classical culture continues to be valued at a remove, for instance in translation, very few people need acquire the skills to access the source directly, and the flame will still burn on.
My own Greek and Latin are so rusty as to be barely serviceable, and that scant competence feels to me like a basic element of literacy. I too am one of those who depend on the few who know it properly, but it’s laziness that stops me being one of them. Would it make any difference if I did — for instance if I took myself through Antigone, which I thought the other day would make a better example than Medea, but have never read because the Greek is hard, but knowing Greek, I feel it’s pointless to read it in another language? That is, would it make any difference to anyone other than me? I’m currently studying classical Chinese poetry using the wonderful book by Archie Barnes; et pereat mundus!


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