Death of the book, death of the humanities, and now, death of the classics.
I could have sworn they already died, but alright: Mary Beard has a very thoughtful reflection on the relevance of the classics today in the NY Review of Books.
But do we need defenses of things that aren’t dead or even close to it or that have been declared dying for a long time — indeed, since their inception? According to Beard, that is the point of the classics — to remind us of the fragility of our cultural heritage.
Like the book, I’m going to worry when there are far fewer of them (i.e. classicists) around than currently. The same goes for humanists. As Beard writes, the point is not how many people can read Homer (or Goethe), but how many people believe that someone ought to be able to.
We’re still a long way off from the latter being zero (the same with books). Very few people may want to do it (i.e. read the classics (or Goethe (or books))), but very few people really believe we should stop studying them altogether. That’s a caricature of contemporary life.
But it is a hard cycle to get out of — all this discourse of death and crisis. I fear we’ve become slightly addicted to it. Not as Beard says because it reminds us of the fragility of the historical record, but because it reminds us (or convinces us) of our own importance.