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Why Study the Classics


Greek and Latin (the Classics) surround us everywhere in Florida and the U.S.A. The word Florida is Latin for "a land of flowers". The motto of the State of Florida is Latin: IN MORIBUS CIVIUM SALUS RE PUBLICAE ("in the ethics of the citizens lies the health of the State").

The Classics belong in the education of every American. They contain a unique fund of stimulating and important ideas, exercise mental skills and the imagination, sharpen awareness of the complexities of a nation's culture, and underlie America's most cherished institutions and values. Classics are fundamentally civilizing. For these reasons, Classics support the most basic goal of education in America, to produce knowledgeable, productive, and thinking citizens.

American education strives to produce knowledgeable and concerned citizens. In a democracy, public education is especially charged with this responsibility; this is its foundation and justification. The democratic process depends on a citizenry actively engaged in the pressing issues of the day with a critical judgment informed by social, political, and cultural perspectives. Because of American's unique historical roots and because of the preoccupation of Greek and Roman civilization with issues of political and moral choice, the Classics are a valued component of this educational task.

For example, the historical development of ancient Rome extensively and naturally parallels that of the United States. Both began as an amalgamation of immigrants; both had capital cities on inland rivers; both were first ruled by kings, who were replaced in republican revolutions; both rapidly extended over wide geographical expanses, absorbing new peoples; both gradually extended civil rights and the vote to additional groups; both survived civil war; both changed rapidly from a rural to an urban economy, producing similar economic distress.

The legacy of Greece and Rome can be viewed from two traditional points of view. On the one hand, Classical works comprise an ideal to which subsequent creative works in western civilization refer. In this way, Milton is always to some extent looking over his shoulder at Vergil and Homer; Shakespeare and Stoppard scan the horizon for Aeschylus and Terence; Baldwin nods to Plato; Rodin feels sympathy with Phidias. This view reinforces the Classics as the first statement opening the Great Conversation of western culture. It is important for students to catch a glimpse of this continuity, since they in turn will continue this lengthy and ancient dialogue.

On the other hand, classical works are not valuable simply because they are the earliest works in the field. They are in no sense primitive. Indeed, their intrinsic merit is their perennial freshness and challenge. A great deal of excitement and pleasure lies dormant in these ancient texts and artifacts, waiting to come alive anew in the mind and imaginations of the young.

Greek and Roman culture touches every aspect of American life. It underlies our literature, our art and architecture, our political ideals, our values, and our sense of history. This connection between ancient and modern runs so deep that every American citizen must be given the means to understand it. Not just factually, but with the critical judgment and imagination to put it to use. To attain this goal, the Classics should be solidly represented in the State of Florida.

The study of Classics is intended to instill in the students a sense of dignity, some understanding of the laws of nature and society, mastery of a set of technical skills which permit assumption of a vocation viewed as useful or creative, appreciation of the historical forces that sculpted society, the capacity to appreciate beauty, and the motivation to participate in a creative enterprise, and the capacity for serenity and honesty, charity and civility.