Monday, March 26, 2007

A Classical Education Helps A Lot

Many would be surprised to hear what I have to say about a classical education. For one thing, I got one. The thing I really like about a classical education is that you learn how to learn instead of just a bunch of random facts. Unless you are really dense, you learn how to write, instead of learning a formula for churning out the occasional paper and getting an A. You learn how to research and how to organize your thoughts. You learn how to weigh arguments. You learn to be skeptical, but you also learn how to take joy in seeking truth and accuracy. You learn to let go of the things that do not matter in light of the things that do. In a way, you become somewhat irreverent. You take what people tell you and you read about it instead of believing every word you hear.

For example, my prof at school is a great guy and I would never say anything bad about him personally or as a teacher of his subject. But half, if not three quarters of what he says when giving opinions is total crap. How do I know this? Because I put it to the test. Unfortunately, most of my classmates have never learned this art. They suck in everything they're told because they really do not know any better. If they do have doubts then those doubts form thoughts such as, "this is stupid." They are not well thought out arguments that challenge the very nature of what he attests.

Taking all these notions into account -- learn, read, listen, think -- I went to see the movie 300 over the weekend. Now, as a disclaimer this movie is definitely rated R for graphic violence and nudity. It's a very stylized movie. But it's stylized into almost a rhythm. Unlike normal battle sequences where slow motion is thrown left and right, the slow motion in 300 forms a pattern with the fast motion and it really keeps the audience's attention. It's amazingly well done. Watching the movie is like watching a really good comic book without having to turn the pages. That was my honest impression.

At the same time, this movie concerns a matter of historical import. One that someone with no classical education whatsoever will not understand. You have to know something about the Greeks and the Persians. You have to understand the idea of reason in ancient Greek cultures. You must have an idea of the Greek city states and how they differed from one another. If you have never read Aristotle on virtue then you will be lost. You might enjoy the movie, but you will not get it. Strangely enough the movie has a lot to say about contemporary politics.

The 300 Spartans who fight the barbaric hordes of Persians represent the rule of law and decency. They are not afraid to fight with everything they have, they are not afraid to frighten the enemy with a form of barbarism. But they are essentially holding off the storm of illogic and lawlessness that threatens to destroy their own society.

Many have discussed whether this movie is in favor of the War on Terror and Bush or against them. Let me point out that if you know anything about Frank Miller -- he wrote the graphic novel that 300 is based on and he was influential in the making of the movie -- then you are in no doubt of what he supports. On the other hand, think about the plot of the movie. Think about the words that are reiterated over and over: reason is good, the lack of it is worse than death. Think about the state of society today. Challenge the opinions set forth by both the non-classically educated and the classically educated. You will have your answer.

6 comments:

Foolio_Displasius said...

Ah, yes... 300 is worthy! I hope every Hillsdalian out there gets to see it...

little-cicero said...

Yes, much as I am Italian and bound by family to take Italian in college, I am very much tempted to take classical language (probably Greek) just to better understand Western Philosophy. Do you think a few comprehensive courses would be sufficient?

Esther said...

It's all Greek to me!

Actually, while I have studied a little Greek it really was not enough for me to have read Aristotle in his original tongue. I went to a college with a very classically oriented outlook and I had to read a lot of ancient history, philosophy and stuff. That's more what I mean.

I think a few Greek courses would do anyone some good. I kind of wish I had had time to take some myself. Maybe someday I will.

Foolio_Displasius said...

If nothing else, the Greek will help you read New Testament stuff in its original form...

little-cicero said...

So what does Classics emphasize? History, literature, (apparently not language), philosophy?

Esther said...

Uh, a classics major would emphasize Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

I was not a classics major, I went to a college that taught a classical education to any student who went there no matter what the major. By that I mean that Socrates died 4 times during my college career. I read Aristotle's Politics 3 times. I read lots of Shakespeare. I read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. I also got a smattering of more contemporary philosophers and some Enlightenment thinking. Basically, a classical education teaches you the classics of literature. A Classics Major teaches you to read the literature in its original language.