I did it! 83 revised time lines, copy, captions, and credits for all pictures, and a list of maps and illustrations all went to Norton at the end of last week. I need to get the images themselves to Norton by April 20, but I now have almost all of them on disk. (I’m still trying to chase down the rights-holder for those mummy faces.)

So I’ve spent a couple of happy days working on a beginning outline for Volume II. We have temporarily settled on a due date of May 2008 for the medieval history manuscript, which is going to be a push, especially if I finish up my dissertation this summer. However, I think it’s (semi) doable.

I’ve been reading Norman Cantor’s book Civilization of the Middle Ages, which is a revised and expanded edition of his classic Medieval History. In the first chapter I ran into this fascinating paragraph, which dovetails with my own thinking about Latin-based classical education (a different approach than the neo-classical methods which my mother and I have written extensively on). Cantor says:

“The Romans…believed in themselves as educators, as trainers of the next generation in a specific order of civilization. They developed a tough, aggressive educational system that took little notice of individual talents….There was no room for art or music within the system; all boys were forced to become little grammarians, since language and literature were, in fact, the whole of their curriculum. Higher education was simply higher studies in language. A society dominated by an aristocracy is one in which the rulers need to learn nothing but language; they do not need science or the arts, they do not need new knowledge of technology or sources of wealth, but they must communicate–they already have power, which they will exert through communication. Through narrow concentration the Romans did marvelous things with Latin–basically an awkward, inflexible language. They ignored the sciences, studied almost no mathematics and little history, but learned both written and oral Latin superbly well…..Later western systems were based on the Roman; educators read Cicero and Quintilian and found their model convincing and acceptable. It is a natural system for an aristocratic society, which needs to train its young people only to accept the power handed on to them–a similar system existed in Confucian China.” — Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages, pp. 10-11

A fascinating observation. I prefer to design for my own children an education in which Latin is a tool for the greater understanding of the English language–but only a tool, not the center of the curriculum. The Romans, after all, could no longer survive as a civilization when the aristocrats no longer had artisans, peasants, and mercenaries to whom they could issue their orders.

Looking across the Tiber River towards the Vatican–a picture I took last year while in Italy.

Showing 12 comments
  • Camy

    Ah….yet another reason to give my boys when they complain about Latin vocabulary!
    When one of my twins (now 12 yo) was 10, he stated he wanted to move to a country that uses Latin as its official language. I laughed and told him that he may have to live in the Vatican. Afterward, we discussed the fact that Latin wasn’t technically a spoken language as of late. He said “Then why the heck are we studying it??!!” I prefer their ignorance when it comes to the governance of our home (smile), yet the horizontal and vertical dimensions of education will round their character well, imo, as citizens of a free nation.

    Getting back to the home realm, *I* will continue to read and study the political methods mentioned in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (tee-hee).

  • Amy in NH

    Hi Susan,
    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your workshops this weekend in spite of my baby girl who thought that SHE should be the one doing the lecturing.
    Many Thanks! (and sorry for any distraction)

  • Nicola

    It must be such a relief to have most of the “Ancient World” loose ends tied up. Congratulations! It’s happy-dance time!

    Cantor’s comments are interesting. They touch on two of the more problematic aspects of Latin-centred education: its narrow focus, and its underestimation of the effort required to study Latin in the way that Latin was studied in times past. Still, many WTMers seem quite taken with its claim to be a simpler and truer model of classical education than the neo-classical model.

    Looking forward to hearing you speak in Kelowna.


  • PameLA in VA

    Congratulations on getting closer to publication! I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    What you have written about the narrowing of educational focus in the Roman aristocracy and its relationship to the downfall of the empire is exactly what I learned in “The History of Western Education” at VCU. It was fascinating to learn how the breakdown of great civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, etc. most always was rooted in a shift from a “liberal arts” education to more specialized learning. Our professor predicted that based on what is happening currently in our own society will lead to history repeating itself again. That was in 1987. I find it all very interesting!

    W&M ’83

  • Robin A.

    Susan, the Cantor quote *is* interesting. I would like to hear more of your thoughts on neo-classical, in terms of just how “neo” it can get and still be considered classical. This has been coming up often in discussions lately. At what point are you simply borrowing ideas from the classical model? Latin may not be the center of a neo-classical course (it’s certainly not in my home!), but can the classical educator opt out of latin altogether? What about logic and rhetoric? Is neo-classical more about the method or the subjects? Maybe you can write an article (in all that spare time of yours… ha!).

    Best wishes always,

  • Kate

    What relief you must feel to have the first volume almost done! Congratulations, Susan. Huzzah! :+)

    I really look forward to cold nights, hot cocoa, and a dive into your book!


  • Heather in WI

    The Cantor quote is interesting. I have wondered about your opinion on the classical vs. neo-classical philosophy. I look forward to being able to read your new history book. 🙂

  • Plato's Stepchild

    I disagree with the quote, but only insofar as it applies to Susan’s argument. To wit, John Henry Cardinal Newman’s essay (online, of course) in The Idea of a University. Take a look at Hillaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, CS Lewis and other master writers of the Oxbridge milieu and I think you will agree that the Brits preserved the Liberal Education without sacrificing a ferocious preparation, from an early age, in all aspects of the two inflected languages:


    Grammar, composition, poetry, sentence diagramming, translation, tow inflected languages. Quite a prep.

  • Plato's Stepchild

    To extend my point — 2 books by Sister Miriam Joseph, in particular, make the point. Shakespeare was schooled in much Latin, but little Greek — his rhetorical knowledge was extensive, but drilled deliberately — something that Abraham Lincoln was able to pick up by osmosis.


  • Plato's Stepchild

    One more thought:

    If you read Victor Davis Hanson’s Who Killed Homer and any of Gilbert Highet’s works on Latin Literature’s influence on Western Literature, you will begin to see that the advantage of classical study is the ability to read Greek and Roman works in their original. The compositions themselves contain many subject areas, which is why Classicists end up studying art, architecture, ancient engineering, military history, politics, civics, rhetoric and oratory all at once. It is embedded in the compositions of that age.

  • Plato's Stepchild

    I suppose I should also add Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction to the list.

  • Plato's Stepchild

    I also forget Dorothy Sayer.

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