Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

Victor Davis Hanson, Author, John Heath, Joint Author Free Press $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-84453-4
""To help one's friends and hurt one's enemies is the central tenet of Archaic Greek morality,"" write the authors. Unfortunately, one would have preferred more of the first and rather less of the second. The authors' ""enemies"" are the orthodoxy-honing, text-diddling academics whom many readers familiar with the culture wars already hope will follow their Scholastic forebears into oblivion. While there is a guilty pleasure to reading the lengthy excerpts that the authors include as examples of the wretched state of academic prose, these really are dead horses, well beaten. But Hanson and Heath, two classicists, each with over two decades of studying and teaching, are luckily unrepentant philhellenes, and they offer a spirited defense of the Greeks; to a lesser extent, the Romans; and the scholars whom they admire. Neatly combating the argument that because Greeks were misogynistic, slave-owning syllogists, they can be ignored, the authors try to remind readers how to think like the ancient Greeks in matters that count. While the Greeks are often blamed for encroaching materialism, avarice, self-indulgence and soullessness, we often fail to consider the countering forces of moderation, civic responsibility and unbending moral code that governed life in a polis. Hanson and Heath shine here, bringing out numerous classical admonitions and cautionary tales from Homer to Antigone, to lessons to be learned from the Greeks at war. Free speech, self-criticism, broad inquisitiveness, democracy, individualism and the like, we are reminded, are good things. Perhaps for their next book, Hanson and Heath will ignore their colleagues and address themselves wholly to the demos. It's what Pericles would have wanted. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/30/1998
Release date: 04/01/1998
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