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Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1882926732
ISBN-10: 1882926730
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The old-fashioned term grammar school originally designated a school that taught the classical curriculum of Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Simmons imparts much grammar- school history in this brief for reviving the methodical teaching of the two "dead" languages. He traces classical education from the rhetorician Isocrates through its institutional realization during the Renaissance and its efflorescence in nineteenth-century Britain and America, to its decline as modern democracies extended schooling to all, and teaching lost its commitment to the transmission of culture that is liberal, humanistic education. This history lesson, peppered with endorsements of classical Greek and Latin by great writers, scientists, and statesmen, is keenly interesting, but it is just substantiation for the argument for reviving the grammar school that is the book's raison d'etre. There are two major grounds for learning Greek and Latin, Simmons says, one cultural, one formative. The former is a loser, he thinks, plausibly weakened by the counterargument that translations transmit classical culture as well. The argument that studying the old, hard languages produces habits of mind that facilitate learning other subjects; fosters mutual understanding and appreciation among the students; helps students later to negotiate other complicated systems, such as institutions; and increases personal satisfaction--that is the winner, though Simmons concedes few will support it in these egalitarian times. A book that makes one feel more intelligent for having read it. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Simmons's fascinating tour through the pedagogical history of the classics may be his chief contribution to the debate." -- Washington Post
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1st edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926732
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,431,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. H. Bayliss on May 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Having studied Latin (and a little bit of Greek, not nearly enough), I totally agree with his major argument that both Latin and Greek are worth studying for their own sake. This elegantly written and well-argued book is a first rate defense of the classics even though it "stands on the shoulders of giants." The intelletual history of humanism and classicism through the ages is worth the price alone, not to mention the terrific quotes he finds from avid classicists like Nock and CS Lewis (whose essay The Parthanon and the Optative was one of the highlights of the cited works). Although he could have been even more damning, I laughed out loud at how silly he makes some of our "modern" educational ideas look (as in "responding" to works we cannot possibly understand) -- more emphasis on the hard work and less on the "feel good" part of academia and our students would be a lot more capable. The central fact of the book is that even those who don't remember a word of Greek and Latin manage to keep and foster a lifelong appreciation for learning and an ability to understand and digest complex texts. This is one of the most cogent arguments for the classics that I've come across and should be mandatory reading for educational reformers who seem bent on dumbing down an already weak curriculum.
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Format: Hardcover
This marvelous book is a work of humanism in the best and most encompassing sense of the word. It is an "apologia" - which is not an apology but rather a plea - for Greek and Latin. However, it is not the study of these supposedly "dead" languages alone Tracy Lee Simmons advocates but rather what they stand for. If, in André Gide's words, "culture is what remains when all else is forgotten", Greek and Latin are formative rather than merely educational. They need no utilitarian "defense", no claim that they help to train logical thinking, facilitate the study of law, medicine or theology, or open the door to "modern" (and therefore more "useful") languages. Merely functional arguments miss the point.
Simmons' claim is more radical - and for some more "reactionary": If we treasure the culture most of us were raised in, and some of us still want to live in, if we hold our traditions to contain some of that "wisdom of the ages" Edmund Burke wrote about, if with Matthew Arnold we seek for "sweetness and light", we cannot but treasure the world of antiquity - the world without which we cannot truly understand ourselves. The "gradus ad Parnassum" on which Simmons leads us is not only about two languages nor is it dismissive of other cultures or traditions. It never compares, ranks or evaluates though it is certainly an antidote to the smuck version of modern multiculturalism. The book is a story born of love for the Western cultural heritage that cannot be reduced to the Greeks and Romans but would be nothing without them. It is also a potent poison pill for self-indulgent and simplistic Americanists who believe in the myth of a "new civilization" being born in the New World that no longer needs the Old.
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Simmons presents a compelling and beautiful case for the study of Greek and Latin. He forced me to realize that merely reading the Great Books in English translation will not suffice.
One small sample from Simmons' work is illustrative:
"Every lesson in Latin is a lesson in logic...Taking the simple two-word Latin sentence Vellem mortuos ("I would that they were dead"), ... this sentence aright requires fourteen intellectual turns. A student must know (1) the person, (2) tense, (3) voice, (4) number, (5) mood of the verb..., (6) it comes from volo, meaning (7) 'I wish'; and that (8) the subjunctive has here a particular shade of meaning. As to mortuos, he must know that it is (9) the accusative, (10) plural, (11) masculine, from (12) mortuus, meaning (13) 'dead'; (14) the reason why the accusative is necessary.... A student who slips up on any one of these steps is bound to make a lovely mess when he comes to translate... In Latin you must be absolutely right, or you are not right at all... Can anyone seriously maintain that such stiff training in just expression leaves no salutary marks upon the intellect of someone who, having successfully run its gauntlet, becomes captive to the habits of the precise mind?"
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This book is profoundly inspiring, and an invaluable resource for those who desire to learn and those who desire to teach. Teachers would do well to heed Simmons' advice:

"Any lower school aspiring to help the intelligent children to be their best, to allow the smart to rise and reach heights undreamt of, will give full credit to those children for possessing minds capapble of great things. Children are to be sympathized with and respected, not coddled, nor are they to be humored. Their roads aren't always to be made smooth."

Simmons warns us that the ascent of Parnassus is not easy, but is so very worthwhile. He provided me with a glimpse of what I missed out on by not being Classically educated, and left me with a determination to ensure that my child IS Classically educated.
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