Quarrel, oath and failure

Monica Wilkie

27 February 2020 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

In the latest example of institutional neglect the University of Oxford, is considering making the study of Homer’s Iliadand Virgil’s Aeneid – optional.

At Oxford, large portions of the Iliad and Aeneid are read in Greek and Latin – subjects mostly taken by students from private schools, and Oxford is being pressured to attract more pupils from state schools.

Unfortunately, Oxford’s proposal is unsurprising as they have favoured hollow identity politics over maintaining a rigorous education in the classics.

A campaign to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ in British universities has gained popularity, winning a non-Sussex royal endorsement from Meghan Markle, because the current curriculum is “male, pale and stale.”

Such searing literary analysis was echoed by an Australia high school English teacher who bemoaned “Why are so many “classics” written by old, dead, (usually) straight white guys?”

These comments are indicative of universities obsession with ‘new thinking’ and ‘new ways of learning.’

When students are encouraged to ‘unlearn’, and “to be brave enough to…demolish social norms and build new ones” is it any wonder universities have neglected the classics, especially the teaching of Greek and Latin?

But, as one student opposed to Oxford’s changes remarked “Oxford remains one of the few places in the world, if not the only one, in which students must read a substantial amount of [The Iliad and Aeneid] in the original.”

Removing such a requirement in the name of equality will harm future generations as the knowledge of Greek and Latin is lost – entirely.

Oxford could address educational inequality by looking at increasing the number of students studying Greek and Latin – a change schools, parents and teachers would support.

But Oxford have, like Prince Paris, shot Achilles and run away – a simile fewer will understand as the Iliad is read less and less.

Although the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ crowd insist their way is necessary to “confront exclusion”, in reality, all they end up excluding is beauty and greatness.

 

 

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