A varied and sometimes erratic record of what I'm learning inside and outside of the classroom

Monday, September 6, 2010

Um, Actually, Sir Thomas, There IS Something More...

While reading an excerpt of Thomas More's Utopia concerning the Utopians' love of learning, I came across this line:
"When we had given them [the Utopians] some hints of the learning and discipline of the Greeks (of whom alone we instructed them, for we knew there was nothing among the Romans, except their historians and poets, that they would much esteem), it was strange to see with what avidity they set about learning that language."

Nothing among the Romans? Well, I think Monty Python may have some perspective on that.

Well, okay, that may not have been exactly what Sir Thomas was referring to, but STILL.

In all seriousness, Petrarch, the father of Humanism, devoted a great deal of time to studying and copying Roman classics; he, to his great sorrow, was unable to learn Greek, and this led to "modern tendencies to overemphasize the Roman classics at the expense of the Greek classics" (Petrarch's Books). So, to be fair, there are valuable things to learn from both.

This makes me think of the formation of the literary canon; what does it constitute? A number of texts have generally been omitted from the so-called "canon" by societal and other factors like the one mentioned above. What valuable perspectives are we missing out on because of our own limited point of view? Can we, like Petrarch, see "the whole span of history as one great divine epic" (Petrarch's Books) and be willing to explore our literary history from different, less traditional aspects?


  1. Thats interesting to see how much availability and access change development of progression of ideas and knowledge in a whole.

    Looking at it from a modern perspective it makes us wonder if Google gives us a similar shift. Do we receive more from the Greeks than the Romans (symbolically speaking) because of preset computer algorithms. And how will that affect our societies progress?

  2. I think we may have the same problem when it comes to emphasising western history over the history of other areas of the world. We're probably missing out on a lot of great thoughts from other traditions because we focus on where our own culture came from.

  3. To James: Interesting, interesting. Can the computer algorithms cause some information to be more visible than other information? Can we change these algorithms to produce more varied results? Could we use different algorithms to find "great thoughts from other traditions" as, Melissa said?