September 12, 2018

"Have I got a college for you. For your first two years, your regimen includes ancient Greek. And I do mean Greek, the language..."

"... not Greece, the civilization, though you’ll also hang with Aristotle, Aeschylus, Thucydides and the rest of the gang. There’s no choice in the matter. There’s little choice, period. Let your collegiate peers elsewhere design their own majors and frolic with Kerouac. For you it’s Kant. You have no major, only 'the program,' an exploration of the Western canon that was implemented in 1937 and has barely changed."

From "The Most Contrarian College in America/What’s the highest calling of higher education? St. John’s College has some enduring answers" by Frank Bruni (NYT).

Bruni takes care to say "The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me." But clearly he loves the school, which he visited. He noticed 3 "dynamics":

The first was how articulate the students were. Something wonderful happens when you read this ambitiously and wallow in this many words. You become agile with them.

The second was the students’ focus. A group discussing Homer’s “Iliad” spent more than 10 minutes on the phrase — the idea — of someone having his “fill of weeping.”...

The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions. In the “Iliad” and in life, is there any catharsis in revenge? Any resolution in death? Does grief end or just pause? Do wars?
ADDED: The comments at the NYT are excellent. The top-rated one is beautiful:
My sister went to St. Johns' in Annapolis, and became a high-powered lawyer. I remember two things she said to me about the experience.

First, even though there aren't any composition classes, she learned to write with clarity and power. You write a substantial essay each semester on one of the books, and then, instead of getting it back with a letter grade and a few remarks scribbled at the end, the teachers sit down with you and ask you about the implications of your ideas. This conversation goes a lot better if you've written clearly and forcefully. It's a powerful incentive to develop those skills.

Second, law school -- which everyone told her was so difficult -- turned out to be easy. "Try reading Kant and Hegel," she said. "After that, law books are easy."

Full disclosure: I went to St. John's, too. Later, I got a PhD in Philosophy, and taught at a few schools. But the whole time, I missed the energy and intensity of life at St. John's. The life of an ordinary academic, where you have little time for your students, where research and publication is always the top priority, and where your true peers are not at your institution, is a thin substitute for what undergrad education had led me to yearn for. Eventually, I came back to St. John's, and have been teaching here for the last couple of decades. Now, my top priority is my students, and my most important, most intense and energetic conversations are with them. I wouldn't give it up for any other job.
And the second-highest-rated one made me cry:
When we were visiting prospective colleges, I bribed my son to visit St. John’s. (I promised lunch in nearby Washington, DC).

Having gone on tours of multiple colleges, we had developed stock questions to ask admissions officers, including “What’s the ideal [Name of College] student?” Most of the responses were stock answers performed in front of a crowd of parents and students.

At St. John’s it was just my son and me sitting across from two Admissions officers for over an hour. (We didn’t even have an appointment.) When I pulled out this stock question, “What would you say is the ideal St. John’s student?” the Admissions officers took her time turning the question over in her mind and thoughtfully replied, “I’d say St. John’s is for the intellectually courageous.”

I watched as my son sat up taller.

We spent two more hours touring the campus with an enthusiastic “Johnny” as our guide. Lunch time came and went. My son was smitten. He fell in love with St. John’s and graduated four years later. His passion for “the program” has never wavered.

Every time I'd visit, he’d take me for his own version of a tour of this magical place, unpacking and relating all he'd learned.

My favorite was standing in front of a series of framed mathematical proofs. His explanations became more expansive and incisive with each visit—from Euclid to Ptolemy to Copernicus to Apollonius to Galileo to Newton to Lobachevski.

The four years passed quickly, but this education is timeless.
What made me cry? "Intellectually courageous" and the son's reaction to those words.

158 comments:

buwaya said...

Which is why I read the Iliad to all our kids when they were receptive to it - age 8-10.
One of their bedtime stories.

Leslie Graves said...

That's my alma mater.

whitney said...

This is the second blog I've read this on. I feel sure the sjw's will come for the school tout suite

Michael K said...

Too bad about the women and POC.

Maybe a "Studies" major next year ?

Michael K said...

VDH has taught Classics at Fresno State for years.

Island of sanity.

rehajm said...

The third dynamic was their humility

They might need this later if any of them look for real jobs.

rhhardin said...

The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me.

Our Black Foremothers (Loeb edition)

SGT Ted said...

"The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me."

Since most of that is leftwing bullshit tokenism, it's probably the main reason the students are so thoughtful and articulate.

n.n said...

Bruni is a rabid diversitist of the leftist kind (i.e. on principle) who denies individual dignity and indulges in color judgments including racism, sexism, etc.

Vance said...

Lessee: studying Homer, Plato, Virgil, Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas, Locke, Hobbes..... versus "1000 Gender studies of african dung beatles and how to push poop" or whatever today's "Enlightened" students study.

Who's more likely to be prepared?

Tommy Duncan said...

As one who "went to college to get an education" I applaud St. John's.

Colleges today seem to provide two tracks: (1) Vocational training (pre-med, pre-law, accounting, engineering), and (2) rigor free snowflake silliness (queer studies, black studies, sociology).

bagoh20 said...

And if the Iliad was written today? How well would it do among the intellectuals?

I find it fascinating that it is so old, and what that adds to the thinking of it, but I would like the work itself exactly the same if it was modern, but I'm not the kind of thinking man who could spend much time on the phrase "fill of weeping".

EDH said...

Hopefully St. John's heterodoxy is indicative of a competitive advantage that will determine which colleges survive the coming shake-out.

bagoh20 said...

Isn't the Iliad the course textbook for Men's Studies 201?

bagoh20 said...

The Iliad teaches a lot about the dangers of getting too close to women.

Unknown said...

I graduated SJC in Annapolis in 1981. The column brought me back. I think the only thing missing in a St. John’s College seminar since then is there are no ashtrays to help along discussions of “Plato’s theory of Ideas” (as in “the Idea of ‘Ashtray’”).

Tommy Duncan said...

By the way, I like contrarian.

Ambrose said...

Talk about a dog whistle from Bruni. The usual suspects will be coming after this college before you know it.

mockturtle said...

Hooray for St. John's College! Sounds like a fine institution--the kind my great-great grandfathers probably attended. One of my great-great grandfathers was on the first faculty of the University of Wisconsin. I wonder what the curriculum was like then?

"The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me." Oh, well.

Curious George said...

Aren't they on Wisconsin's non-conference schedule?

Oso Negro said...

After dropping out of Washington University, I visited St. John's in New Mexico in 1976. The program was appealing, but I was getting attached to Austin. I ended up taking a BA in English and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas. High school would be much better taught with a classic curriculum. No SJW feel good bullshit.

chuck said...

> the intellectual contributions of women

Weren't there a fair number of female saints and writers in the Catholic Church? Perhaps we should celebrate the diversity of the early Church.

rhhardin said...

Women contributed to the classical canon as translators.

Biff said...

The NYT comment section on that article is exactly what you'd expect: "Oppressive! Dead white males! Racist! Sexist! Name-your-identity-group-phobic!"

At the same time, I'll admit some surprise at how the comments rated most highly by NYT readers actually are quite positive about the program.

The most amusing comments are the ones that fit this pattern: "The smartest, most well-read person I know graduated from SJC, but they voted for a Republican for President! How in the world does that make any sense at all?"

rhhardin said...

Most of Derrida's translators are women.

Expat(ish) said...

I would be curious about which works Bruni would include. Specifically.

Then let’s judge.

-XC

Michael K said...

Colleges today seem to provide two tracks: (1) Vocational training (pre-med, pre-law, accounting, engineering), and (2) rigor free snowflake silliness (queer studies, black studies, sociology).

I was working as an engineer when I went back to do pre-med. I needed a student loan if I was to quit my job and go full time. I couldn't get a loan because pre-meds often did not get into med school so I became an English major. It was very enjoyable. I still have a couple of the textbooks.

I got an invitation to a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in English but had already been accepted to medical school.

An English major would be useless now, except at a couple of colleges like Hillsdale.

Sebastian said...

Bruni takes care to say "The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me." But clearly he loves the school . . . "The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions."

But love notwithstanding, he did not (going by the excerpt) "move toward better questions" himself.

For example, if the program has such obvious virtues, why should it matter that it doesn't pay attention to texts by "women and people of color"? Or: does anything "women or people of color" have produced deserve to have priority over Homer and Shakespeare and Kant? Or: Might your being troubled be an admission that you prefer the best answer over better questions?

Anyway, when you know the answers, and when you can impose them, you do not need to worry about "better questions." It's the progressive temptation.

Of course, there are self-satisfied conservatives. But on the level of political philosophy, progs don't do humble.

Carol said...

A cousin of mine got a full ride to the St John's in Santa Fe. It sounded so exciting to me. A classical education - the real deal! Even when I was a tween I thought anything progressive or modern education sounded odious.

Caught up with her years later and seems she didn't do a thing with it. She was teaching ESL, which damn near anyone with a degree. A real naif, unmarried, living in SF and being exploited by shady dudes. I asked her about her college life but she didn't seem impressed one way or the other.

I thought she'd be famous or something...

Bay Area Guy said...

I'm reading a good book by Victor Davis Hanson on the Peloponnesian War

It's some good shit, man.

Bill Peschel said...

Isn't it more important is that they teaching women and minorities?

That's all we can do about it now, instead of Talibanizing history.

buwaya said...

"The Iliad teaches a lot about the dangers of getting too close to women.

My daughter liked it best.

Andrew said...

"...omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me."

What a shock! What an unexpected development!

I'm sure some of the students listen to jazz in their spare time.

Perhaps they can add Kate Chopin and Virginia Woolf to Homer and Thucydides.

YoungHegelian said...

I, too, am a Johnnie, of the Santa Fe-an variety.

It has its ups & downs, but I'm glad I did it. My favorite memories are of my fellow students, who had the most eclectic bunch of interests I've ever seen that small of a group of people (~300).

When I saw the article my response was "How did they ever find a seminar photo with four women in a row at a table?". I also recently saw a photo in a marketing shoot that was like 12 women & one guy. Sorry, guys, that just ain't right. Even in this day where women outnumber males on campuses, SJC is still 55% male.

Cassandra said...

My youngest son and his wife are St. John's grads. It's not for everyone, but amazingly, students don't melt down when they hear new ideas or concepts inconsistent with their world view or upbringing. Good Lord... perhaps the exposure is actually good for them.

The knock on St. John's is that the non-traditional course load will make students unemployable. But my son had no trouble finding a job with a good salary (they have a great alumni network) and many St. John's grads go on to grad school anyway. He learned how to think for himself there.

Worth every penny of the hefty tuition.

YoungHegelian said...

@Carol,

Caught up with her years later and seems she didn't do a thing with it.

There's more of that than SJC would like to admit. Then again, I've worked with some Ivy Leaguers who make you wonder what self-respecting junior college would have had them, so nothing's fool proof.

Lewis Wetzel said...

The motivations of the characters in the Iliad are so alien to ours that it isn't a very good guide to modern behavior. There are a few female characters who seem to have inner lives, but, like the men, their inner lives seem two dimensional.
The job of the heroes in the Iliad is to gain treasure and glory by slaughter. The goal of the women is to bear and raise the children of heroes, and keep their virtue intact.

Ann Althouse said...

@Leslie Graves

Lucky you!

Bay Area Guy said...

I met one kid in college who was on a road trip from St. John's. He was smart, no doubt, but a bit goofy and weird.

I do like the stuff they're teaching at St. Johns. Excellent. Now, if they had hot girls and a good football team, we'd be in business.

Ann Althouse said...

"Worth every penny of the hefty tuition."

The just did a huge tuition reduction.

buwaya said...

"The job of the heroes in the Iliad is to gain treasure and glory by slaughter."

This is a very odd thing to say. The heroes are individuals, and all have their own motivations. They are loyal, responsible, power and status-seeking, bound by subtly varying concepts of honor and obligation, resentment, and etc. and etc. All of human life is in there.

Nothing is alien, everything is modern, if you strip off the modern veneers.

YoungHegelian said...

@Bag,

Now, if they had hot girls

I graduated in the fashion-deprived 70's & when I look back on our class photo taken around the pond in the quad, my first thought is "My God, we were so ugly that we look like we fell out out the ugly tree & hit every branch on the way down!".

When my older brother (also an alum) visited me in 1976, he commented on how much more feminine the women dressed than in his day (the late 60's/early 70's). Oy!

buwaya said...

Also, leakage of other "stuff" into that is extremely dangerous.
Not because a well prepared kid can't read Fanon, but because the otherwise utterly corrupt American academic culture will make sure that nothing but Fanon (or fill in whatever is fashionable) will drive out the rest.

You are dealing with demons from hell.

This is exactly what happened in, say, the UC's. The liberal arts departments were corrupted and the classics were expunged. This is why my daughter switched majors, out of disappointment, to something tech and marketable.

Cassandra said...

The just did a huge tuition reduction.

Thanks, Ann! That's good to hear - somehow I missed it in the article. The cost very nearly dissuaded us from sending our son, but I just fell in love with the idea of the place.

And it was so good for him. We've never regretted it.

One of my favorite memories was the moment our son and now-daughter-in-law arrived at our place in California for a visit. The first place they headed was the built-in bookshelves in our living room. That kind of love for learning and ideas is priceless.

Michael K said...

One of the best fiction writers about classical Greece is Mary Renault, Eileen Mary Challons, who has written a series of novels going back to the legend of the Minotaur and Theseus. She got me interested in Greek history when I was in college.

She was a lesbian and wrote the most sympathetic depictions of gay life that I have read.

At least Helen had "The face that launched a thousand ships."

rcocean said...

They're have been numerous Female Greek and Roman Scholars and historians.

Edith Hamilton for one. I'd recommend any of her books.

I admire Intellectual courage as long as it doesn't devolve into mindless contrarianism.

rcocean said...

How many people know Calvin College read the Greek classics - in Greek?

YoungHegelian said...

@rcocean,

How many people know Calvin College read the Greek classics - in Greek?

Not uncommon for an upper-class male of his time & before. There's only like about a Gigabyte & a half of texts from the classical Greco-Roman world. If you have Latin & Greek beaten into you as a kid & then work at it for the next 15-20 years, it's not that difficult to read all the extant authors.

Darrell said...

"And I do mean Greek, the language

Thanks for clearing that up.
Frank Bruni (NYT) was expecting butt-sex. Explains his disappointment.

Unknown said...

The goal of the women is to bear and raise the children of heroes, and keep their virtue intact.

That's a neat trick!

Freeman Hunt said...

St. John's has been on my Colleges I Am Willing to Pay For list for a long time now. (That list is rather short right now.)

Freeman Hunt said...

I think Annapolis is the most beautiful town in the United States.

YoungHegelian said...

@Freeman,

St. John's has been on my Colleges I Am Willing to Pay For list for a long time now.

I tried to work on my gaggle of nieces & nephews to consider SJC. Not even close. Needless to say, 600 total students on two campuses is a very small sliver of the total college population of the US.

I think Annapolis is the most beautiful town in the United States.

Don't forget about Santa Fe when the time comes to chose. Once you're admitted to one campus, you can transfer between them at will.

traditionalguy said...

Great news from EDU land. I am now certain that Ann Althouse is a Traditionalist disguised as a Baby Boomer. Loving Bob Dylan had already given you away.

Cassandra said...

One of the best fiction writers about classical Greece is Mary Renault...

Oh, yes! Very few authors give me chills because they're just that good. Some of her descriptions are so vivid that they seem like actual memories.

Freeman:

Annapolis is lovely, but the traffic in the summer can be hideous. My daughter in law spent a year on the Santa Fe campus and loved it, but my son stayed in Annapolis. After a lifetime spent moving constantly, the real adventure for him was being in one place for four years!

Lewis Wetzel said...

Blogger Unknown said...

The goal of the women is to bear and raise the children of heroes, and keep their virtue intact.

That's a neat trick!

Virtue meaning avoiding being seduced or raped. The impression given by Homer is that any man, given an opportunity, will rape any woman given the opportunity to do so. Unless they are blood relatives (usually).
The Iliad is a great story, but it doesn't give you insight on modern life. Even the heroes don't act the way we think heroes should act. If the shoe was on the other foot, Hector would have been in Attica, happily pillaging towns, killing the men and children, raping the women and dragging them off as slaves.

readering said...

Was offered a chance to learn Greek starting in 8th Grade and again junior year HS but passed both times. Don't regret it. 6 and a half years of Latin enough. Catholic schools in the olden days. Do regret passing on learning Spanish in sophomore year HS.

Freshman year of college was 60 per cent great books program. Very worthwhile, although I could only get about a third the way through Ulysses.

William said...

I remind people here that all those sages who engineered and plodded on in WWI had studied the classics, spoke French, and went to church on Sunday. Most of them were even faithful to their wives. You just have to look at Woodrow Wilson to see the effects of a classical education and to realize how fucked up the world can become in the hands of such people. Well, he was better than Lenin, but it wouldn't surprise me none if Lenin had read the Iliad and studied Latin.......When I was in school, we had to take a course in Milton. I think he was ranked just below Shakespeare in those days. I don't remember anything about the course except that it was dull and tough sledding. I probably would have derived more benefit from studying the collected works of Susan Sontag, especially since she hadn't written much back then.

Henry said...

In terms of contributions, at least St. John's has the blind covered.

Comanche Voter said...

Ah I'm a two fer here. My older daughter married a Greek from Corinthos. She did become semi-fluent in Greek to communicate with her mother in law who speaks no English.

Now as for the Iliad, I just finished reading Robert Graves translation of it yesterday (the final chapters were read on a long plane ride from London). Graves' translation makes an excellent read. I do get a little hazy on all of the references to "A", the son of "B" and grandson of "C". But then I get hazy while reading the Old Testament as well.

But in his introduction Graves asserts that "Homer" was not a single person. The various chapters arose out of an oral tradition. And one thing that the Iliad has is a lot of blood and gore. Apparently there was a real market among the Hellenic audience for graphic tales of how a spear pierced which organ(s), or how a sword lopped off an arm or a head. Rocks crushing skulls had a big audience share as well. Arrow shots knocking charioteers over the rail of the chariot appeared as frequently as Indians shot off their horses in the cowboy and Indian flicks of the 50's. And who knew that Achilles and Hector and a lot of the other "heroes" in the Trojan War talked a lot of smack?

Now if you were a twelve year old English public schoolboy ordered to translate a chapter of the Iliad from the original Greek, it might well be a hard task. But in translation, it's an interesting book to read.

There's also politics, sly domestic humor (Zeus and Hera are often at cross purposes) quarreling children among the Immortals, and very fallible human beings. But at least Graves never called Zeus "the Orange One' as Trump is referred to in some English papers.

Henry said...

In terms of confronting one's mind with an alien viewpoint, I think reading Homer is going to be a lot more mind-bending than any contemporary author. Contemporaries swim in the same water, no matter how diversified their ideology. There's a kind of radical safety in reading ancient texts. You can convert or rebel with complete abandon. You don't have to please anyone.

I didn't get how mind-bending Homer was the first time I read the Iliad. It was an academic slog. The second time, reading Fagles' translation, I was horrified. The Iliad is a slaughterhouse. The carnage is described in cinematic detail. I'm more an Odyssey man. Even more I'm a fatalist. Thus Beowulf.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Comanche Voter said...in his introduction Graves asserts that "Homer" was not a single person

That was a strongly held view at one point. Fagles discusses the alternative that Homer may have been a poet of an oral tradition whose tellings were captured by the earliest Greek writers.

Henry said...

buwaya said...
Which is why I read the Iliad to all our kids when they were receptive to it - age 8-10.

I repackaged the Odyssey into a lot of bedtime stories, ages 4 to 8. I had some stock characters who were always doing Odyssey things.

When my brain was too slow to retell a story, I'd read from Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales. Lots of blood there.

mockturtle said...

The motivations of the characters in the Iliad are so alien to ours that it isn't a very good guide to modern behavior.

Not my impression at all. In fact, reading 'the classics' I'm always struck with how like us the characters were [or vice versa].

Guimo said...

Gettysburg College in the 1960s—a close second to St John’s in terms of mandatory curriculum.

mockturtle said...

William, history is all about wars. Peace is something to be savored in between them.

Wilbur said...

I've suspected for a long time that a substantial market exists - for both parents and students - for colleges/universities with an approach similar to St. Johns.

mockturtle said...

The goal of the women is to bear and raise the children of heroes, and keep their virtue intact.

Unknown responds: That's a neat trick!

He said virtue, not virginity.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I hope someone lets Frank Bruni know that the Odyssey was written by a Sicilian woman.
(cf. Samuel Butler)

Leslie Graves said...

The Season One finale of Westworld is called "The Bicameral Mind". This refers to "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes. That 1976 book argues that up until about 3,000 years ago, the human mind was divided into two parts neither of which had the felt experience of being part of a unitary whole. Rather, one part of the mind spoke, and the other part listened.

Jaynes points to The Iliad as he makes his case. He claims that the characters in the poem don't appear to have self-awareness.

"The robots in Westworld" = "seem like modern day humans to viewers, who empathize with them" = "as opposed to many of the humans in Westworld who, actually, act like the warriors especially the Greeks in the Iliad" = "the motivations of the characters in the Iliad are very recognizable to our contemporaries".

CR said...

I studied engineering as an undergrad. I read a lot of classic literature after college. But still, I am most grateful for my STEM training. There are different ways of encountering truth, learning to think, and being grounded in what is real.

Henry said...

Leslie Graves said...
Jaynes points to The Iliad as he makes his case. He claims that the characters in the poem don't appear to have self-awareness.

I don't know about that, but there's a fairly well validated analysis that the ancient Greeks did not have any sense of color. The wine-dark sea does not mean a purple sea, or some kind of ancient-wine-that-was-actually-blue sea. It mean dark. Like grape juice is dark. The light doesn't shine through it. The color is immaterial.

Mike Sylwester said...

So the students at this college wear Halloween costumes that offend colored people?

Henry said...

I should say "any vocabulary of color".

mockturtle said...

STEM and classical educations should not be mutually exclusive.

Mike Sylwester said...

In my comment at 7:44 PM, I inadvertently wrote colored people when I meant to write People of Color.

I apologize.

Please make the mental correction.

rehajm said...

We have a new intern. He’s intuitive and puts his head down and works. He didn’t go to St. John’s. We’ve trained him and now we’re going to invedt the $7,500 in the lotto to keep him.

We’re not investing in Thucydides.

wild chicken said...

, so nothing's fool proof

Yeah. I was disappointed in her, because she was a scholar back when girls generally weren't and I wanted to be like her.

Carol

Ralph L said...

I suppose if you can learn to read ancient Greek, you will gain the confidence to read anything. Seems it would a waste of time otherwise.

At one time, the students competed with the Midshipmen in croquet.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Had a girlfriend who went to St.John Santa Fe- a feckless cunt and shameless slut. But the campus was nice.

mockturtle said...

To me, one of the greatest values in studying history and classical literature is learning that human nature is no different today from what it was in, say, the 5th century BC. Only the means of travel and of killing each other has changed. To assume that we are more enlightened or more civilized is foolishness that results in foolish decision-making.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Blogger buwaya said...

. . .
Nothing is alien, everything is modern, if you strip off the modern veneers.

I respectfully disagree. The Iliad is about the anger of Achilles. Achilles is angry because he has his war booty (a female slave) taken from him by Agamemnon, to replace Agamemnon's war booty (a different female slave), whom Agamemnon had to relinquish to her father to obtain relief from the wrath of Apollo. The insult to Agamemnon cannot be resolved because Agamemnon cannot make war against Apollo. The insult to Achilles cannot be resolved because he cannot refuse Agamemnon's demand. He has lost honor and cannot recover it, so he sulks in his tent and lets the Achaeans, many of them his sworn friends, die in battle with the Trojans.
There is nothing like "love" or even physical attraction between Agamemnon, Achilles, and the girl trophies that are the cause of the dispute. Homer never gainsays Achilles. Achilles' wrath and his decision to keep to his tent are never condemned. Even the Romans would have condemned a general who puts his pride before Rome. Nothing like that happens in The Iliad.

Andrew said...

@Mike Sylvester: Dammit, man, don't do that again.
***
More seriously, I think the Odyssey is much more profound and complicated than the Illiad.

Andrew said...

"I've suspected for a long time that a substantial market exists - for both parents and students - for colleges/universities with an approach similar to St. Johns."

Definitely. I also think there are many professors who would relish the opportunity to teach at such a school, away from the typical leftwing b.s.

An obvious example of such a market existing is the success of The Teaching Company. I would listen to all their courses if I had the time and could afford it. The ones I have heard were fantastic.

Andrew said...

@ William,
I couldn't finish Paradise Lost, although certainly some moments were transcendent.

I much prefer Milton's sonnets. Short and exquisite.

Molly said...

(eaglebeak)

I went to St. John's in Annapolis, graduated in 1970; my husband went to St. John's in Santa Fe as part of the first class to go there, graduated in 1968 (went from NYC at age 16 to New Mexico because they paid his full tuition--they were trying to fill the first class on the new campus).

Our son went to St. John's in Annapolis, graduated in 2006.

It became a family habit so easily--such a happy habit to have.

The students still compete with the Naval Academy in croquet, and no, it is not a waste of time to learn Ancient Greek.

Because once you do, you can read some of the world's greatest literature, philosophy, and math texts as they were written. When we were freshmen they had us translate Plato's Meno.

That was worth it.

rhhardin said...

The goal of the women is to bear and raise the children of heroes, and keep their virtue intact.

Helen's whoring around caused a lot of trouble.

YoungHegelian said...

On the one hand, I'm amazed that there are so many Johnnies here Chez Althouse (one additional other commentor is a Johnnie, but I won't out him).

But, then again, when I think about it, I'm not surprised at all.

tim in vermont said...

" The Iliad teaches a lot about the dangers of getting too close to women. "

Catch phrase from Oh Brother Where Art Though, based on The Odyssey? "Never trust a female!"

Colonel Mustard said...

Wyoming Catholic College. No cell phones!!!!! https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2018/06/at-this-new-college-yes-to-latin-and-hiking-but-no-to-cellphones-and-federal-aid/

The school year starts with time in the wilderness.

YoungHegelian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Browsing the article's comments I see something Mr Bruni (perhaps conveniently) overlooked:

"I teach at this college, and was almost brought to tears by this article. We have been wondering how such a great institution has not received the recognition it deserves. I need to call attention to the fact that we try to enter into dialogue with everyone who is great - we teach Sappho in language class, we read Jane Austin, W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass in seminar, have reading groups on George Elliot, Simone de Beauvoir and Camille Paglia, and had a recent Summer Classics course on Chinua Achebe. And our Eastern Classics graduate program is of the highest caliber."

Yeah, racist, sexist, homophobic.

Michael K said...

reeman Hunt said...
I think Annapolis is the most beautiful town in the United States.


The sailing is good, too.

buwaya said...

Achilles and Agamemnon behave as such great men have always behaved, and still do.
We moderns are often fooled by their PR, but behind the suits and bronze armor they are the same. They will send us to die, or work our misfortune if it suits their whim, without any real regret.

Besides their personality there is also their fear of losing status in such symbolic contests. There are very good reasons for everything.

And so also do their followers, and etc. The criticism of such divine pride is implicit, in Patroclus say, who does what he does for the sake of what he sees as his responsibility to all the Greeks.

And so on, to Achilles remorse, and then his mercy to the old man Priam.

Barry Jacobs said...

One of my greatest regrets is declining admission to St. John's in '82. I had a girlfriend who was going elsewhere and the hormones dictated my choice. My sister did a graduate degree there years later and loved it. When my own kids are ready for college I'll insist they at least give it a look.

Unknown said...

I couldn't finish Paradise Lost, although certainly some moments were transcendent.

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.

YoungHegelian said...

@BP,

Achilles and Agamemnon behave as such great men have always behaved, and still do.
We moderns are often fooled by their PR,


Thersites wasn't fooled, & see where it got him.

Molly said...

(eaglebeak)

YoungHegelian: Yes, I feel tremendous frustration at all the lefty St Johnny stuff (In my day, just about 50 years ago, we still called ourselves St. Johnnies, although now I know it's simply Johnnies)

Every so often, though, you get a nice surprise. My son was a leftist in high school and then, lo and behold, he went to St. John's and suddenly became a conservative.

So there's that. Which is nice. :)

The Godfather said...

When my wife and I lived in Annapolis in the '90's, we met both Johnnies and Middies. You would perhaps think of the Johnnies as "different drummer" types, but the Middies were "different drummer" types, too, just in different ways. We need both kinds -- and other kinds as well -- of "different drummer" types. What we don't need is college students who are made to be so afraid of different or challenging ideas that they need "safe spaces". Yet that seems to be where most of the younger generation is headed.

Grump, grump. I'm feeling old and crotchety tonight.

buwaya said...

Thersites suffered the same lack of appreciation for glory, and the same imprudence, that many have suffered since. How many contrarian soldiers have been flogged in the next 3000 years?

Molly said...

(eaglebeak)

Speaking of the classics and STEM: At St. John's you take four years of math, from Euclidean geometry forward all the way to Dedekind, Cantor, probability, projective geometry. When I went there you had four years of lab--now I think it's three years of lab--starting with theory of measurement, doing chemistry, physics up to near-modernity (Einstein--or maybe beyond now), and biology.

So it's not all reading classic literature. However, in your math and science classes you read the classics of both--Euclid, Nicomachus, Apollonius, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, Lavoisier, Maxwell, etc. etc. up to Dedekind, Heisenberg, Einstein. (usually excerpts--don't mean to imply we read all of the work of each of these guys.)

And so on.

gspencer said...

Molly,

"The students still compete with the Naval Academy in croquet"

You meant "crochet," right?

mockturtle said...

Molly: That sounds wonderful! I'm sorry I'm too old to apply.

Stephen Cooper said...

I notice that the issue of the lack of "women writers" in the required reading curriculum of the college of St Johns has been discussed here.

Although not having gone to the college in question, I am familiar with the goals of that noble institution.

How surprised I would be if any graduate of that institution would say that Sappho was not among the greatest poets of antiquity, or that Socrates was wrong to credit his female teacher with greater wisdom than he had, or would say that women, through the years, have not written many of the greatest works of literature - so many that there is probably not a single person who has read more than half of those great works with real comprehension -

the four year reading list is weighted towards the sort of books that the most ambitious of the intellectuals of Western civilization have written, and so the reading list is weighted towards males ... who have had an easier time being ambitious at that sort of thing (albeit a less easy time at many other things, some of them equally important) ....

when Harold Bloom says that Emily Dickinson was the most brilliant poet, with the most brilliant mind, among the poets of her generation, he was not saying anything that a grad of Saint John's would automatically disagree with ....

if you like the sort of thing that people who like literature like, you know what I am talking about.

All literature has a lot of second-rateness to it, with a very few rare exceptions. The reasons the curriculum at St John's does not have a lot of Austen or a lot of Sappho or a lot of Sigrid Undset or Emily Dickinson - to name four brilliant writers whose second-rate moments were extremely rare - is not because of a value judgement as to whether they are worth studying - of course they are - quite simply, when you are teaching literature or philosophy, you know that you are leaving out of the curriculum lots of authors who are, to tell the truth, too good for a college course - so the relative proportion of male to female writers does not mean that anybody at St Johns is thinking "male writers" are "better" ...

the public discussion of literature is sort of ponderous, for the most part, and female writers had, in their personal lives, the option of being less obliged to deal with ponderous people .... and therefore .... that extremely artificial world in which "students" discuss works with professional "teachers" is going to be skewed towards works by people who have had to deal with ponderousness their whole lives. More Milton and more Lawrence, less Lady Murusaki and less Christina Rossetti.

Just saying.


Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ralph L said...

we read Jane Austin

But we don't spell her.

Unknown said...

How lovely to hear that a college like that still exists!

Last week my niece told me she is majoring in English literature at a top 50 Liberal Arts college. Having to host my book club soon, I asked her who her favorite author was. She couldn't name a single author,

Sad!

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Molly said...

(eaglebeak)

mockturtle: I'm not sure you're too old to apply. Not sure there are any age limits.... There is also a Graduate Institute which is a two-year course leading to an M.A. that has a lot of the same readings.

gspencer: The trick about the croquet (yes) is that the St. Johnnies practice while drunk, which the middies can't do, of course, so the St. Johnnies have a big advantage over middies on Game Day, where everyone gets drunk--players and onlookers.

On women authors--St. John's used to have Jane Austen's Emma as one of the readings in senior seminar; Sappho was generally read or discussed, if at all, in Greek tutorials (that's what regular classes are called). When my son was there, Miss Brann, one of the great tutors there, held a preceptorial on the triumph of the mousy woman (!), featuring Mansfield Park, Middlemarch, and Jane Eyre.--so, Jane Austen, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), and Charlotte Bronte.

Comanche Voter said...

Well you could say that Hillary Clinton sulked in her tent after the insult of losing the 2016 election. And, just as Achilles refusal to join battle with the Trojans cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Greek soldiers, so Hillary' sulk and her claim "the Russkies did it" has caused great damage to the USA.

So yes there are parallels between the Iliad and modern day politics.

FIDO said...

I suppose to be 'appreciative' of the one needs far less intellectual rigor. I've heard Obama speak. Eloquent nonsense and no one has released a single scrap of his college records.

You

Craig said...

SGT Ted said...
"The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me."

Since most of that is leftwing bullshit tokenism, it's probably the main reason the students are so thoughtful and articulate.

---

You're an idiot, you have no idea what you are talking about, and you sadly are too representative of what passes for the currency that Althouse cashes in on around here. Good luck establishing your point. I look forward to your proof that, in the the contemporary study of the early modern era, the women included are bullshit tokenism.

You're a goddamned idiot, unable to think for yourself.

Craig said...

Tommy Duncan said...
As one who "went to college to get an education" I applaud St. John's.

Colleges today seem to provide two tracks: (1) Vocational training (pre-med, pre-law, accounting, engineering), and (2) rigor free snowflake silliness (queer studies, black studies, sociology).

9/12/18, 4:40 PM

---

You, too, are an idiot. I hope Althouse is making plenty of $$$ off of this blog, because her turn to the illiterate and unthinking right has really attracted a crowd.

YoungHegelian said...

Off yer meds tonight, Craig?

FIDO said...

Sniff. If you think that the Iliad is 'alien' with its talking smack, violence over respect and tribal impulses, contemplate the local 'double murder/suicide' over infidelity at a local Motel 6 near you.

It is the Iliad done without the thousand ships.



Craig said...

Wilbur said...
I've suspected for a long time that a substantial market exists - for both parents and students - for colleges/universities with an approach similar to St. Johns.

9/12/18, 7:23 PM

---

If only your idle and lame suspicions were aware of the prevalence of great-books programs in universities across the country. Ah, but no, the rule of the land here is whatever-it-takes-to-encourage-the-thoughtless-alt-right crowd around here.

Ralph L said...

Mansfield Park is a horrible introduction to Austen, especially as required reading (which ruins many an author). There's a lot of depth to it, but you might decide to skip her other, more enjoyable novels, which would be a crime.

Yancey Ward said...

My high school guidance counselor tried to get me to apply to the college, but at that stage of my life, its curriculum seemed oddly out sync with the world. How much more wrong could I have been?

Steven said...

I look forward to your proof that, in the the contemporary study of the early modern era, the women included are bullshit tokenism.

All right, the early modern era, you say? Cool.

Name two women thinkers or writers, 1500-1800 AD, who are the actual peers in intellectual or literary importance and influence of Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Shakespeare, Bacon, Locke, Milton, Newton, Adam Smith, Gibbon, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Spinoza, Hume, or Kant.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Tina Trent said...

Fun fact about Frank Bruni: before he became such an embittered and dishonest piece of work, he co-wrote a guide for complaining to companies about poor customer service or products.

His co-author on that one, Elinor Burkett, is a far more talented and courageous writer. She is one of few contemporary writers willing to challenge political and cultural shibboleths. Of course he's at the Times and she lives in relative obscurity. But her books are worth reading.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Wondering if y'all are mixing up civility and humility.
Wondering how much NYT meetings allow express his contraries?

Chris N said...

I’ve been fortunate enough to do 3 things seriously as an adult in the area of learning that my earlier education had missed, a good deal of it outside the academy: lived abroad (very cheaply) and learned another modern language passably well. Read and studied many modern and classical works of philosophy...and im currently working downstream of data scientists training machine learning models

I’ve got ridiculous holes in so many various and specific areas, and I’ve had to ride many waves beyond my control (consequences of past choices, temperamental inclinations as well as money and fate) but I’ve generalized and covered some interesting ground.

Take learning seriously, humble and steel yourself before those who know, be good and fair to others when you have authority of any kind and work your ass off.

Take looking for the truth seriously, but wear it lightly. The last laugh’s on you!

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Who burned down the library in Alexandria? Wasn't it Early Christians?

FIDO said...

Caesar was first. Which shows the difference between talking point 'gottchas' and actual education.

Caeser didn't do it on purpose, but it happened. Any other libel you wish to post?

FIDO said...

An SJC alum (or anyone who actually read that period of history...or even anyone who watched 'Cleopatra') would know this fact.

Those educated by Western Culture haters, Marxists and Feminists would not.

tim in vermont said...

If only your idle and lame suspicions were aware of the prevalence of great-books programs in universities across the country.

Strange then that the New York Times thought that it was newsworthy.

Bob Loblaw said...

Bruni takes care to say "The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me."

It's funny to watch leftists say this kind of thing reflexively the same way Muslims always follow references to Mohammed with "peace be upon him".

sdharms said...

Maybe it "omits the intellectual contributions of women" because if all the contributions (men and women) are ranked, the womens are on the lower end of importance. HOw about medical contributions from Africa? scientific contributions from Middle East? Did either of these cure cancer or go to the moon? but....PC.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

@FIDO ... Are you saying Christians frustrated the second attempt at preservation of knowledge.

I Will take your word for it.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

I'm awake to my lack of education.
Why I seek data to turn into *know*.

My data from movie Agora

readering said...

Bruni seems to be able to hold 2 thoughts at once. How come folks here have so much trouble. For my great books program I only recall one woman and a couple of third world authors, all in the literature section. Over 40 years ago so I may be forgetting. Nothing I would substitute out but still troubling a fair word.

Craig said...

Blogger Steven said...
I look forward to your proof that, in the the contemporary study of the early modern era, the women included are bullshit tokenism.

All right, the early modern era, you say? Cool.

Name two women thinkers or writers, 1500-1800 AD, who are the actual peers in intellectual or literary importance and influence of Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Shakespeare, Bacon, Locke, Milton, Newton, Adam Smith, Gibbon, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Spinoza, Hume, or Kant.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

9/13/18, 2:07 AM

---

1) If you can't figure out even a single plausible theory for women have not had as much influence as some of those men without appealing to the lack of quality intellectual work from women...

2) There are plenty of women in that era who did significant intellectual work (despite fewer and poorer opportunities). See, e.g., Margaret Cavendish. Just because you, a random crank oldie on the Internet, does not know of them means only that you are a random crank on the Internet.

Ralph L said...

Nothing I would substitute out but still troubling a fair word.

What non-literature would you add in? How do we know what stands the test of time, when much has only recently been re-discovered? Sun Tzu?
Not being snarky.

FIDO said...

Alexandria was a politically unstable place ever since its founding (that whole 'diversity brings great unstability' thing: Greeks and Egyptians going head to head all the time)

In the case of expanding your knowledge, perhaps you might wish to start at Wiki and go from there.

FIDO said...

Just because you, a random crank oldie on the Internet, does not know of them means only that you are a random crank on the Internet.


So, staring at his gauntlet, you can only mutter 'patriarchy' and dredge up one name.

Do you think this makes you seem the more intellectually credible one?

Fernandistein said...

An SJC alum (or anyone who actually read that period of history...or even anyone who watched 'Cleopatra') would know [who burned some old library].

But it's such a trivial incident because they didn't know jack-shit about much of anything back then; a folk-knowledge of human behavior, and some primitive engineering (wood 'n' rocks), on anything else they'd easily be out-smarted by a clever modern 10-year old.

"We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me." -- Handey

Cassandra said...

When I was young woman and still in school, I always attributed the relative lack of females writers and thinkers among the classical Western canon more to lack of opportunity and professional contacts than to lack of ability/inclination. In any profession, people network and work harder to promote the work of in-group peers than perceived outsiders. That's just human nature, and it affects both men and women.

So it puzzles me to see so many men cite the absence of great books authored by women as though that somehow "proves" women aren't capable of great thoughts or works. That doesn't logically follow.

It's an entirely valid point (IMNSHO) to argue that we needn't study some arbitrary percentage-based number of female-authored classical works because.... fairness!!11!. That's a revisionist version of intellectual affirmative action that only reinforces the view that women can't hold their own.

Men and women, even today, make different choices for entirely valid reasons. Sometimes, I think we confuse quantity with quality and fame with merit. I'd wager there are quite a few truly great books lurking in history that simply never received the attention they deserved - and that number would include works by both men and a few women. The numbers don't have to be equal.

Great books study works that were influential - i.e., widely read and discussed - in their day (that's why they help us understand the foundations of modern thought and institutions). The reality is that not many womens' works meet that criterion. I wouldn't go beyond that to suggest that in some alternate universe, there couldn't have been.

We'll probably never know :p And frankly, the answer doesn't matter all that much to me (writing 'as a woman').

Ralph L said...

"Who do I have to sleep with to get on this booklist?"

#ReadMeToo

readering said...

Ralph, I was trying to make that point. I don't know enough non-western philosophy and science to offer suggestions. I thought I would was taught a great program. But it's worth a great school like st John's exploring where they could further develop. My program has dropped Ulysses, probably for the same reason I couldn't finish it.

Cassandra said...

"Who do I have to sleep with to get on this booklist?"

Well played :)

Ralph L said...

My program has dropped Ulysses, probably for the same reason I couldn't finish it.
My roommate was the only one in his class who did.

mockturtle said...

How do we know what stands the test of time, when much has only recently been re-discovered? Sun Tzu?

Sun-tzu has hardly been 'recently rediscovered'. By parts of the West, perhaps.

JOB said...

My alma mater is Thomas Aquinas College, in California (and soon to be, God willing, in Massachusetts). The college formed in 1971 following St. John ’s lead - but with the added benefit of adhering to the Catholic magisterium and providing a philosophical framework informed by the common sense of Aristotle and the Christian realism of Thomas Aquinas. We also read a heap of St. Augustine. He was an African. That counts, right?

fyi: https://thomasaquinas.edu

JOB

n.n said...

The reality is that not many womens' works meet that criterion. I wouldn't go beyond that to suggest that in some alternate universe, there couldn't have been.

In an alternate universe where men are barefoot and pregnant, raise the children, and manage the household.

Andrew said...

It's a good thing we're not talking about Great Music.

I suppose you can include Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn, but they were mainly performers.

Composers? Fuggedaboutit.

mockturtle said...

Composers? Fuggedaboutit.

Yep.

Cassandra said...

St. Mary's in Moraga, CA is another Great Books school. Our oldest son nearly went there, but chose a different path.

In an alternate universe where men are barefoot and pregnant, raise the children, and manage the household.

Or one in which women gained more intrinsic satisfaction from competition and status. Not that we don't crave those things to some extent (everyone likes recognition), but it hasn't been my experience that women in general care about them quite as much as men (in general) do.

Biology does shape our lives to some extent. That said, I am glad my daughters in law have more easy choices than I did, and that I had a less difficult path than my mother or grandmothers. Still, both my grandmothers were college grads with careers of their own.

My mother never went to college, but she is a natural philosopher with a lively and curious mind. She tried to go back to school as an adult, but being a student, mother, and Navy wife all at the same time was more than she wanted to deal with.

I'm sure she has some regrets - who doesn't? - but it isn't a tragedy to choose marriage and family over a career. We live so much longer now. There's time for both.

Steven said...

1) If you can't figure out even a single plausible theory for women have not had as much influence as some of those men without appealing to the lack of quality intellectual work from women...

1) Quality intellectual ideas that didn't have influence on other thinkers are, because of that lack of influence, less important than ones that did. No theory of why they are less influential actually increases their importance.

2) Women as a group produced less work of the first rate than men even after controlling for influence. Theories about why that is so don't somehow make the works never written available to current undergraduates to study.

Thus theories about why different groups made first-rate works at different rates do absolutely nothing to address the question of what existing works should be in a curriculum. Which really should have been so obvious it didn't actually need saying.

Incidentally, I see my confidence that you would demonstrate my point is shown to be fully justified. Challenged to name two women, you provided one name, of a woman whose work was certainly not of the first rank. (But don't take my word for it; take that of Virginia Woolfe. She's the one who said Cavendish's work was "crack-brained".)

readering said...

Job my non-Catholic program included Augustine and Aquinas (and Calvin). Didn't count Augustine as non-western.

Cooke said...

Late to this party. As a Johnny (mid-Eighties Annapolis vintage) daily reader here--and an occasional commentator--I'm delighted in Althouse's typically astute selection of what appeals to students who go to St. John's. It's even better.

Cooke said...

Late to this party. As a Johnny (mid-Eighties Annapolis vintage) daily reader here--and an occasional commentator--I'm delighted in Althouse's typically astute selection of what appeals to students who go to St. John's. It's even better.

rcocean said...

Women have had the chance to write books since the early 19th Century. See Jane Austen, George Eliot, etc.

They didn't back in Greek and Roman times. And?

What am i supposed to do with that? Not read Greek and Roman Books?

At some point the "What about women and POC?" complaint gets annoying and weird.


buwaya said...

"They didn't back in Greek and Roman times."

They most certainly did.
Writing was at least sometimes a Roman female fad.
That's why a typical female mummy-portrait (lots of them from Roman-era Egypt), has the lady pensively holding a stylus.

What did not happen is preservation. Only a tiny fraction of classical literature has survived, and of that, probably, a much smaller fraction of anything written by women.

Odious said...

On the humility front:

As a Johnny, it's not unusual to have a strong distaste for or disrespect towards something on the Program. It is, however, unusual to express that disrespect without encountering someone who a) loves the work in question and b) has thought deeply about it and c) can demonstrate the shallowness of your own engagement. This tends to encourage sympathetic, deep reading, at least if you dislike being verbally smacked down in seminar.

This also plays into the idea of 'original sources'. It's actually a bit disconcerting when you return to the real world, and encounter people with strong opinions about authors whose books they haven't read.

It does lead to intellectual indecision for some. 'Go not to the Johnnies for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.'

mockturtle said...

Buwaya reports: That's why a typical female mummy-portrait (lots of them from Roman-era Egypt), has the lady pensively holding a stylus.

Maybe she was making out her grocery list. ;-D

Bob Loblaw said...

How do we know what stands the test of time, when much has only recently been re-discovered? Sun Tzu?

Bah. Sun Tzu wrote in a style that sounds profound, but it's really not. I bought [i]The Art of War[/i] back when business gurus were hyping it, and it's vapid.

John Wright said...

"The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me."

Translation: Western Civilization troubles me.