On the Future of our Educational Institutions - Homer and Classical Philology

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"The same holds good in regard to teachers. It is precisely the best teachers—those who, generally speaking, judged by a high standard, are worthy of this honourable name—who are now perhaps the least fitted, in view of the present standing of our public schools, for the education of these unselected youths, huddled together in a confused heap; but who must rather, to a certain extent, keep hidden from them the best they could give: and, on the other hand, by far the larger number of these teachers feel themselves quite at home in these institutions, as their moderate abilities stand in a kind of harmonious relationship to the dullness of their pupils. It is from this majority that we hear the ever-resounding call for the establishment of new public schools and higher educational institutions: we are living in an age which, by ringing the changes on its deafening and continual cry, would certainly give one the impression that there was an unprecedented thirst for culture which [Pg 74] eagerly sought to be quenched. But it is just at this point that one should learn to hear aright: it is here, without being disconcerted by the thundering noise of the education-mongers, that we must confront those who talk so tirelessly about the educational necessities of their time. Then we should meet with a strange disillusionment, one which we, my good friend, have often met with: those blatant heralds of educational needs, when examined at close quarters, are suddenly seen to be transformed into zealous, yea, fanatical opponents of true culture, i.e. all those who hold fast to the aristocratic nature of the mind; for, at bottom, they regard as their goal the emancipation of the masses from the mastery of the great few; they seek to overthrow the most sacred hierarchy in the kingdom of the intellect—the servitude of the masses, their submissive obedience, their instinct of loyalty to the rule of genius.

"I have long accustomed myself to look with caution upon those who are ardent in the cause of the so-called 'education of the people' in the common meaning of the phrase; since for the most part they desire for themselves, consciously or unconsciously, absolutely unlimited freedom, which must inevitably degenerate into something resembling the saturnalia of barbaric times, and which the sacred hierarchy of nature will never grant them. They were born to serve and to obey; and every moment in which their limping or crawling or broken-winded thoughts are at work shows us clearly out of which clay nature moulded them, and what trade mark she branded thereon. [Pg 75]The education of the masses cannot, therefore, be our aim; but rather the education of a few picked men for great and lasting works. We well know that a just posterity judges the collective intellectual state of a time only by those few great and lonely figures of the period, and gives its decision in accordance with the manner in which they are recognised, encouraged, and honoured, or, on the other hand, in which they are snubbed, elbowed aside, and kept down. What is called the 'education of the masses' cannot be accomplished except with difficulty; and even if a system of universal compulsory education be applied, they can only be reached outwardly: those individual lower levels where, generally speaking, the masses come into contact with culture, where the people nourishes its religious instinct, where it poetises its mythological images, where it keeps up its faith in its customs, privileges, native soil, and language—all these levels can scarcely be reached by direct means, and in any case only by violent demolition. And, in serious matters of this kind, to hasten forward the progress of the education of the people means simply the postponement of this violent demolition, and the maintenance of that wholesome unconsciousness, that sound sleep, of the people, without which counter-action and remedy no culture, with the exhausting strain and excitement of its own actions, can make any headway.

"We know, however, what the aspiration is of those who would disturb the healthy slumber of the people, and continually call out to them: [Pg 76]'Keep your eyes open! Be sensible! Be wise!' we know the aim of those who profess to satisfy excessive educational requirements by means of an extraordinary increase in the number of educational institutions and the conceited tribe of teachers originated thereby. These very people, using these very means, are fighting against the natural hierarchy in the realm of the intellect, and destroying the roots of all those noble and sublime plastic forces which have their material origin in the unconsciousness of the people, and which fittingly terminate in the procreation of genius and its due guidance and proper training. It is only in the simile of the mother that we can grasp the meaning and the responsibility of the true education of the people in respect to genius: its real origin is not to be found in such education; it has, so to speak, only a metaphysical source, a metaphysical home. But for the genius to make his appearance; for him to emerge from among the people; to portray the reflected picture, as it were, the dazzling brilliancy of the peculiar colours of this people; to depict the noble destiny of a people in the similitude of an individual in a work which will last for all time, thereby making his nation itself eternal, and redeeming it from the ever-shifting element of transient things: all this is possible for the genius only when he has been brought up and come to maturity in the tender care of the culture of a people; whilst, on the other hand, without this sheltering home, the genius will not, generally speaking, be able to rise to the height of his eternal flight, but will at an early moment, like a stranger [Pg 77]weather-driven upon a bleak, snow-covered desert, slink away from the inhospitable land."

"You astonish me with such a metaphysics of genius," said the teacher's companion, "and I have only a hazy conception of the accuracy of your similitude. On the other hand, I fully understand what you have said about the surplus of public schools and the corresponding surplus of higher grade teachers; and in this regard I myself have collected some information which assures me that the educational tendency of the public school must right itself by this very surplus of teachers who have really nothing at all to do with education, and who are called into existence and pursue this path solely because there is a demand for them. Every man who, in an unexpected moment of enlightenment, has convinced himself of the singularity and inaccessibility of Hellenic antiquity, and has warded off this conviction after an exhausting struggle—every such man knows that the door leading to this enlightenment will never remain open to all comers; and he deems it absurd, yea disgraceful, to use the Greeks as he would any other tool he employs when following his profession or earning his living, shamelessly fumbling with coarse hands amidst the relics of these holy men. This brazen and vulgar feeling is, however, most common in the profession from which the largest numbers of teachers for the public schools are drawn, the philological profession, wherefore the reproduction and continuation of such a feeling in the public school will not surprise us.

"Just look at the younger generation of [Pg 78]philologists: how seldom we see in them that humble feeling that we, when compared with such a world as it was, have no right to exist at all: how coolly and fearlessly, as compared with us, did that young brood build its miserable nests in the midst of the magnificent temples! A powerful voice from every nook and cranny should ring in the ears of those who, from the day they begin their connection with the university, roam at will with such self-complacency and shamelessness among the awe-inspiring relics of that noble civilisation: 'Hence, ye uninitiated, who will never be initiated; fly away in silence and shame from these sacred chambers!' But this voice speaks in vain; for one must to some extent be a Greek to understand a Greek curse of excommunication. But these people I am speaking of are so barbaric that they dispose of these relics to suit themselves: all their modern conveniences and fancies are brought with them and concealed among those ancient pillars and tombstones, and it gives rise to great rejoicing when somebody finds, among the dust and cobwebs of antiquity, something that he himself had slyly hidden there not so very long before. One of them makes verses and takes care to consult Hesychius' Lexicon. Something there immediately assures him that he is destined to be an imitator of schylus, and leads him to believe, indeed, that he 'has something in common with' schylus: the miserable poetaster! Yet another peers with the suspicious eye of a policeman into every contradiction, feven into [Pg 79]the shadow of every contradiction, of which Homer was guilty: he fritters away his life in tearing Homeric rags to tatters and sewing them together again, rags that he himself was the first to filch from the poet's kingly robe. A third feels ill at ease when examining all the mysterious and orgiastic sides of antiquity: he makes up his mind once and for all to let the enlightened Apollo alone pass without dispute, and to see in the Athenian a gay and intelligent but nevertheless somewhat immoral Apollonian. What a deep breath he draws when he succeeds in raising yet another dark corner of antiquity to the level of his own intelligence!—when, for example, he discovers in Pythagoras a colleague who is as enthusiastic as himself in arguing about politics. Another racks his brains as to why OEdipus was condemned by fate to perform such abominable deeds—killing his father, marrying his mother. Where lies the blame! Where the poetic justice! Suddenly it occurs to him: OEdipus was a passionate fellow, lacking all Christian gentleness—he even fell into an unbecoming rage when Tiresias called him a monster and the curse of the whole country. Be humble and meek! was what Sophocles tried to teach, otherwise you will have to marry your mothers and kill your fathers! Others, again, pass their lives in counting the number of verses written by Greek and Roman poets, and are delighted with the proportions 7:13 = 14:26. Finally, one of them brings forward his solution of a question, such as the Homeric poems considered from the standpoint[Pg 80] of prepositions, and thinks he has drawn the truth from the bottom of the well with and . All of them, however, with the most widely separated aims in view, dig and burrow in Greek soil with a restlessness and a blundering awkwardness that must surely be painful to a true friend of antiquity: and thus it comes to pass that I should like to take by the hand every talented or talentless man who feels a certain professional inclination urging him on to the study of antiquity, and harangue him as follows: 'Young sir, do you know what perils threaten you, with your little stock of school learning, before you become a man in the full sense of the word? Have you heard that, according to Aristotle, it is by no means a tragic death to be slain by a statue? Does that surprise you? Know, then, that for centuries philologists have been trying, with ever-failing strength, to re-erect the fallen statue of Greek antiquity, but without success; for it is a colossus around which single individual men crawl like pygmies. The leverage of the united representatives of modern culture is utilised for the purpose; but it invariably happens that the huge column is scarcely more than lifted from the ground when it falls down again, crushing beneath its weight the luckless wights under it. That, however, may be tolerated, for every being must perish by some means or other; but who is there to guarantee that during all these attempts the statue itself will not break in pieces! The philologists are being crushed by the Greeks—perhaps we can [Pg 81]put up with this—but antiquity itself threatens to be crushed by these philologists! Think that over, you easy-going young man; and turn back, lest you too should not be an iconoclast!'"

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