Developing the underlying theme in Cora Beth Knowles’ recent blog “To Blog or not to Blog” (although I must say I preferred the title “Blogito, ergo sum”) I feel that questioning, albeit tacitly, of the relevance of The Classics to be incomprehensible. I say this as someone who had never studied this subject until my mid-late fifties and marvel at the way my world-view has been changed.
A prime example is when, last year, I read the Nobel Prize winning novelist, Thomas Mann’s existential masterpiece “The Magic Mountain”. Written in 1924 it is set just before the eve of the Great War in a T.B. sanatorium in Switzerland. The main character, Hans Castorp, has come to visit his friend in this hermetically-sealed parallel universe where death is omnipresent for young and old alike. Unlike the characters undertaking “the cure” the reader is aware of the impending conflagration which will envelope Europe in the near future. This only adds to the sense of other-worldliness as all manner of themes of the human condition are investigated as the reader becomes immersed in this environment. To place the reader outside her/his own world Mann devises a simple, but brilliant, technique i.e. his cousin introduces Castorp (who is not ill) to Herr Settembrini who replies “…Then you are not one of us? You are well, you are but a guest here, like Odysseus in the kingdom of the shades?…” Had I not studied The Odyssey as part of my OU degree Mann’s device would have been meaningless.
Had anyone told me, even a decade earlier, that I would have become engrossed in seven hundred pages of German metaphysics I would have laughed at them. What’s more, my long-suffering wife would never have heard me opine that this work must have influenced T.S. Eliot in the creation of his masterpiece “Four Quartets”. I certainly would never have considered concluding with Seneca’s aphorism that “We learn not for school, but for life” (Non scholae sed vitae discimus) – Epistle 106.12.
That’s why The Classics are relevant.
Damian Rudge, BA(Hons)