Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reading the Past

Muse with Lyre
Greek pottery fragment
c. 350 BC

In the introduction to The Greeks and Greek Civilization, first composed in the 1890s, Jacob Burckhardt reveals the sort of mental life he wants for his students 

"It would certainly be an advantage not to be addicted to present-day literature, which appeals so much more directly to the nerves; above all not to the reading of newspapers. Whatever belongs to the present easily combines with our material self-interest; what belongs to the past is at least more likely to become associated with our spiritual nature, and to fuse with higher interests."

"What should impel us to read the whole of an author's work is the perception that only we can find what is of importance to us. No work of reference can possibly produce by means of excerpts that chemical reaction between a piece of information we have discovered for ourselves, and our own dim foreknowledge of it, that makes it our own intellectual property."