Classics—Past Ideology and Persistent Reality

This year the Ingersoll Foundation has decided to present the Richard M. Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters to a professor of classics. Amidst joy and gratitude, this will bring to the fore some of the uneasiness that has been associated with the word and concept of "classics" for a long time, an uneasiness that seems to shift between defense, nostalgia, and resignation. Indeed the claim implied in the concept of "classical" has come under continuous attack during the whole of this century, and if from time to time the attacks seem to die away, this may be due to the impression that the victim is finally dead.

Apparently the claim of "classical" is difficult to maintain for any cultural production these days, whether in literature, art, or philosophy. The word was coined to signify what belongs to a category of value beyond dispute, what is distinguished by a generally recognized and invariable standard, an authoritative model of achievement. This status had been conferred on ancient Greek and Roman culture, or at least on certain Greek and Roman writers, poets, philosophers, and historians, and on Greek and Roman works of art and architecture in past generations since the Renaissance; their praise has resounded through the centuries, and all sorts of copies and imitations fill our museums and libraries and even the streets and public places in our cities.

But it is evident that classical art...

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