Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

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Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

By Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath
Free Press, 1998
290 pp. $25.00
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Although ostensibly focused on the narrow issue of the decline of classics as an academic discipline and as a subject of study in American universities, this book is really about the loss of a common, humanistic core in contemporary education and culture. The great thinkers of the Western tradition -- from Hobbes, Burke, and Hegel to Weber and Nietzsche (who was trained as a classical philologist) -- were so thoroughly steeped in Greek thought that they scarcely needed to refer back to original texts for quotations. This tradition has come under fire from two camps, one postmodernist that seeks to deconstruct the classics on the grounds of gender, race, and class, and the other pragmatic and career-minded that asks what value the classics have in a computer-driven society. The authors' defense of a traditionalist approach to the classics is worthy. The lowering of the horizons of politics to guarantee mere life rather than the good life, the substitution of institutions for education as the foundation of civil order, and the basing of legitimacy on rights rather than duties were innovations of the liberal Enlightenment that abandoned key elements of classical political theory. Genuine recovery of that tradition requires more than defense against varied feminists and deconstructionists; it means a thorough rethinking of the modern Enlightenment project itself.