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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Our Splendid Ancient Heritage (3)

Schools and formal education became important in the Greco-Roman world in the late third and early second centuries B.C. especially in the Scipionic Circle, ,Marcus Terentius Varro and Cicero. Prior to this most Romans were home schooled in by the paterfamilias and Roman education was characteristically utilitarian.
We see an example of this in Plutarch’s Cato the Elder. Cato believed that it was harmful to let strangers and slaves raise one’s children. At this time it was becoming customary for Roman men to turn over the education of their young entirely to Greek slaves. Roman woman also were beginning to neglect the rearing of their own children because presumably they had more money and leisure time for hedonistic pleasures. Cato himself was his son’s reading teacher, law teacher, and athletic trainer. It is charming to note that Cato “refrained from obscene language {in front of his son} no less than if he were in the presences of the Vestal Virgins.” Cato also wrote his roman history in large letters to make it easier for his son to read and so “acquaint himself with his country’s ancient traditions.” But even by Cato’s time this was considered an old-fashioned education.

The liberal arts were based on the trivium for the basic or elementary education which was “grammar”, logic (dialectic) and rhetoric. It appears there was a bare bones general level “Latin only” grammar (Aelius Donatus) then a higher level Institutio Oratoria of the Spaniard Quintilian, whom we can say with confidence was the greatest of all Roman schoolmasters. Later there was an “AP” grammar in Greek and Latin by the bilingual African Priscian who taught at Constantinople in the sixth century. Priscian’s work is much longer more sophisticated as it has hundreds of quotations from famous authors and philosophers in both Latin and Greek. In the Greco-Roman world ‘grammar’ did not mean merely the study of the parts of speech, syntax, syllabication, penmanship, but also the study of poetry and literature in general including history.For many books and authors the only fragments we have are from these grammars. Only after long years of study and one had mastered the Latin language, as well as the art of public speaking could one advance to the Quadrivium which included geometry. Young adults (twenty or above) could continue on this course of higher study primarily mathematics (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). But above all a liberal culture taught a man to think. Cicero said “these studies are an impetus to youth and a delight to age. They are an adornment to good fortune, refuge and relief in trouble. They enrich private life and do not hinder public life. They are with us by night, they are with us on long journeys, they are with us in the depths of the country.’

Though little known today, the scholar-statesman M. Terentius Varro called by Quintilian, “the most learned of all Romans”. When one considers that he was a contemporary of Cicero and Vergil that is indeed high praise. Varro composed a huge number of academic, practical and literary books. Varro was a political opponent of Caesar but despite this he was respected and survived the Civil Wars. Varro was considered one of the chief representatives of Latin literature and one of the greatest Roman masters of Greek literature. Most importantly –and this is a fact rarely commented on- Varro had tried to marry the liberal arts tradition of the Greeks to the utilitarian traditions of the Romans. Besides the liberal arts Varro stressed new subject materials such as agriculture, architecture and medicine. In Roman schools gymnastics and calisthenics were out –these were considered part of a young man’s military training- and so were the fine arts of music, drawing, painting and sculpture. These, like acting were considered occupations for slaves and foreigner, not Romans. Varro’s writings –alas mostly lost- ranged from Latin grammar, etymology, rhetoric, logic, Greek and Roman literature, history, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, agriculture, architecture and medicine. Varro was bilingual and wrote equally well in Greek as well ; we recall that the Roman elite of Rome’s heyday from 200BC to 180 AD, Scipio, Caesar, Cicero, Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius were all fluent in Greek, read in Greek and conversed in Greek. Varro’s biographies of 700 illustrious Greeks and Romans –probably an important source for Plutarch- called Imagines (Portraits) was at one time enormously popular and was –as Pliny states- probably the first example of work fully illustrated in color.

Livius Andronicus, Varro, Cicero and Quintilian are all to be praised for escaping from the narrowness of one aspect of Greek education: its ethnocentrism, monolingualism and its lack of interest in the languages, literature and culture of other peoples. Cicero recommended to his son that he combine the study of Latin and Greek so as to be “equally at home in two languages.” Quintilian wrote “I prefer that a boy should begin in Greek, because Latin, being in general use, will be picked up by him whether we will or no; which the fact that Latin learning is derived from Greek is a further reason for being first instructed in the latter…..but the study of Latin ought to follow at no great distance and in a short time proceed side by side with Greek. The result will be that as soon as we begin to give equal attention to both languages, neither will prove a hindrance to the other”.

The first complete literary translation of Homer into Latin was made by the great teacher and poet Livius Andronicus, in the 3rd century BC probably for his use in his private teaching. It was Andronicus who first made the correlation of the Roman gods to the Greek gods, such as Jupiter/Zeus, Juno/Hera and Mercury/Hermes. The historical importance then, of Andronicus’ example and later the educational theories of Varro and Cicero to favor the study of a foreign language and include translations from another language is momentous. It led to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (c. 100 BC) into Greek, the translation of the whole Septuagint into Latin by Jerome (c 385 AD). The literary, cultural, religious and political implications of these translations and the example they made are of transcendent importance.
Throughout the Dark Ages classical culture was kept alive by scholars who knew another language as well as their own as so were able to interpret and translate texts. Seen in this context the achievement of St. Patrick. in establishing wide-spread literacy and schools beyond the Roman Empire in the Irish vernacular as well as Latin –laying the groundwork of the Isle of Saints and Scholars- may have been on of the greatest educational achievements of Western history. Somewhere in the West –it is not known if it was Ireland or France or in Rome itself- knowledge of Greek was kept alive.
St.Patrick was kidnapped before he could complete a full liberal arts education but he probably grew up in a multilingual household in which British (Old Welsh) and Latin were spoken. In his years of captivity he became fluent in Irish Gaelic (Old Irish). His entire endeavor of Christianizing Ireland –without a single martyrdom- would not have been possible without his pragmatic multilingual approach. Patrick and his disciples promoted the Latin alphabet over the apparently clumsy native Ogham but otherwise taught and preached in the Irish Gaelic vernacular.

Ogham (or Ogam) is the early form of Irish , Scottish and Pictish writing. It appears to be an adaptation of the Latin alphabet using notches and grooves for use on wooden tablets and sometimes stone. It would have been relatively quick to carve grooves on an angle to a base line. I believe Ogham to have been a form of writing used by the learned Druidic classes before the advent of Christianity.

I believe this for three reasons: 1) the word Ogham or Ogam is clearly based on Oghma –called Ogmios by Lucan- the Celtic god of rhetoric and eloquence whose tongue was joined by mystical chains to the ears of his listeners. 2) Ogham stones are unknown in Scotland until the arrival of the Scottish Gaels –not yet Christianized-. and then their use spread to the Pagan Picts. Ogham continued to be used in Ireland and Scotland well into the Christian period mostly for funeral stones. 3) Irish scholars never forgot the meaning of Oghamic script So this suggests a long period in which the native writing system –Ogham- coexisted with the Latin Alphabet which would make sense the policy of Patrick and the Irish Churchmen was to assimilate Irish knowledge to Christianity and assimilate the Irish to the new faith. The Gaelic alphabet gives us a fascinating clue as to how the Druids or the early missionaries taught the alphabet using trees, plants or bushes. There are 18 letters in the Gaelic alphabet and each pertains to a tree or plant. According to ancient Gaelic lore each plant had some magical qualities.

Now, I would not go so far as Thucydides or Herodotus or to say we owe EVERYTHING to the Greeks who believed they were the first free men in the world and the first to have minds of their own. When the Greeks talked like that –these same ethnocentric Greeks who –very unlike the Romans- did not value bilingualism or believe that there were other culture languages other than Greek- they were guilty of hubris and profoundly mistaken. We know of course the immeasurable and priceless value of the individual which has been the pillar of Western Civilization since the Bible and the Great Teacher and philosopher Jesus of Nazareth. It is not question of merely the past and the future or the stability of the state or society or change, evolution and revolution but a matter of the Permanent Things and |Reforms both progressive and conservative. There are, I think Permanent Things, values and virtues which are deeply entwined with the American soul, character and culture. If we believe ,as some radicals seem to believe, that nothing is permanent and that it is best to constantly live in a fervor of change and reform, the logical conclusion is that the Constitution itself can be dissolved –flooded by an endless stream of amendments- and that the self evident truths of the Declaration can be dismissed as well. But that is the logical conclusion of a policy of evolutionary and revolutionary change.

The great books are those that one returns and re-reads in awe of the ideas and the mastery of the language. Such a book is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It seems to me that the skeptical Gibbon derived comfort from the melancholy spectacle of the fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon reflected with -the supreme optimism of the British Enlightenment- on the manifest superiority of the English-speaking world and his own enlightened age which promised to get better and better in each and every way. Gibbon drew “the pleasing conclusion that every age of the world has increased and still increases the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race.” Certainly today we cannot be so complacent about the increase of happiness and virtue.
I have read Tacitus and that Roman, like Cicero, knew that LIBERTY dwelled beyond the frontiers of Rome, in fact with men like Caractacus. The barbarian knew what freedom was. They knew what dignity was. They knew what respect was. They knew what rights were. They knew what courage was. They did not need the Romans –or later the English- to teach them what these values were.

Then too the chieftains of the several tribes went from rank to rank, encouraging and confirming the spirit of their men by making light of their fears, kindling their hopes, and by every other warlike incitement. As for Caratacus, he flew hither and thither, protesting that that day and that battle would be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom, or of everlasting bondage. He appealed, by name, to their forefathers who had driven back the dictator Caesar, by whose valour they were free from the Roman axe and tribute, and still preserved inviolate the persons of their wives and of their children. While he was thus speaking, the host shouted applause; every warrior bound himself by his national oath not to shrink from weapons or wounds. …..
In the end Caratacus .like William Wallace, was defeated but unlike Wallace he received clemency from the emperor Claudius.When he was set before the emperor's tribunal, he spoke as follows: "Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency."
Upon this the emperor granted pardon to Caratacus, to his wife, and to his brothers. Released from their bonds, they did homage also to Agrippina who sat near, conspicuous on another throne, in the same language of praise and gratitude.
Caractacus did not need Aristotle, Plato or Thucydides to teach him about freedom and liberty and neither did many an Irishman, Gael, Briton or Scot for they knew in their bones what rights and freedoms were.

This, by the way, I think shows the true measure of the achievement of St. Patrick. He saw much that was horrible in the society of the ancient pagan Irish or “Scotti” –brutal slavery, perpetual tribal raids, rape and strife, human sacrifice, head-hunting and perhaps ritual cannibalism. But he recognized they were an intelligent, vital free people –both women and men- who respected learning. I think Patrick recognized that the men of learning or Ireland had much wisdom and knowledge of teaching, a sophisticated system of justice, music, poetry, learning, medicinal herbs, and dyes for clothing. So Patrick built upon this foundation and almost overnight there were hundreds of schools and monasteries and thousands of neophytes. His triumph can only be seen as a triumph of organization, wisdom and skill which makes him one of the greatest practical teachers and missionaries of all time to be placed on the level of Paul, Plato or Junipero Serra. Patrick wrote:
So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish [Scotti] and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. And there was, besides, a most beautiful, blessed, native-born noble Irish [Scotta] woman of adult age whom I baptized; and a few days later she had reason to come to us to intimate that she had received a prophecy from a divine messenger [who] advised her that she should become a virgin of Christ and she would draw nearer to God. Thanks be to God, six days from then, opportunely and most eagerly, she took the course that all virgins of God take, not with their fathers’ consent but enduring the persecutions and deceitful hindrances of their parents. Notwithstanding that, their number increases, (we do not know the number of them that are so reborn) besides the widows, and those who practise self-denial. Those who are kept in slavery suffer the most. They endure terrors and constant threats, but the Lord has given grace to many of his handmaidens, for even though they are forbidden to do so, still they resolutely follow his example.

Then there is Patrick famous excoriation of the bloodthirsty bandit prince and slaver Coroticus. Patrick documents a massacre of the innocents.
The day after the newly baptized, anointed with chrism, in white garments (had been slain) — the fragrance was still on their foreheads when they were butchered and slaughtered with the sword by the above-mentioned people — I sent a letter with a holy presbyter whom I had taught from his childhood, clerics accompanying him, asking them to let us have some of the booty, and of the baptized they had made captives. They only jeered at them . Hence I do not know what to lament more: those who have been slain, or those whom they have taken captive, or those whom the devil has mightily ensnared. Together with him they will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment; for who commits sin is a slave and will be called a son of the devil. …. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ — I cannot count their number. Wherefore, be not pleased with the wrong done to the just; even to hell it shall not please. Who of the saints would not shudder to be merry with such persons or to enjoy a meal with them? They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder. They do not know, the wretches, that what they offer their friends and sons as food is deadly poison, just as Eve did not understand that it was death she gave to her husband. So are all that do evil: they work death as their eternal punishment…. . You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel. What hope have you in God, or anyone who thinks as you do, or converses with you in words of flattery? God will judge. For Scripture says: "Not only them that do evil are worthy to be condemned, but they also that consent to them." I do not know why I should say or speak further about the departed ones of the sons of God, whom the sword has touched all too harshly. For Scripture says: "Weep with them that weep;" and again: "If one member be grieved, let all members grieve with it." Hence the Church mourns and laments her sons and daughters whom the sword has not yet slain, but who were removed and carried off to faraway lands, where sin abounds openly, grossly, impudently. There people who were freeborn have, been sold, Christians made slaves, and that, too, in the service of the abominable, wicked, and apostate Picts! Therefore I shall raise my voice in sadness and grief — O you fair and beloved brethren and sons whom I have begotten in Christ, countless of number, what can I do you for? I am not worthy to come to the help of God or men. The wickedness of the wicked hath prevailed over us. We have been made, as it were, strangers. Perhaps they do not believe that we have received one and the same baptism, or have one and the same God as Father. For them it is a disgrace that we are Irish. Have ye not, as is written, one God? Have ye, every one of you, forsaken his neighbor? Therefore I grieve for you, I grieve, my dearly beloved….. Where, then, will Coroticus with his criminals, rebels against Christ, where will they see themselves, they who distribute baptized women as prizes — for a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment? As a cloud or smoke that is dispersed by the wind, so shall the deceitful wicked perish at the presence of the Lord; but the just shall feast with great constancy with Christ, they shall judge nations, and rule over wicked kings for ever and ever… ask earnestly that whoever is a willing servant of God be a carrier of this letter, so that on no account it be suppressed or hidden by anyone, but rather be read before all the people, and in the presence of Coroticus himself. May God inspire them sometime to recover their senses for God, repenting, however late, their heinous deeds — murderers of the brethren of the Lord! — and to set free the baptized women whom they took captive, in order that they may deserve to live to God, and be made whole, here and in eternity!

We do not know the final destiny of the unfortunate captives. They may have been liberated and reunited with their loved ones or died as martyrs. It is the strongest and most passionate denunciation of slavery until the rise of modern abolitionism. I can’t imagine Aristotle –who defended slavery- or St. Augustine writing such a passage. It shows a great nobility of soul for one who loved the people of his adopted nation as individuals. Patrick loved deeply and cared deeply for the physical well-being of these Gaels, these barbarians from beyond the pale, as well as the state of their souls. But there is something more.
This deep love of justice, individual dignity and individual freedom -even of women- seems to be a common strand from the natives of Britain from the speeches of Caractacus, the Confessions of Patrick to the days of Sir William Wallace and the Abroath Declaration. We see it in the Latin couplet Wallace learned from his childhood:

Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum
nunquam servili sub nexu vivito fili
(I tell to thee the truth, son, freedom is the best condition,
never live like a slave!

Then of course there is the famous quotation from the Arbroath Declaraiton of 1320. It is a call to justice, freedom and independence and I think its language evokes Patrick’s letter to Coroticus.

Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit…..It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose Vice-Regent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves. …. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.
But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully…

I have read and been told countless times that liberty began with the Magna Carta or that natural rights theory or the right to rebel began with John Locke but as Alexander Leslie Klieforth and Robert John Munro have pointed out, there seems to be a strong natural rights philosophy emanating form the most ancient days of the Gaels and Britons.

We see this spirit in the word of Caractacus, St. Patrick, Sir William Wallace, John Duns Scotus or Bernard de Linton, the author of the Arbroath Declaration. As MacNeill has written “The spirit which animates from it first to last is a spirit which has none of the arrogance or a feudal superior, none of the servility of a feudal slave; it is the spirit of a nation purified and strengthened by a prolonged struggle against almost overwhelming odds, but which had culminated in victory. It is the spirit of Wallace….”

The Wallace Monument in Sterling and the image of Wallace –made world famous by Mel Gibson- will forever cry: “FREEDOM!” The Scottish-American War memorial, Princes Street Gardens was erected as a tribute to freedom in the years after the “Great War” by men and women of Scottish blood and sympathies in the United States. It is an impressive monument with a massive kilted soldier looking across to Edinburgh Castle. Behind him is an emotive bronze frieze depicting the men of Scotland answering as in days of old the beacon light calling them to arms. It is in the three living languages of the North, English, Gaelic and Scots. The key words inscribed there are AYE BYDAN FREE, forever unconquered, gu siorraidh neo-ceannsaichte,

Aye, bydan free.

This ancient spirit of freedom is perhaps the most precious jewel of our splendid ancient heritage and it is one in which all Americans and indeed all Britons and English-speaking people can be proud of, remember with solemn gratitude and deep reverence.

It is something that Patrick learned, not from his Roman tutors nor from his Christian parents but among the many free and independent clans and tribes of the Isles. This is our Splendid Ancient Heritage: it is a heritage of faith, freedom and humanity which owes much to the heritage of the West, to the Greeks and the Romans and the Jews but also lest we forget to the free peoples of the Isles. Ne obliviscaris! Do not forget! Aye, bydan free.

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