IT must be faced that the 'dead languages' are in some danger of dying a second death. It becomes harder and harder to find time for Greek or Latin in a world where knowledge grows ever more multitudinous, life more hustled -- and more herded.
The Renaissance gave rebirth both to Classics and, thereby, to Science: to-day Science, like a giant cuckoo, pushes Classics more and more from the nest. To decry Science is senseless and thankless; we have misused its benefits; but without it we should starve. (Indeed mankind will need all its help to avoid starving in the next hundred years.) Yet intelligent scientists themselves deplore the narrowness produced by the study of Science alone. And it is curious that as the world grows more scientific, it now grows less scientific also. The twentieth century has shown, not less, but more besotted fanaticism than the eighteenth or nineteenth.
Yet Life itself still remains more an art than a science. And art, though it ceaselessly changes, has in the last three thousand years found it often hard to progress. The two greatest poems of western man are still, in many eyes, the two oldest. And the grace and sanity of Greece are not so common in our modern world that we can afford to forget them. Once already the West has forgotten Greek. That period we call 'the Dark Ages.'
Since, then, the place of Greek in higher education has declined, and seems likely to decline still more, what possible remedy is there but more translation and selection of the best Greek literature? Excellent books about it are produced every year; but books about books are no substitute for books -- though many moderns seem to think so. All translations, indeed, remain inadequate. 'Everything,' as Chesterfield said, 'suffers by translation except a Bishop.' Yet on translations Alfred the Great thought it worth while to spend some of his hard-won leisure a thousand years ago, to bring his England in touch again with the classic past; in our very different English-speaking world the need remains. Who, again, would burn our Bibles and demand that we read Hebrew literature in Hebrew or not at all? The Renaissance itself translated enthusiastically. The pity is that our Tudor and Jacobean translators did not render the great writers of the Hellenes, as of the Hebrews, into a collected volume of their admirable prose (for their verse-renderings are largely debased, like Chapman's overrated Homer, by tawdry efforts to be witty and ornate).
But that is a vain regret. There are now plenty of modern versions of Greek poetry; but not, to my knowledge, any attempt to combine all the