The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition

By E. Christian Kopff | Go to book overview

Chapter XIV
PASSION AND PEDANTRY

Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk this way?
-- W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats's picture of the scholar is not a pretty one ("All cough in ink. All wear the carpet with their shoes."), and literature does not give us many scholarly heroes. Most literary pedants are like George Eliot's Casaubon: boring, impotent in the face of the real world, and, ultimately, not even very good scholars. The rare positive image comes from popular entertainment-Bram Stoker's Van Helsing and Stephen Spielberg's Indiana Jones. Few academics acting as men of letters have any impact outside university circles.

It was different in the last Silver Age of Western civilization, the late nineteenth-century liberal culture that ended with World War I. To take England and the field of classics as an

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