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Why Study The Ancient Greeks?

By Professor Mary Lefkowitz, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College
*Published in the AHEPAN, Winter 2001
My family does not come from Greece, but whenever I return to Greece, I feel as though I have come home. I became a philhellene because when I was in the tenth grade I decided to study ancient Greek. Once I started to study ancient Greek, Ι couldn’t stop. I have never been able to learn enough about it. It’s not easy to explain why I should have become so obsessed with a language and a culture. But perhaps in the course of doing so Ι can suggest why the ancient Greeks deserve everyone’s continuing attention and respect.
Studying Ancient Greek is exciting because it brings you into direct contact with the past. The first Greek text I bought for myself was a copy of the New Testament. The original Greek was more powerful, and made better sense than the translation. But it was not until I began to read Aeschylus and Sophocles in Greek that I found that I could not be happy without studying the language. The poets can say what could not be said or perhaps even thought of in English. There are important grammatical differences. Greek verbs can convey the notion of continuous and discontinuous action, as well as of the timing of an action (past, present, future). They have a middle voice and optative as well as subjunctive. The use of personal endings and grammatical cases allows great flexibility in word order. And there are metaphors that have not survived in English, or in our way of looking at the world.
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Defending the Greeks

by Bruce S. Thornton
Private Papers

This talk was presented February 28, 2005 at California State University, Sacramento at a dinner hosted by the Tsakopolous Hellenic Foundation in honor of California State Senator Nicholas C. Petris

The centrality of the ancient Greeks to the foundations of Western Civilization once was an obvious truth, one memorably expressed by the poet Shelley when he said, “We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their roots in Greece.” One hundred and twenty years later, Edith Hamilton agreed, writing in her classicThe Greek Way, “There is no danger now that the world will not give the Greek genius full recognition. Greek achievement is a fact universally acknowledged.”  Yet it took a mere fifty years to prove Hamilton wrong about that universal recognition, for in many colleges and universities today the phrase “Greek genius” is considered reactionary and ethnocentric, nowhere more so than among the professional classicists who are the presumed caretakers of that tradition.

One famous columnist and classicist, for example, scorns the “rather gaga (or Edith Hamilton) idealization of ‘the Greek spirit.'”  Another eminent Classical historian, recently moved from Princeton to Stanford, rejects the “now-embarrassing essentialist fantasies about the ‘Greek miracle.'”  As the sneer quotes around “spirit” and “miracle” show, to these scholars the Greeks aren’t so brilliantly original, and in fact, to many classicists the ancient Greeks are guilty of numerous sins for which they should be held to account.  This attitude, moreover, creeps into the curriculum and textbooks, and eventually shapes the way the Greek heritage is taught in our schools.

The Afrocentrists, for example, tell us that if there is anything good in Greek civilization, it was all stolen from black Egyptians—a double historical lie, as the brave Classicist Mary Lefkowitz has demonstrated.  The feminists tell us that the Greeks oppressed their womenfolk in what one professor calls a “phallocracy,” a regime of sexual apartheid that kept women locked away in dark, dank houses, unnamed and underfed.  Some critics fault the Greeks for keeping slaves, others for constructing the non-Greek “other” whom they oppressed and vilified, still others deny any connection at all between the achievements of the Greeks and Western Civilization, instead considering the Greeks to be just another exotic tribe to be examined with the anthropologist’s eye.

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Mary Lefkowitz: «Οι Έλληνες διεχώρισαν την Επιστήμη από τη Θεοκρατία»

Η Μαίρη Λέφκοβιτς με τον καθηγητή του Πανεπιστημίου Δρ. Γ. Ζερβό και τη συνεργάτιδα του “Δαυλού”, Νάνσυ Μπίσκα, Wilmington, North Carolina

Συνέντευξη της Ελληνίστριας Μαίρη Λέφκοβιτς, ΔΑΥΛΟΣ Σελ. 13065 , Τεύχος 208 , Έτος 1999
Ο τίτλος του βιβλίου της Μαίρης Λέφκοβιτς στην αμερικανική έκδοση “Not Out of Africa” καταδεικνύει, ότι η ελληνική φιλοσοφία δεν προέρχεται από την αφρικανική. Πρόκειται για την δυναμικότερη και συστηματικότερη απάντηση που δόθηκε στους αφροκεντρίζοντες Εβραίους της κίνησης «Μαύρη Αθηνά» των Η.Π.Α. Το βιβλίο της έγινε αντικείμενο της τεράστιας δημοσιότητας, διότι θίγει ζητήματα που εξακολουθούν να αποτελούν αντικείμενο συζήτησης και διαμάχης στις ΗΠΑ. Οι επικριτές της επικεντρώνουν τα επιχειρήματα τους όχι στην ιστορία της φιλοσοφίας αλλά στο ζήτημα της φυλής. Την κατηγόρησαν, ότι εμπνέεται από ρατσιστικά κίνητρα και είναι «αρειανίστρια Εβραία». Η ιστορία, λένε, πρέπει να ξαναγραφή ακόμη και με πλαστά στοιχεία, αρκεί νά δικαιώνη τους ιθαγενείς Αμερικανούς και τους Αφρικανούς.
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