Sunday, October 11

A Classical Education - Caroline Taggart

Subtitled The stuff you wish you'd been taught at school, A Classical Education gives the reader a comprehensive but brief overview of the elements that comprise a traditional education in the classics - the history, philosophy, art and sciences of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
Taggart opens by explaining that a starting point is necessarily somewhat arbitrary, what with history stretching back pretty much forever. Her tone throughout is informed but unpretentious and light, extending on occasion to genuinely amusing, as in her definition of Latin phrases like
In vino veritas: 'in wine, truth'. A nonsensical expression that suggests you tell the truth when you are pissed, when it should of course be 'in vino gross exaggeration, distorted reality and maudlin self-pity.'
If you're interesting in the evolution of alphabets or numeric systems, want to get your head around the chronology and relationships of the ancient gods, know more about the line of Roman rulers, marvel at the unnecessary complexity of Greece's traditional three calendars (all differently calculated and inconsistent across regions), brush up on early philosophy, or discover a couple of interesting websites, this is the book for you. Actually, I can help you out on that last: Taggard mentions that she learned a lot (though much of it irrelevant) from 'interesting thing of the day' and though I haven't visited it yet, praises a site that examines whether Hannibal's elephants were African, Indian or a now-extinct species. She's also included my favourite Plato quote, which asks whether things are good because the gods love them, or loved by the gods because they're good, which is a great question to ask of annoying religious people (that last is my take, not Taggart's).
This is obviously not a book for everyone, but if you always felt the lack of classical education in your schooling, have an inquiring mind that runs along this kind of track, always wanted to get chronologies clear, or (like me) feel that your long-ago classes in Latin and Classical Civilisations have become muddied with time, A Classical Education may be for you. I found it, along with Taggart's I Used to Know That, a grammar text and another book that currently escapes me, at an HMV in London, of all places. Though I decided not to buy any new books while I was away I'm glad I made exceptions for this little trilogy (the grammar manual I left with my brother-in-law), and have now added Herodotus to my reading list and I, Claudius to my DVD viewing schedule. - Alex

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