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Climbing Parnassus -- Tracy Lee Simmons Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
I have spent the last 22 months of my life learning Classical Greek. These last two years have significantly increased my interest in the Classic languages so when I saw an interview with Tracy Lee Simmons discussing the value of Classic language learning I was intrigued and decided to read his book. Climbing Parnassus is subtitled A New Apologia for Greek and Latin and that is what the book delivers. It is a 250 page argument for the teaching of Greek and Latin as a fundamental and core part of our education system.
Simmons is not delusional. He realizes that the battle for Classics has already been fought and his side lost. However, he feels that there is still something valuable to be gained by the few who will pursue these languages. He also makes the case that this course of study is not suited for everyone due to either limitations or interests.
Climbing Parnassus starts of with definitions. Simmons defines terms such as education, liberal education, and classical education in non-modern terms. These definitions highlight a distinction (that he implies has mostly been lost in the modern world) between "education" and "training". The latter refers to learning what to do and how to do it while the former refers to cultivation and formation of character and intellect. He goes so far as to say that the ancients would scoff at what we call education and tell us that it misses the point entirely.
After establishing definitions for his terms and concepts Simmons takes us through a history of the classical languages in education. I found this part of the book very interesting. It was enlightening to see that it has only been in the last 100 years that classical languages have fallen out of vogue with the educated elite.
In terms of sparking interest in Classical languages Simmons has succeeded. No one can read this book without being struck with the vast difference between "now" and "then" with respect to the role of Classical Literature (in the original languages) in our societies and cultures. There may be debate still about whether this is good or bad. Clearly Simmons feels that this is a bad situation for all of humanity. Critics of the book will claim that Simmons is only rehashing the same old appeals to elitism and aristocracy that the modern age has tried so hard to eliminate. Either way, it is an interesting book. Well worth the read.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 February 2010 )

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