Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey

“…I always resist the “classics is impractical” line that people love to come up with when they are critical of the higher study of these fields. You can study accounting. It’s authentically practical in one way. But when your father dies, your accounting degree is not going to help you at all to process that experience. Homer will help you. The Odyssey will help you. Great literature will help you think about mortality and losing loved ones. That seems very practical to me.

A broad education in which you’re deeply read in literature, and history, and philosophy, and mathematics, and science: this teaches us how to be human beings and it teaches us also how to be citizens. I know that sounds very idealistic, but if the current social and political situation in this country is in any way a marker of what a generation spent focusing on STEM does, then I think clearly we need a different answer. The crude preoccupation with moneymaking as the only goal of a college education is giving us a citizenry that is extremely degraded, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s only the crudest and least interesting practicality that has no time for the humanities.”

Daniel Mendelsohn, “Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey.” The Octavian Report. August 12, 2022

Of course, an important question is which Odyssey do you read, Emily Wilson’s, Richmond Lattimore’s or someone else’s? Another think that I found interesting is how they talked about life being tragedy and comedy modes of viewing the world mentioned a few days ago.

Emily Wilson on Translations and Language – Conversations with Tyler

“I think Homer is psychologically truthful and ethically helpful. The whole question about, ‘Is it literature’s job or poetry’s job to train a politician?’ — I’m not sure that’s quite the right way to see it. By inhabiting worldviews which aren’t our own, we can grow in some way, which doesn’t necessarily have to be, ‘I agree with x, y, z political gnomon that’s articulated in this line or that line of Homer.’…

I think we should stop selling classics as, ‘These are the societies that formed modern America, or that formed the Western canon’— which is a really bogus kind of argument — and instead start saying, ‘We should learn about ancient societies because they’re different from modern societies.’ That means that we can learn things by learning about alterity. We can learn about what would it be to be just as human as we are, and yet be living in a very, very different society…

…So I’m interested in whether all educators are somehow in that double bind of ‘Am I actually helping you find something out, or am I imposing my own vision on you?'”

—Emily Wilson in at interview with Tyler Cowen, “Emily Wilson on Translations and Language.” Conversations With Tyler. March 27, 2019

Emily Wilson is a treasure.