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Oxford Should Keep Homer and Virgil on the Syllabus


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A proposal to drop the epic poets is an indicator of a civilization that is losing its way.

Seth Cropsey

February 28, 2020

The Oxford Student, the largest student newspaper of the nearly thousand-year-old teaching institution, reported in mid-February that the classics faculty has recommended that Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid be removed from the literae humaniores, an undergraduate program in ancient literature, history, and philosophy. The program has been criticized because of the difference in scores between male and female students, as well as because of differences in how much previous training its students have had in classical languages. This is an absurd standard. What will be taught if equality of grades between the sexes becomes the standard of choosing course material? The classics faculty would solve the grade-difference issue by shedding two of Western civilization’s core works.

A student studying classics at Oxford opposes removal of the two epic poems and is gathering signatures for a petition to end debate on their future at Oxford. Note that cutting off debate on difficult issues is not restricted to American universities.

The Oxford Student quotes the student’s objection to Homer-exit. It means, he says, that “Oxford would be producing Classicists who have never read Homer and never read Virgil, who are the central authors of the Classical tradition and most of Classical literature, in one way or another, looks back to Homer and interacts with the Iliad.”


The effort of the Oxford classics faculty to remove Homer and Virgil could be dismissed as the doing of cranky dons, were it not part of the larger Western undertaking in which our past is seen in an increasingly dim light. An American president who apologized for his country’s past. History taught as a record of exploitation and oppression. Shakespeare removed from curricula for reasons of identity politics. The list is long and dreary. It is an indicator of a civilization that is losing its way.

Harold Macmillan is supposed to have quoted an Oxford don describing an educated person as someone who “will know when a person is talking rot.” By “rot,” Macmillan meant nonsense. The other meaning of rot is “decay.” That’s the activity the Oxford classics faculty members are engaging in as they seek to ban Homer.


"Hey Hey Ho Ho Western Civ Has Got To Go"

Jesse Jackson Stanford University 1987


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