wishing to devote their lives to the study of ancient languages and
literature, viewed the study of antiquity as a curiosity and not a necessity.
Countering the association between classical studies and elitism, Burckhardt
expounded his reasons for writing a course of lectures on Greek culture
in the introduction to The Greeks and Greek Civilization.
Burckhardt presented his lectures as "a tentative piece of work," and
claimed that he was and would "remain a learner and fellow student .
. . not a classical scholar."37 He thus stated his purpose
"to select only what most strikingly illustrates Greek life." Next he
delivered his thesis in a somewhat Hegelian manner:
The task, as I conceive of it, is to treat the history of Greek habits
of thought and mental attitudes, and to seek to establish the vital
forces, both constructive and destructive, that were active in Greek
life. It is not in the narrative mode, though indeed primarily through
history (since they are part of universal history), that the Greeks
must be studied in their essential peculiarities. . . . It is the
history of the Greek mind or spirit that must be the aim of the whole
Enigmatically, Burckhardt reverted to Hegelian vocabulary by discussing
the "Greek mind or spirit." His mention of "universal history" alludes
to Hegel's "world history."
Despite a superficial similarity, Burckhardt's humanistic description
of "vital forces" lies at odds with Hegel's essentially divine notion
of spirit. Furthermore, Burckhardt's view that divine knowledge will
remain a mystery to man contrasts with Hegel's view that patterns in
history can be analyzed to determine divine reason. Burckhardt proposes
a less ambitious goal for his humanistic spirit. He employs it as a
unique expression of a particular people and time. Hegel's spirit, on
the contrary, exists as an independent, universal entity. Whatever similarities
Burckhardt's vocabulary may have with Hegel's result from a common vocabulary
and intellectual milieu, but not from common goals.
More importantly, Burckhardt rejected the narrative mode as the most
effective means of expressing his goals. A narrative mode implies a
chronology, which inevitably relies on events for structure. Burckhardt
did not ignore the role of events in history. He simply relegated events
to a secondary status, because "'events' are exactly what is easiest
to learn from books, while our task is to