The enthusiasm he shares in describing the value of literature
illustrates Burckhardt's humanistic approach to education and partially
explains why he argued for the need to understand the present through
the past. Burckhardt's description of poetry and philosophy as "spiritual
manifestations" alludes to the discrete, human nature of his notion of
spirit, which exists only as long as it receives expression and, unlike
Hegel's spirit, can be expressed differently by different cultures. The
Greeks expressed it in their artistic outpourings, but Burckhardt feared
that the nineteenth-century lack of historical knowledge was expressed
in war and revolution.
Simply demonstrating that the Greek spirit lies in their art did not
fully satisfy Burckhardt's plans. His distrust of speculative reasoning
prevented him from even considering a presentation of his own conjectures
to his students. Instead, he argued:
It is necessary to emphasize again and again the importance of reading
the classical authors as 'sources' in the broadest and most liberal
sense. In respect both of form and of content the fruits of this reading,
if it is at all systematic, are available to everyone who makes the
effort; what each reader lights upon will bring a personal relationship
with the author.44
The concept of a "personal relationship" with classical authors lies
at the heart of both how and why Burckhardt proposed his course of study.
First, it clarifies the purpose of The Greeks and Greek Civilization
which, as a course of lectures, could only serve to introduce the student
to a mode of thinking. Fully realizing the "personal relationship" required
a student to read the classics while considering them as unique expressions
of a given time period, and not simply examples of literary perfection.
Furthermore, to personalize and internalize the subject matter of
ancient texts was an objective far different from the goals of traditional
classical studies. If the classical scholar studied Greek literature
in great depth and detail to appreciate its subtleties, the Burckhardt's
student must read Greek literature for the broadest possible meanings.
He read classical texts to learn that they existed as the products of
the thoughts and emotions of humans who lived in a particular past epoch,
something that purely analytical study will not necessarily produce.