Janus' Home

15

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.


44. Ibid.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17