ElAnt v1n3 - REVIEWS - Greko-Latinskij Kabinet: Classics in Russia

Volume 1, Number 3
August 1993

THE TASTE FOR LIBERTY: THE REVIVAL OF CLASSICS IN RUSSIA Greko-Latinskij Kabinet ( Museum Graeco-Latinum ) 1, 1992

A. Treloar,
Department of Classics and Ancient History,
University of New England,
N.S.W. 2351,
e-mail: aince@metz.une.edu.au.

In CA News 5, December 1991, Anton J.L. van Hooff gives a brief account (pp. 2-3, 'Ex Oriente Lux Classica? The Revival of Classics in Central and Eastern Europe') of his participation in teacher training for Classicists in St. Petersburg in 1991, and of the revival of Classics in Russia.

CA News 6, June 1992, has a brief note on p. 12 calling for books and other assistance for the Centre for Classical Studies, recently established in Moscow under the direction of Yu. Shichalin with the official title 'Greko-Latinskij Kabinet' or 'Museum Graeco-Latinum'. This is an independent institution financed by the Soviet-American Cultural Initiative Foundation.

This centre has now published its own journal under its name, Greko-Latinskij Kabinet ( Museum Graeco-Latinum ) 1, 1992. This 80 page journal is written wholly in Russian except that the Table of Contents appears also in French, a graceful recognition of Russia's long-standing appreciation of French culture, which has done so much to spread the Classical ideal.

The articles in it may be described as a celebration of the revival of the Classics in Russia and other countries of the Soviet Union and of the values for which they stand. It is this which gives the revival significance for believers in the Classics in the West in their struggle against bureaucrats and politicians obsessed with the materialist standards of economic rationalism.

The editor introduces his journal in a short editorial from which may be quoted:

'In the European tradition the representatives of intellectual work were originally united by what was called upbringing and good education. The former was acquired in families of a particular circle, the latter in schools of a particular standard. Greko- Latinskij Kabinet is for such families and for such schools. They did exist and will exist in Russia. The elite position of the journal is characteristic above all of the level of its concerns. That is concerns for what is most important for each person and society as a whole; concerning upbringing and manner of life. In the final analysis, it is concerned about the soul'.

It is therefore not surprising to find the revival of the Classics accompanied by an enthusiastic returning of Russians to the Russian Church in the recognition that western civilisation is based on the twin foundations of the Classics and Christianity. To quote from van Hooff (p. 3):

'Gorbachev may be right in stating that the common European house has many rooms. But it has only one basement: Classics'.

The Editorial is followed by A.I. Zaitsev, 'In search of the renaissance', who traces educational ideals in modern times contrasting the Soviet system which produced 'not ochlocracy . . . but ponerocracy . . . "gemeine Tyrannei der Schlechtesten" in the words of Wilamowitz'. Great Britain is credited with the nearest approach to a meritocracy through its municipal grammar schools and 11+ examinations.

Yu. A. Shichalin, 'The Taste of Liberty . . . ?', begins with a quotation from Flaubert:

'The gods no longer existed, but Christ did not yet exist; then - from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius - was an exceptional moment, when man stood alone',

and he concludes:

'We are able to choose our way of European education and upbringing in returning to our European traditions, formed in the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a great blessing that we can return to these traditions not only thanks to books and archival materials: not all living threads binding us to our European past have been cut. But the question is whether our bond with our European past will be preserved or shall we prefer to construct another culture, and perhaps choose a society, in which culture will be repudiated altogether or be replaced by the cult of the outward signs of western civilisation. This question remains open and is being decided now: in a striking way we for the first time in all history have become really free, but the past is powerless to give true advice to him who exercises his freedom to reject it. The choice of a path along which Russian culture will advance, is for the first time defined among us not by government and not by political parties, but develops in the soul of each individual as always is the case in those exceptional moments in history, when man stands alone'.

However, the journal proceeds with some archival material in the form of a reprint of a report of an illustrated classical lecture given in St. Petersburg in 1912.

E.F. Shichalina, 'I hear a resounding voice . .. ', writes about courses in the ancient languages.

A.A. Rossius, 'Classical Philology in U.S.A.', follows.

Then comes an account of Schliemann's centenary year, which is aware of the controversy over his credibility, but is more concerned to stress what he actually achieved and to stress his Russian connections and first, Russian, wife.

B.L. Fonkich, 'Notes on Greek epigraphy at Moscow in the 17th ( sic ) century', is concerned with a Greek epitaph set up in Moscow in the early 18th century.

K.A. Vakh, 'Classical Education and its establishment in Russia', offers a historical sketch.

Most of the rest of the journal is devoted to a reprint of selections from the journal of a classical gymnasium from the days before 1914. The most interesting piece is a poem on Achilles and Penthesilea.

Then comes an account of the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts named after the Emperor Alexander III in Moscow University and its collections today.

From the memoirs of A. Borisoglebskij come fragments covering his experiences as a student at a seminary in the mid-19th century, which show a life as austere as that of the English public school at that time, but also reveal that one of poverty-stricken peasant origin could gain admission to university education under Imperial Russia.

The journal ends with four pages for children.

The importance of the Russian revival of classical values and of the Church cannot be neglected. Solzhenitsyn returned to his childhood faith through his experiences in the concentration camps. The ideals of the Communist faith that inspired his youth proved illusory as interpreted by politicians and bureaucrats. We surely do not need a similar experience to confirm our faith in the values, aesthetic and moral, of the Classics and the ethics of Christianity. Let the experience of Russia confirm us in our belief in what Plato called the way one should live, and Aristotle the good life in the full sense of the term.

For, to quote once more from van Hooff (p. 3): 'They (Classicists in East Europe) are not the only ones who profit from these contacts (with the West). It is we who have to gain too: we get from them encouragement and inspiration. After all, we were apparently right in our claims that Classics is a necessary part of a good education and forms the common basis of European culture'.

A. Treloar
e-mail: aince@metz.une.edu.au .

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 3 - August 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606