What has Herman to do with Homer?

In his excellent essay “Classical Education” Herman Bavinck traces out the long and quite complex history of ancient literature in the life of Christian education. Near the end of his essay he addresses the contemporary value of writings by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Homer, Sophocles, and others. The following quote is taken from the end of the essay as it appears in Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Baker Academic, 2008), page 242:

The study of antiquity is not only of formal and practical value: for the development of thinking, understanding Greek and Latin terms in our scholarship, understanding citations and allusions in our literature, and so fourth. Its lasting value also lies in the fact that the foundations of modern culture were laid in antiquity. The roots of all our arts and learning — and also, though in lesser degree, the sciences that study nature — are to be found in the soil of antiquity.

It is amazing how the Greeks created all those forms of beauty in which our aesthetic feeling still finds expression and satisfaction today; in their learning they realized and posited all the problems of the world and of life with which we still wrestle in our heads and hearts. They were able to achieve all that, on the one hand, because they rose above folk religion and struggled for the independence of art and learning; but on the other hand, they did not loosen art and learning from those religious and ethical factors that belong to man’s essence. In the midst of distressing reality, they kept the faith in a world of ideas and norms. And that idealism is also indispensable for us today; it cannot be replaced or compensated for by the history of civilization or new literature.

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