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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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The Schoolboys of Athens

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Page 8

The Greeks do not study Foreign Languages

 

    As the boys grow older the scope of their study naturally increases; but in one particular their curriculum will seem strangely limited. The study of foreign languages has no place in a Greek course of study. That any gentleman should learn say Persian, or Egyptian (unless he intended to devote himself to distant travel), seems far more unprofitable than, in a later age, the study of say Patagonian or Papuan will appear.[7] Down at the Peiraeus there are a few shipmasters, perhaps, who can talk Egyptian, Phœnecian, or Babylonish. They need the knowledge for their trade, but even they will disclaim any cultural value for their accomplishment. The euphonious, expressive, marvelously delicate tongue of Hellas sums up for the Athenian almost all that is valuable in the world's intellectual and literary life. What has the outer, the "Barbarian," world to give him?—Nothing, many will say, but some gold darics which will corrupt his statesmen, and some spices, carpets, and similar luxuries which good Hellenes can well do without. The Athenian lad will never need to crucify the flesh upon Latin, French, and German, or an equivalent for his own Greek. Therein perhaps he may be heavily the loser, save that his own mother tongue is so intricate and full of subtle possibilities that to learn to make the full use thereof is truly a matter for lifelong education.

 

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