Decline in Anthropocentric Arts and Classical Studies impacts learning of Greek


By Anastasios M. Tamis*

With this article, I wish to highlight the contribution of the Greek Diaspora as a permanent and consistent focus power for the cultivation of global philhellenism in their host countries. Also, I would like to suggest that the Diaspora and Philhellenism are the two main and fighting pillars, the two main belts for the revival of anthropocentric arts and humanities in general and Hellenic Studies in particular, which led from the mid-1960s to a decline and reduction in the field of teaching, but more catalytic in the field of learning.

Of course, it would be impossible to justify such a comprehensive topic in a short article, so I will limit myself to a few observations that largely concern the course of decline and depreciation of the humanities and suggest that through the organized Diaspora and the cultivation of philhellenism, Greek language learning can be developed as a subject of the humanities through a systematic cultural attack (cultural offensive). I will argue that the Metropolis, Greece, with its two national centers (Athens and Nicosia), do not sufficiently cultivate education and culture (they simply manage it), do not invest apostolically in attracting individuals and institutes (Philhellenes) who would cultivate the humanities (and by extension the knowledge of Greek). For tourism, the economy, foreign policy, the Metropolis rightly and prudently invests billions in money and it works tirelessly to win over investors, tourists, markets and allies. Therefore, a cultural offensive is needed, in the form of aggressive cultural investment in partnership with the Greek Diaspora and the Philhellenes, to gain the learning of our culture globally, in order to enhance the knowledge of Greek.

Let’s take a brief look at the rise and decline of the humanities and Greek studies, which have had a qualitative and quantitative impact on the attainment of Greek:

In 1764, the greatest Hellenist in Europe, the prophet of the Neoclassical Movement, the father of Art History and one of the founders of modern scientific archaeology Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) published the book entitled History of Ancient Art. His fundamental views on ancient Greek and Greco-Roman  art influenced the multipliers of European intellect, art, poetry, philosophy, and history, including Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderling, Christian Johann Heinrich Heine, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Stefan Anton George, and finally, Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler, who characterized the Greek influence on education and arts in Germany as “Tyranny of Greece over Germany”. Winckelmann’s writings not only created the two branches of study, archaeology, and art history, but also drastically influenced Greek aesthetics, painting, sculpture, literature and philosophy, leading the whole of Europe, America and Oceania to a state of “Grecomania” and “Grecophilia”.

In the mid-1960s, as we will examine, two hundred years later, the two fields of study and learning, Archaeology and Art History founded by Winckelmann, were the first along with music departments to be expelled from tertiary institutions in Western countries. Over the next sixty years the disciplines of learning related to the humanities and arts,  the so-called “qualitative academic disciplines” (Qualitative Academia), have experienced progressive uprooting, mutation or shrinkage. In terms of learning, in the period 2012-2022, in 24 out of 37 Economic Development and Cooperation countries, the number of successfully completed master’s and doctoral studies decreased by 10%. In terms of teaching in the US alone, the number of universities offering majors in humanities at BA level between 1998 and 2020 in Languages, Philosophy, Theology, History and English fell from 20 to 50 percent. From an optimistic approach, there are some data that point to a more positive picture, if they do not turn out to be ephemeral. For example, on January 10, 2023, UC Berkeley announced that after several decades of continuous decline in the Humanities, the university experienced an increase in the number of students enrolled in history, philosophy, and language courses.

The period of Grecomania and Grecophilia (1764-1964) that began with Johann Joachim Winckelmann and the humanist intellectuals Edward Gibbon, William Leake, Sir William Gell, Carl Humann, Thomas Bruce, Percy Shelley and George Gordon Byron, whose philhellenic enthusiasm once went beyond the study of literature, art, and philosophy to include the removal and movement of works of art from Greece,  was cultivated, matured and flourished over the next two hundred years. With the national rebirth, philhellenism and the study of classical philhellenism and humanities continued with the establishment of archaeological schools in Athens by France (1886), Germany (1874), USA (1881), Britain (1886) and many others later. At the same time, from the mid-18th century, dozens of Atheneums were founded in the major cities of the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Latin American countries, as centers of reading, study, discussion and intellect of Greek culture and Latin writers. Through the innumerable excavations and publications that resulted, the necessary knowledge was challenged as a product of learning in hundreds of chairs and fields of humanities and armies of philhellenes emerged in all Monuments, statues, squares, streets, cities and villages, mountains and rivers received ancient Greek names, transforming the Arcadian Ideal into a way of life.

In the universities of Europe and the Eastern Hemisphere, Greek Studies (the fundamental element of classical studies) already played a leading role since the late 18th century. At the University of Oxford, a leading exponent of classical education, according to Prof.  M. J.  Osborne there were in 1870 no fewer than 140 professors of classics (as opposed to a handful in the natural sciences). Such dominance was strongly criticized by the great self-taught scientist of biology and anatomy, Thomas Huxley, at the end of the 19th century, but it is important to appreciate that, unlike modern critics of the Classical Sciences,  He was in favor of continuing their presence and simply advocated greater diversity so that the natural and social sciences would not be neglected. His hopes were fulfilled long ago, and only in the 1960s did a transformation begin, and it did not take the form that Huxley preferred, and the result was detrimental to the humanities.

Huxley’s expanded range of education courses appeared slowly in universities, since even in 1960 classical studies retained their prestige and popularity and were an integral scientific part of the new universities (for example Monash in Melbourne (1958) and Lancaster in England (1947)). But the dominant role of the classics and humanities was not to be maintained for much longer.  The first signs of academic change appeared from where Grecomania and Grecophilia began, from Germany, in 1946. The Rector of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Albert Rehm, who had been expelled primarily in 1936 because of his opposition to Hitler’s policies, after being reinstated and reappointed in 1946, was again dismissed from his post because this time he harshly criticized the German authorities for not recognizing the importance of classical and Greek studies in higher education. Ten years later the decline of classics and humanities took place in Britain, twenty years later in Oceania and since the 1990s in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Next week, I will refer to the main factors of the decline of the humanities.

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).




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