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Classical background of characters in British books

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I'm struck by how knowledgeable characters in British novels always seem to be. They are always quoting Keats or Shelley or bringing up some ancient Greek myth. Are people really that well rounded in the humanities in real life? Or is it a reflection of the leanings of the authors who being authors probably were interested in poetry, literature and mythology? And am I forgetting that American characters used to be well-versed in these things?

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Well I think it's good to remember that the people who wrote the books had those interests, *but* once upon a time, an upper-class English education consisted of a whole lot of Latin and Greek, some English literature, and...not much else. And they didn't have TV or iPods or very many chores and thought Tennyson was entertainment.


My head is full of 80's pop music and TV jingles and lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but they mostly only had Keats and Shelley to fill up that space.


In my Portable Greek Reader, W. H. Auden wrote:

Once upon a time there was a little boy. Before he could read, his father told him stories about the War between the Greeks and the Trojans. Hector and Achilles were as familiar to him as his brothers, and when the Olympians quarreled he thought of his uncles and aunts. At seven he went to a boarding school and most of the next seven years were spent in translating Greek and Latin into English and vice versa. Then he went on to another boarding school which had a Classical Side and a Modern Side.


The latter was regarded by boys and masters alike in much the same way as; in a militarist country, civilians are regarded by officers, and with the same kind of degrees of inferiority: history and mathematics were, like professional men, possible; the natural sciences, comprehensively labeled Stinks, like tradesmen were not. The Classical Side, too, had its nice distinctions: Greek, like the Navy, was the senior, the aristocratic service.


It is hard to believe now that this story is not a fairy tale but a historical account of middle-class education in England thirty-five years ago.


What a description, huh? :001_huh::001_smile:

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