"so much the greater longing for what is lost"

“[...] one of the most important aspects of the symbolic register of the classics: that sense of imminent loss, the terrifying fragility of our connections with distant antiquity (always in danger of rupture), the fear of barbarians at the gates and that we are simply not up to the preservation of what we value . [...] Tracts on the decline of the classics [...] are in part the expressions of the loss and longing and the nostalgia that have always tinged classical studies. [...]

The truth is that the classics are by definition in decline: even in what we now call the “Renaissance”, the humanists were [...] [rather] for the most part engaged in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the fleeting and fragile traces of the classics from oblivion. [...] The sense of imminent loss, the perennial fear that we might just be on the verge of losing the classics entirely, is one very important thing that gives them [...] the energy and edginess that I think they still have”

Notes & Attributions
(1) Title : from the last paragraph of Joachim Winckelmann’s “History of the Art of Antiquity”
(2) Lengthy Quotes : from Mary Beard’s NYRB article “Do The Classics Have a Future”
(3) Photo: taken while searching the skies for signs of Spring


Anonymous said...

De humanisten hebben de middeleeuwen erg zwart gemaakt, maar me dunkt soms dat in die periode de omgang met de erfenis van de oudheid het rustigst was, het meest gebaseerd op zelfvertrouwen - men sprak de taal nog, maar op een 'moderne' manier, die dan later op zoveel humanistisch hoongelach werd onthaald. Groot probleem was natuurlijk de beschikbaarheid van bronteksten en uitgaven. Het zou best kunnen dat Europa alles aan de scriptoria van de abdijen te danken heeft.

Roxana said...

while searching the skies for signs of spring... fearing the apparition of those signs, i would assume, dear fff? :-P

wonderful article, thank you for sharing. i have just had to speak at a book launching today, presenting a book about decadentism in literature, and one topic we touched upon in our discussion is how the consciousness of 'decay, decadence', negatively connoted, is part of virtually every epoch since Antiquity. at some point i of course quoted: Je suis l'Empire à la fin de la décadence, Qui regarde passer les grands
Barbares blancs. En composant des acrostiches indolents.

(one has to note that these decadent poetes maudits were masters of latin and greek!)

ffflaneur said...

de middeleeuwers waren misschien in elk geval minder arrogant dan de humanisten?
het lijkt me een mooie taak 'scribent' te zijn en zorgvuldig teksten te copiëren

ffflaneur said...

hi Roxana - yes, our rebel poets still knew their classics!
I like your suggestion - it's undoubtedly part of any mature culture, this sense of loss.

(that book launching was quite happy to have you as presenter)!

Anonymous said...

ja, scribent zijn; of de miniaturist van enkele bijzondere miniaturen. Mooi.
Signs of spring - vandaag een springtij van sneeuwklokjes en krokussen...

ffflaneur said...

was net in een somber, nog erg winters aandoend Zonienwoud - hier en daar wel al wat discrete botten & scheuten, en opvallend veel opgewonden, laag rondfladderende vogeltjes

Anonymous said...

Hier in het noorden ook veel vogelgezang, en naarstig rondfladderende vogels. Eksters zijn ook al bezig nesten te bouwen, daar wees mijn vader op langs de snelweg. Plus wilgenkatjes.

Roxana said...

speaking about loss and decline, another aspect of it, and another topic we hold dear: museums


ffflaneur said...

oh R - that's pretty damning, but alas quite true "a well-run museum is eerily like an upscale suburban shopping mall”

obviously, it helps museums' survival, if they cater to our age's prevalent shopping&entertainment taste. So we should wish them much commercial success, for fear they otherwise would perish in the ruthlessly competitive entertainment business.

But still, survival at what price in terms of loss of integrity and authenticity? I so love those small provincial museums, hanging on to carefully preserving and showing cultural artefacts without any merchandising or coffee-shops....
I also cherish memories of visits to museums before they got the standard 'city-marketing /shopping-mall/ blockbuster exhibit' overhaul.

I so agree with "A work of art may exist in isolation, but a culture of art lives through museums and the collections these museums have maintained for the public. These permanent collections embody a museum’s identity [...]The identity of The National Gallery is not found on a balance sheet but through an intangible idea tied to a collection held and displayed in the public trust."