THE USEFULNESS OF USELESS

by Benedetta Persico

I believe the relevance of the study of humanities nowadays is resumed by a quote of Sophocles, an ancient Greek tragedian. “Wisdom outweighs any wealth”. The ancient Greek and Latin wisdom is displayed through literature, law and figurative arts and I do assert that is our duty to safeguard their inheritance. Taken singly, most Greek and Latin achievements can be even out to in the culture of their neighbours. If we consider an overview we will eat our words: yes, they surely owed previous cultures but they were the rising main of achievements other people’s and their own. They were the real sharpeners of Western History, they moulded virtue, rightness, freedom. On top of that ancient Greek myths are still charming through the changing of generations: even if we watch Hunger Games we will discover that it is just a tribute for the myth of Theseaus and the Minotaur. Let alone philosphy and tragedy, that battery pack of the light bulb of curiosty firstly for the macrocosm and secondly for the microcosm that is every human being. On the other hand Latin law and politcs are still there in our charters, defending our freedom, without any racism, with a great openness for foreign populations.

Classical studies had been considered as the cornerstones of education until 20th century, but with the growth of science discoveries, subsequently, humanities had to deal with decline. Today in the industrial countries Latin is studied by 2-5% of high school students. Italy and Greece are the only countries where there’s still a course of studies in high school which provides compulsory classes of ancient Greek or Latin. For istance the Gymnasium in Germany and the Lycèe in France leave them collateral, in spite of this, Italy care about classics and, at least for who chooses to attend high school, Latin is compulsory. Therefore 1 student out of 3 studies Latin. Moreover there’s a course of studies based on both Latin and ancient Greek, philosophy and history and it consists in hours of translation alternated with dissertetion about the supply of classics on the world in this day and age. This method leads the student to get used to an exhaustive study. José Ortega y Gasset, a spanish philosopher said that the translation was standing for the stillness in a text: from this perspective it requires mental agility and the springiness in going from abstraction to synthesis. Furthermore the tie-up among art, literature and philosophy makes the student able to go over the world with a fine-tooth comb, always bearing in mind the canon of the ancients. As a matter of fact this course of study really develops a versatile set of skills such as complex problem solving, neither overlooking details nor lacking of big-picture thinking.

It cannot be denied that being competent with translating “dead languages” or in philosofizing is an elitharian matter; it is widely thought that you can’t scratch out a living with words and theories. All the same, it’s advisable for youngs to choose subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, so – called STEM – that, as a rule, will portray a bright future and, most of all, a wealthy future. Nonetheless even Steve Jobs, the CEO of Microsoft studied such dead languages at college and he still recommends them, even the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, the actor Tom Hiddleston and the singer Chris Martin, just to mention some of them. In spite of the general feeling of repulsion from what seems useless, classics are the basis of every structured thought, they teach us the uselfulness of useless, they hone the inclination for order, logic and details: to sum up they teach us “basic science”, the method to approach every kind of issue and so classic studies might lead you to a scientific career too. In Italy who studied humanities at high school has the highest ranking: for example, 15,7% of them experienced a period of study abroad while only the 9% of who attented other schools did the same.

What commonly slips our minds is that nothing is useless: if I can give an example, everyday when we dress up we put on accessories, we don’t need neither that bracelet nor that particular cloth with that particular stamp, but we do put on every kind of useless things because we find them appealing and most of all because we feel the compelling need of expressing ourselves. This is what in Latin we would call “humanitas”, the set of values, virtues, needs that make every man and woman a “human being”.  All things considered I reckon that that being an expert just in your field, doesn’t make you competent, but maybe it’s easier to be narrow minded and hard worker in a society that wants us to be standardized than high minded but having difficulties in blend in this world ruled by profit. So, why are we still so reluctant when we talk about humanities? Because of what I said at the beginning, because, the ideal of Sophocles is overturned and so “wealth outweighs any wisdom”.

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