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The Devil Knows Latin

In Roman culture, the image of Aeneas carrying Anchises his father who in turn carried the Penates (the household gods), was the symbol of Pietas. Pietas was the Roman virtue of duty to family, culture, and gods. From which English derived the word 'piety
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin


"Why American needs the Classical tradition." by E. Christian Kopff.

Professor Kopff wrote "The Devil Knows Latin" in 1999 as we came to a chronological turning point. The book is a concise defense of the Classical tradition in American education.

The book examines the history of the decline of Classical education brought on by those who replaced concrete traditional education with a focus on a nebulous future.

The structure of the book is in essay chapters collected under three sections: Civilization as Narrative; The Good, the Bad, and the Postmodern; and Contemporary Chronicles, Role Models and Popular Culture.

Professor Kopff includes an Epilogue: Optatives (the optative verb mood in Ancient Greek is used for wishing) and Imperatives for the Next Millennium. And an appendix, Doing it on your own.

Professor Kopff's reason for writing the book is in a similar vein as Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind": that one cannot act in the right way without knowing one's own origins.

According to Nietzsche, archetypical modern, "The Man who diverges from tradition is a victim; the man who does not is a slave." Aristotle saw things differently. "To live according to your country's way of life is not slavery," he wrote in his great reflections on Politics; "It is salvation." The divide could not be wider, and therefore, the enmity could not be more serious between those who side with Nietzsche and those who agree with Aristotle.

-E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin

The first section, Civilization as Narrative, tells of the place that the Classical languages and tradition hold in the development and creation of the of the modern West.

The first five chapters explain the manner in which Latin and the Roman tradition have shaped the English language and the American Constitution. The last four chapters of the section explain the last 200 years of the "Enlightenment Project."

Professor Kopff's chapter "The Ghost Dance: Liberalism in Crisis" is especially enlightening look at the devolution of subjective philosophy inside the University. The house is crumbling in a sea of relativism with no real lessons to impart, and the head honchos' only solution is to keep going forward.

Kopff likens it to the Ghost Dance of the 19th century Plains Indians, the idea that more of the same will remedy the problems of higher education in the 21st century.

[See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry: Post-Modernism.]

The second section, "The Good, The Bad, and The Post-Modern", goes further into how post-Modern deconstruction has killed the humanities in the university.

And the final Section examines what modern pop culture of the latter 20th century can tell us about our Classical roots. As in, Clint Eastwood's work is based on the ethos of Virgil's Aeneid, especially Unforgiven.

In Eastwood's films, the troubled American hero has ceased to be a problem and has become a model. The Man With No Name is free to choose a name, Bronco Billy or Josey Wales, and so are we.

-E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin

The final section including the Epilogue and Appendix detail the sort of reforms needed to the primary school and a source for going it alone in the Classics.

The Devil Knows Latin is a must read for anyone interested in the Classical Humanities or Educational Philosophy.

The simple organization and "collected essays" style make it a fast read. It can even be picked up and browsed easily, reading on a chapter by chapter basis without necessarily having to go from beginning to end.

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