Forgetting our inheritance

A classical inheritance is all around us, recognized or unrecognized. Yet there has been no period since the Renaissance which is as intent on forgetting the classical past as today. The images and language that flooded the minds of previous generations now need a guidebook. A painting of a classical myth must have an explanation on its museum label, every classical reference in a poem needs a footnote. What for centuries was the foundation of Western culture, a shared resource of the imagination, has been systematically uprooted in modern educational systems across the West, with inevitable consequences for public culture. Modernity has come to mean amnesia—amnesia about the past, about cultural tradition, about the passions and interests of our own history. Like adolescents who believe themselves the first to discover swear-words and sex, and who can only stare with incomprehension at their parents’ desires, modern culture finds it hard to notice that it is forgetting its inheritance.

Simon Goldhill. Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2.