"August____1914," the date stamped in red ink on a little pasted paper form, "Date due" at the top. The small volume was "The Georgics," by the great Roman poet, Virgil [b., 70 B.C.,d.,19 B.C.].
Down in the dark of the deserted second subbasement floor at the University of Georgia Library, this 3rd year student was accompanied by a librarian who joked that, sometimes, they caught students "making out" in the stacks, because nobody except librarians came down there to look for anything. It was 1961.
Dr. Harry Carracci Rutledge, Classics Professor wanted me to read "The Georgics" in the original Latin, out loud, to myself, to appreciate the beauty of the original language. The finest teacher I ever had, in any discipline, Dr. Rutledge was the inspirer of my desire to dig deeply into literature, to discover the classical allusions in modern works. His world view as a scholar matched my curiosity about the layers of history which thrust up, like geological extrusions, bringing memory of ancient times into the present. A unified whole of human and earthly knowledge to be discovered.
The poignancy of the date, "August___1914" carried me away to my own grandfather's history. It was the date of German mobilization, and Opa's role, as an Polish Uhlan, in the Prussian Army. It was, also, probably the last generation of young Georgia men to read "The Georgics" in Latin.
Classical studies seemed a bit irrelevant after the carnage of that war. The flower of that age,who studied the subtleties of human knowledge, who strived for a compleat education, was now dead, replaced by tough survivors of the war: materialists, pragmatists, future workers and businessmen. The lessened role of the intelligentsia, the notion that a study of Greek and Latin and other languages was not necessary in a modern world, gripped the American psyche and influenced our education system.
The discipline future leaders of our culture had gleaned from declining Latin nouns, conjugating Latin verbs, the insights from a study of Ancient Greece and Imperial Rome, and, most especially, the joys of reciting Classical poetry was lost in the carnage of The Great War.
I held the book in my hands, and I cried for the all lost young men. And, for our culture.
Copyright, Margaret Koscielny, July 31, 2014