Segments in this Video

Atlantic Festival (18:12)


Aretae Ortiz Wyler introduces the event. Improv hip-hop group FLS+ performs on stage with input from the audience. Debate moderator John Donvan cites the topic of debate.

Debate "Housekeeping" (07:19)

Donvan provides background on Intelligence Squared, frames the debate, and asks the audience to vote. He introduces Author and Culture Critic Thomas Chatterton Williams and Author and Classics Scholar Joy Connolly.

Opening Statement For: Connolly (03:22)

Connolly outlines a thought experiment. The tradition of celebrating the classics as models of exempla and the origin of Western foundation is toxic. The list of texts emerged as Europe and America dominated and exploited the rest of the world.

Opening Statement Against: Williams (03:43)

Williams reflects on Socrates' injunction to know thyself and attending Georgetown. The classics link us to a tradition bigger than the present, allowing one a more expansive sense of humanity. Ideas equip students of color to navigate the world.

Lessons and Values of the Classics (04:44)

The themes of democracy and equality have different meanings today than they did for the writers of the texts. Having a delineated tradition should not prevent acknowledgment or respect for other traditions. We live in a world that demands global thinking.

Toxicity and the Classics (07:04)

Connolly reflects on the classics emanating a sense of erasure and exclusion. Williams discusses applying a "prism of whiteness" to ancient Athens. Connolly believes we must think bigger and outside traditions.

Classics Degree Requirements (08:52)

Donvan cites Princeton's response to systemic racism after George Floyd's death. Williams believes that lowering the bar of entry for non-white students is a racist idea. Connolly believes Princeton's response is appropriate because of translation capabilities.

Justification and Values (04:50)

Williams and Connolly agree that there are flawed interpreters of messages. We need to separate how something is used from the thing itself. Claims of specialness that intertwine with histories is problematic. We should keep racists from claiming the classics as their own.

Are Classics Overshadowing? (06:15)

Williams believes that one must know certain things to navigate in the world as it is, but the question is not important. He reflects on cultural heritage. Connolly disagrees and cites an example of 17th century classical scholarship.

Q/A: Relating Curriculum (02:56)

Connolly discusses incorporating African influence on literature into study. Culture is a product of networks and flows.

Q/A: Defining the Classics (02:48)

Connolly thinks of the classics as Latin and Greek texts produced from the 8th century BCE through 500 CE. She and Williams agree there is also "classical tradition."

Q/A: Classics Exposure and Diversification (02:39)

Williams discusses fundamental ideas that matter to students. We need to show them what is at stake and why it matters.

Q/A: Classics Composition (03:04)

Public affairs, religion, and civic virtue are biases that contribute to what works are included in the classics. Connolly reflects on the "Golden Nugget Problem."

Closing Statements For: Connolly (01:46)

We need to rethink the way universities and colleges value the classics and encourage students to think critically. Do not become comfortable with the traditions you are used to; create new ones.

Closing Statements Against: Williams (02:04)

Ideas matter. We currently face the vulgarization of culture and devaluation of reading and thoughtfulness. Judge works and ideas based on the content.

Q/A: Who Rates the Classics? (06:07)

Donvan instructs the audience to vote. Williams believes rating occurs among the elites in college spaces; he would talk with a different group. Connolly concurs the rating largely occurs within universities in classes like "civ"; it cannot hold because we are more globalized.

Debate Results (01:34)

Before the debate: 30% are yes, 55% are no, and 15% are undecided. After the debate 32% are yes, 59% are no, and 9% are undecided.

Rap Battle (10:39)

Freestyle Love Supreme returns to the stage. They perform a musical version of the debate.

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Are the Classics Overrated?: A Debate

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For generations, colleges have taught classic works of literature by Aristotle, Homer, Plato, Virgil, and other ancient Greek and Roman authors. These works tackle profound issues of morality, justice, and existence, defenders argue, and are essential to understanding the human condition. In recent years, however, critics have charged that reverence for the classics is not only flawed but also enmeshed with long-standing prejudices of race, class, and gender. Indeed, the classics department at Princeton University, one of the nation's most prestigious colleges, recently acknowledged that "the history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism." Classical literature, some contend, has been historically weaponized to justify the power structure of ruling groups, often to the exclusion and disparagement of non-white and non-European cultures. At the very least, they assert, these works should be incorporated within a broader diversity of literature, if not stricken from the required readings altogether. But many express caution at such moves. Studying the classics, they argue, spurs just the sort of critical thinking universities are meant to foster. Great works of literature are meant to spark controversy and debate, they contend, and students from every background can benefit from reading, analyzing, and assessing them. So how does this ancient literature hold up in today's world? Are the classics overrated?

Length: 99 minutes

Item#: BVL283498

Copyright date: ©2022

Closed Captioned

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