One has grown so accustomed to hearing academics and their camp followers saying stupid things that the appearance among them of an intelligent, common-sensical voice is cause for astonishment and gratitude. Thanks to Frank Wilson for linking to this digital conversation with Sarah Ruden, poet, classicist, translator and research fellow at Yale Divinity School. Here’s a sample:
“Why should we hugely compress the range of historical time from which we cause students to read, and also the array of permitted thematic questions? (In many schools, you're now not only kept to race, gender, and class, but you're punished if you say anything ABOUT race, gender, or class that quite a tiny elite wouldn't also say.) And why at the same time do we tell students that, anyway, it's all about their expressing their own concerns, when they don't yet know what an intellectual concern is? Isn't that going to produce little more than a confused boredom and a little skill at parroting?”
Such thinking is a cool breeze in August, and based on the interview I picked up Ruden’s most recent book, Paul Among the People, and her translations of The Aeneid and Satyricon. I’ve read only the preface to the first volume but have already found this:
“Rather than repressing women, slaves, or homosexuals, [Paul] made—for his time—progressive rules for the inclusion of all of them in the Christian community, drawing on (but not limited by) traditional Jewish ethics.”
"No other intellect contributed as much to making us who we are."
Contrarian honesty in scholarship is always rare and bracing. I write this post quickly, based on minimal familiarity with Ruden and her work, but in a spirit of appreciation and affinity. Ruden is a serious person who appears not to take herself seriously. Here’s a link to another interview with her and a poem, “A Fortieth Birthday Poem to Myself,”she published in 2003 in The New Criterion:
“What a long way my children have to go
To come from me. About them, all I know
“Is that odd journey. Through a crowding wind
They bike to church. They queue for an exam.
“They lurch on bumping airline aisles. They pace
Museums, tap the car to work, and race
“To elevators. I have not been kind.
From a great distance I have called behind.
“Children are weak and naked—so I hear—
Yet these exacting years they must endure
“And trust that they will meet me in some green
Home neither they nor I have ever seen.”
With most contemporary poets, a title like that -- “A Fortieth Birthday Poem to Myself” – would set off the Solipsism Alarm. Ruden writes about her children.