Esolen: If Gold Is Mud

“Another kind of determinism is bound up with the denial of virtue itself. A student will hear that Homer made his heroine Penelope steadfast in marriage because that was the expectation given to him by his culture. Homer, then, is boxed up and bound. He had to be that way, because of when and where he lived. Here again, reduction. A student will hear that Shakespeare cast doubt upon Juliet’s passion and her disobedience to her father because people believed such things then; Shakespeare had to be that way. Besides being an offense to these brilliant poets, such chatter leads nowhere. It is like wandering inside a corral. The students do not ask, ‘Was Homer right?’ or ‘What does Shakespeare see that I might not see?’ They are encouraged to stand over and against Homer and Shakespeare, not seeing that the determinism by which they misjudge those poets will bind them hand and foot. For the corollary to the lie that Shakespeare had to be that way is that we have to be this way. If those great minds were no other than the sum of forces of cultural influence, then we too, whose minds are not so great, will be no otherwise. If gold is mud, we need not talk about iron – or rust.”

– Anthony Esolen, Life Under Compulsion (p. 42)

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