Poets for the Humanities

January 17, 2011

 In the current funding crisis for the arts and humanities, poets are being enlisted to play their part. The combination of quotation and author has a strong rhetorical force, and the campaign has mustered a good range across periods; but such quotations are perhaps always best taken out of context. Dante’s address to Virgil (Inferno, 11.93) does not really further the cause of philosophic doubt. Shakespeare’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Twelfth Night, I.2) implausibly imagines that skills in languages might have made him a successful wooer (it is unlikely that this would rank in HEFCE’s ‘impact’ category).

Asper in Ben Jonson’s Every Man out of His Humour prefaces a performance of his play with: ‘if we fail, / We must impute it to this only chance, / Art hath an enemy call’d ignorance’: defiant, but also pessimistic. Amidst the store of humanist commonplaces, can some pithy maxims with a present relevance be found?


Welcome to a term which brings a remarkable range of lectures and seminars. CEMS is continuing its neo-Latin series and will have a works in progress session on the reception of classical literature. 2011 inaugurates a series of events on the anniversary of the King James Bible with a lecture series at Corpus Christi College. Professor Moshe Idel (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) will give a series of lectures ranging from Ramon Lull to Jacques Derrida.There are seminars on English, French and Italian, and Central European literature and history, the history of the book, the history of science, and intellectual history. And more to come!