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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2005 issue...

People Don't Write That Way Anymore

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People Don't Write That Way Anymore

by Claudio R. Salvucci

    Tastes and interests change in literature. Different themes, different styles, indeed whole different genres come in and out of being depending on the spirit of the age.
    Nevertheless, there is something to be said for a “classical” style—not in a restricted sense as the style of Greco-Roman antiquity, nor any later genre which took inspiration from it—but rather a super-cultural literary style that rises up above its own genre and belongs as much to the ages as its own time period.
    This is the old concept of the “Republic of Letters”—a community not of time and space but of ideas, stories and words. A community where a Roman Vergil can pick up the story of a Greek Homer 800 years later. Where an Italian poet can construct an epic around a tome of Christian theological questions and answers, which in turn was a response to the musings of a pagan philosopher. We have heard these works collectively called the Western Literary Canon—but the Republic of Letters is more than just a collection of books, it is a society of people who read, appreciated and added to those works great works of their own.
    The citizens of this Republic form a school of literature unlike any other. And like any great school, it is not merely a haphazard collection of teachers, but a carefully selected faculty all tied together by a common philosophy of moral virtue.
Every author who enrolled in that school imitated and modeled his work on the giants that went before him. Literary imitation has become a dirty word to those modernists who insist on being “creative” and “finding their own voice.” Creativity, however, is made fruitful by discipline, and there is no denying that a man well trained in the rather unforgiving laws of physics, can build a more impressive monument than the man who piles bricks to the best of his “natural” ability.
Dante in Limbo
Dante, Vergil, and the classical poets by Doré.
    Modernists like to point to a straight line of Western cultural development that goes through all the greats but ends, quite inexplicably, with themselves. In their own self-serving histories of Western art, modernism is the pinnacle, the culmination, the completion of all the advances that went before. Art has indeed turned down a path of modernized secularism and moral indifference these last hundred years. But a convincing case could be made that it is a path not of development, but rather of diversion—that in the very act of deliberately rejecting the Western Canon (and its morality), they have written themselves out of it.
    After all, the soul of man is no different now than it was in Homer’s time, nor Vergil’s, nor Dante’s. Morals are eternal—and moral art is the truest art in the sense of being true to the whole beauty and order of human nature. Any art that rejects such morality can certainly enjoy a prestigious perch in its own age, but it cannot last. Immodest and downright vulgar art has been unearthed in archaeological sites throughout the world, some even in privies (a happily serendipitous confirmation of where such works truly belong).
    However, note well that they have not, like Holy Writ, like Aristotle, like Vergil, been scrupulously copied and recopied and rerecopied by hand and then published and reprinted and rereprinted through countless generations to the present day. And why not? Because indecency, however titillating, was simply not worth that effort. Morality, truth and beauty were.
    A “chronological snobbery”—as C. S. Lewis called it—has deluded many into thinking that the classical, moralistic style of the Republic of Letters is an outmoded concept. It is no longer in fashion to emulate Aristotle, Livy or Aquinas, nor even Bede, Shakespeare or Hawthorne. People just “don’t write that way anymore.”
    Yet remember, writers, that the door to the classics is a door in eternity not bound by time or space. Those who wish to join the great Republic of Letters have no need for contemporary accolades. They need only accept the responsibility of writing not only for their own age, but also for their fellow pilgrims on Earth many ages removed. They need only be guided by a desire to reflect, in some dim way, that moral and physical beauty which their Heavenly Father has invested His creation.
    It is not an entirely useless exercise to criticize modernist literature, but let us not dwell excessively upon its many faults. Time will pass a sentence of its own. Let the dead bury the dead, and let us spend our days more fruitfully by reforging our own link in the literary chain of the ages.
    People may not write that way anymore, but by the grace of Almighty God, they will indeed write that way again.

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