I read the article on reforming the classics department (“The Color of Classics,” October issue). My father was a classics major in the Class of 1933. I recall a conversation with him in the 1980s. I was telling him about the yoga I was practicing and he said, “The only real civilization is Western civilization.” A moment later, after reflecting, he said, “Actually there is some value to yoga.” Change and revision are good things. I think reorganizing the Department of Classics to include Chinese, Indian, Arabic, African, and Native American and other indigenous wisdom, whether written or oral, would create a complete “classics department.” After all, this is human civilization.
The book The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester depicts the life of Joseph Needham, who brought awareness to the West the many advances in knowledge and technology created first in China. Other breakthroughs in math and astronomy came in the Arab world. Likewise, the Indus River culture created yoga and much more, and many cultures around the world understand the value of mastering breath and ate a diet that required effort to chew as a way to preserve good health, straight teeth, and strong bones. These were lost in the soft “civilized” diet that followed agriculture and exploded in the industrial revolution in which so many suffer from crooked teeth and degenerative disease (depicted in the book Breath by James Nestor).
A revamped classics department could advance all this knowledge for the benefit of all. A survey of the many cultures through coursework could be followed by thesis work in the student’s area of interest in which they could go deeper into a culture and its philosophy, science, art, or health. Princeton could then be a leader in bringing these ideas into greater circulation, in the world’s service.