Seven Days in New Crete (Penguin Modern Classics)

Seven Days in New Crete (Penguin Modern Classics) by Robert Graves

Book: Seven Days in New Crete (Penguin Modern Classics) by Robert Graves Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Graves
Engrave the durable
On plates of gold and silver,
Lest memory of it wavers.
    The rest, impress on clay,
Or cut on tally-sticks –
Though sparing even of these.
Cretans, have done with paper
And with parchment, its dour brother.
    This poem, intended to warn the New Cretans against bureaucratic civilization, made so strong an impression on them that its exhortations acquired the force of custom. The manufacture of paper and parchment was discontinued almost at once – paper was no longer used even for wrapping or for toilet purposes – and all records of real importance were thereafter engraved on thin plates of gold or silver. For the rest they used slates, clay-boards, tally-sticks and their memories; but mainly their memories.
    ‘Real importance!’ I exclaimed. ‘I’ve long thought what a blessing it would be to reduce the corpus of learning to manageable proportions. Four centuries before my time it was just possible for someone of unusual intelligence and industry to be well educated in all the subjects of knowledge then available. The Church had always limited and coordinated learning; but once Papal authority was defied in Germany and England these subjects grew in number and complexity until soon no one could hope for more than a smattering of some of them and perhaps a specialized knowledge of one. This, of course, led to intellectual disunity – I don’t know whether you realize how much my age suffers from unrelated and often contradictory developments of such subjects as, for instance, biology, physics, aesthetics, philosophy, theology and economics. This led to moral disunity, social unrest, civil wars and commercial wars which gradually increased in bloodiness and horror. I’ve often thought that if the essentials of each subject of knowledge could be preserved and the rest jettisoned, it might once more be possible for people to be generally well educated, and for the contradiction between the subjects to disappear, and so for international peace to be restored. “And what’s to prevent that happening?” I’ve asked myself.’
    ‘Well, what did prevent it?’
    ‘The cards were stacked and the dice loaded against any project of that sort.’ (I was speaking more to myself than to See-a-Bird who, at the best of times, could only catch my general drift.) ‘To begin with, every specialist would be loyal to his own branch of learning and insist that every least part of it was of the utmost importance and that practically nothing could be jettisoned. They’d quarrel as bitterly as assistant masters in a public school when the Headmaster tells them that he’s decided to simplify the curriculum because of the parents’ complaints about the boys’ being overworked: “Head Master, if you ask me to give up my Special French Class, I shall resign!” “Head Master, if you think that I can get my boys up to Certificate standard on only three hours’ Maths a week, you are sadly mistaken.” So in their competitive efforts to cover each particular field decently they’d inflate, rather than deflate, the corpus. They’d also emphasize the contradictions between subjects. (Oh, what surly good-mornings used to pass between my Science master and my Classics master, and what spiteful remarks each used to make in class about the other!) But if the task of deflation were given to a committee of mere smatterers – men without a bias in favour of any one subject of knowledge – they’d not have the least idea where to stick in the pin, or how to gather up the slack afterwards. How did your people solve the problem?’
    ‘It was easier for us. When we first came to Crete we carried no dead weight of learning with us; the Sophocrats had seen to that. And once our system was well established, without intellectual or moral disunity, because we were all bound together in religious awe of the Goddess, we began to import useful knowledge from the outside world. But we imported it in concentrated form, a

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