First Tupac, then Michael Jackson, and now… Patsy Cline? Country music gets its first holographic performer. (BBC)

Michael Lind recently lamented the disappearance of the classics from modern American culture. Now, a fascinating and wide-ranging argument for “classics for the people” – or, more specifically, greater access to ancient Greek studies in British schools:

The Greeks, more even than the Romans, show us how to question received opinion and authority. The earliest myths reveal mankind actively disputing the terms on which the Olympian gods want to rule them, and the philanthropic god Prometheus rebelling against Zeus in order to steal fire – a divine prerogative – and give it to mortal men. Sophocles’ Antigone refuses to accept her tyrannical uncle’s arbitrary edict, draws crucial distinctions between moral decency and contingent legislation, and buries her brother anyway. Aristophanes, in his democratic comedies, subjected politicians who wielded power to satire of eye-watering savagery. Socrates dedicated his life to proving the difference between the truth and received opinion, the unexamined life being, in his view, not worth living. No wonder Hobbes thought that reading Greek and Roman authors should be banned by any self-respecting tyrant, in Leviathan arguing that they foment revolution under the slogan of liberty, instilling in people a habit “of favouring uproars, lawlessly controlling the actions of their sovereigns, and then controlling those controllers”.

More… “Classics, Catholics, and Patsy Cline”

Diane Pizzuto is the art director and managing editor of The Smart Set.


I wrote a little essay about Christmas for The Smart Set in December of 2007. It began with the sentence, “In defending Christmas I have nothing to say about Jesus Christ, a terrifying and influential historical figure who, I confess, has had little impact on my life.” An amusing enough line for an atheist with no great hostility to Christianity or any other religion.

Then a funny thing happened. In the intervening years, I became a Catholic. Currently, I go to Mass every morning at Saint Mary’s in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. That “terrifying and influential historical figure” has managed, after all, to have quite an impact on my life. That’s the danger every writer faces. Publish your thoughts for long enough and they will eventually come back to haunt you. This can be painful. But it can be a hot and cleansing pain. We write in order to project our… More…

Saint Teresa of Avila is best known in her ecstatic state, as captured in marble by the sculptor Gian Bernini — her arched back, her body caught in an orgasmic wave, the moan from her parted lips almost audible. She felt the presence of God as an erotic power, the connection between the divine and the mortal as an energy unlike any other. This chaste 16th-century nun wrote about her soul being penetrated by the arrow of the angel, “so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”

Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein. 304 pages. Schocken. $22. Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller. 432 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $28. How… More…



The veneration of holy relics has long been an easy target for Protestants, atheists, and just about anyone who didn’t fall into the hardcore Catholic fold. Even the Church itself has downplayed the role of relics since the Vatican II reforms in the early 1960s. But odd as it may be, relics are making a comeback. Don’t believe me? You should have witnessed the masses in England who turned out two months ago to pray in front of the bones of St. Therese of Lisieux that were touring the country, or the crowds who gathered to see the bones of Mary Magdalene last month, taken on a U.S. tour by a French monk.

Today we may have health care, the lottery, and recreational drugs to help us get by. But for the typical Christian… More…


The pope is here. Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI. It is thus a good occasion to figure out what this pope is up to. So far he’s done two notable things, at least for those of us outside the arms of the Church. He did the first just before he became pope, and that was to meet with the world-renowned German philosopher Jürgen Habermas for a long chat about faith and reason (the title of the discussion: “Pre-political moral foundations in the construction of a free civil society”). The second was to deliver an address at the University of Regensburg. In that address, he mentioned in passing a quote from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new,” the emperor said in 1391, “and there you will find things only evil and… More…