“Without the classics, we can’t know where we come from”

Greek and Latin scholar Rodríguez Adrados uses national prize as platform against dumbing down

Francisco Rodríguez Adrados has won the National Literature Prize.
Francisco Rodríguez Adrados has won the National Literature Prize.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

"Minister Wert should know that it's important for young people to know where we come from," says Francisco Rodríguez Adrados passionately. The new winner of the National Literature Award, which is granted by the Education and Culture Ministry that José Ignacio Wert runs, used his acceptance speech to mount a heated defense of two issues that he has been fighting for over the last six decades: preserving ancient Greek and Latin as part of the school curriculum, and respect for Castilian Spanish as the official language of Spain.

The 90-year-old scholar and member of the Royal Language and Royal History academies was targeting both the national government and the leaders of regions with two official languages when he criticized politicians for wanting to simplify education through a draft reform that seeks to eliminate Greek and Latin from the schoolrooms. "If you don't have that foundation, you are showing contempt for one of the most essential aspects in learning how to reason."

Rodríguez Adrados was described by the jury as the author of "globally recognized" work and "rigorous literary essays about tragedy, fable and other genres with Hellenic roots. His work is also that of a humanist who drinks from the best sources and who is simultaneously one of the most authoritative voices in Europe in the defense of classical humanities."

The author of Ilustración y política en la Grecia clásica (or, Enlightenment and politics in classical Greece) and Historia de la lengua griega (or, History of the Greek language) has been a witness to what he describes as a reduction in the quality of teaching ever since the Franco years, resulting in what he calls "the sad moments of today."

Eliminating Greek and Latin is like taking the roots away from a plant"

To eliminate ancient Greek and Latin from the Spanish schoolrooms "is like taking the roots away from a plant," he said. "Their elimination causes an unbelievable, incalculable damage."

Rodríguez Adrados said that he has tried asking the government of Mariano Rajoy to backtrack on its reform plans, and explaining to Minister Wert why it is so important for students to receive this education in the classical languages. The Spanish Society for Classical Studies, which he founded and of which he remains honorary president, has embarked on an advocacy campaign that included a recent meeting with three of Rajoy's delegates. But the education minister has yet to receive them, he says.

"He didn't want to; that's the truth of it," says the scholar. "I've met him a few times and he always says, 'We'll talk.' But that tense is an imperfect future. Let him sit down with us once and for all, damn it! He should know it is important for young people to know where we come from."

Freedom is one thing; the imposition of regional tongues is quite another"

Rodríguez Adrados' second battle front is respect for Castilian Spanish as the official language of Spain, especially in the last few years, when he has been a witness to the use of language as a social weapon by certain politicians.

"Languages are made for people to understand one another, not to be divided by them: everyone understands Spanish. We should show respect for the presence of other languages that may have been inherited in different regions, but these should not become an imposition," he says, in reference to the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages and the policies followed by nationalist governments to ensure these are used. "Freedom is one thing, and imposition -- sometimes violent and arbitrary -- is quite another."

Nobody is preventing people from speaking their local languages, the academician noted, but there should be some limits on their usage, as when regional leaders attempt to push Castilian Spanish aside or eliminate it altogether. This, he said, is detrimental to the regions. That is why Rodríguez Adrados finds it "repugnant for some regions to try to impose those languages by force, not just through teaching at school but indirectly by demanding a knowledge of them in order to get a job, for instance."

A prolific writer of literary and scientific work, Rodríguez Adrados has published around 50 books and hundreds of articles over the last 60 years. He has been a formidable linguistics researcher, a historian and translator of Greek language, a scholar of Indo-European languages, a tireless champion of classical studies and a committed intellectual who has taken a very critical stance with regard to the drift of European culture.

Besides that, he has worked incessantly as a university professor in Madrid and a lecturer at world congresses and forums. Rodríguez Adrados also directed the monumental Greek-Spanish dictionary and has produced clear versions of the work of Thucidides and Aristophanes. Besides two royal academies in Spain, he is also a member of the Athens Academy and the Argentinean Academy of Letters.

The 90-year-old Rodríguez Adrados joins a list of illustrious winners of the National Literature Award that includes Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Ana María Matute, Francisco Umbral, Antonio Buero Vallejo, Miguel Delibes and Francisco Ayala.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS