The Gift of Teachers, Etc. | National Review

The Gift of Teachers, Etc. | National Review

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the flame during the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics at Ancient Olympia in Olympia, Greece, March 12, 2020. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

I would like to throw some links at you, then follow up on an article. (Like a White House reporter: “I have a follow-up.”) Here is a remembrance of Donald Kagan, the great historian of the ancient world — and great guy — who passed away earlier this month. Here is an article on the Salzburg Festival: the festival in general and a great pianist, Grigory Sokolov, in particular.

If you want more music, try these posts in The New Criterion — on Arcadi Volodos, another great pianist; on an Italian evening, with the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva; on an all-Mozart concert in the Mozarteum (appropriately enough); and on a Bach presentation by the pianist András Schiff.

In Schiff’s estimation, Bach is “the greatest European,” whose face should be on the European flag. In his keyboard partitas, for instance, Bach took styles from all over, and exalted them — even jigs from Scotland and Ireland! My line is: Today, in America, he would be accused of “cultural appropriation.” Maybe even “canceled.”

This is a Q&A podcast with Daniel Hannan, the British columnist, book-author, and politician — who is now in the House of Lords. What is the House of Lords, by the way? A kind of senate? Hannan explains. Are they still wearing wigs? Is Hannan a Whig in a wig? He explains that one, too.

Hannan was born and raised in Peru, which has a new president, a real bolshie. Hannan talks about this fellow, Pedro Castillo, and about the fortunes of democracy around the world. Or misfortunes. Have we entered an authoritarian age? It appears that way. Can the open society survive? Are open societies always and everywhere rare — exceptions to the rule of history and mankind?

There’s a lot more in our conversation — which ends with Shakespeare, about which Hannan is gloriously authoritative. There is so much Shakespeare in his head, I can hardly see how there’s room for all the other things he knows, too.

Speaking of the knowledgeable: back to Donald Kagan. In a podcast two and a half years ago, he told me how he came to be a classical historian. At Brooklyn College, he had a teacher whom not many students liked. She wasn’t for the many; she was for the few. Young Don Kagan was absolutely ripe for her.

She was a battle axe — a “maiden lady in her sixties,” as Kagan said to me — named Meta Elizabeth Schutz. She did not want to be your friend. She did not want to cuddle you. But, if you were serious about the ancient world — boy, would she teach you.

After talking with Kagan, and hearing about “Miss Schutz,” I googled around — and found an interview with a retired Foreign Service officer, Leon Picon, conducted in 1989. He talked about his career. “I don’t know exactly where to start,” he said. He continued,

Let’s start with my having gone to Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York, where I first intended to become a French teacher, and so I majored in French. Before a month was out, I became intensely interested in becoming a lawyer instead of a teacher. In order to do so I would have to switch from the Arts curriculum to the Social Sciences curriculum, which I did.

In the Social Sciences Department, Ancient History (History 9 & 10) was a required course, so I found myself being taught by one of the finest teachers I had ever encountered, a Professor Meta Schutz. She brought the ancient world to life for me, and before I knew what was happening, I had fallen deeply in love with ancient Egypt, and wanted to become an Egyptologist. Professor Schutz advised me to get a sound background in languages, particularly Latin and Greek. So I switched back to the Arts curriculum and did in fact major in Latin and Greek.

I wish I could enroll with Meta Elizabeth Schutz right today.

In my talk with Donald Kagan, he brought up a basketball player — a hotshot in Brooklyn, where Kagan grew up — named Ziggy Banks (“Ziggy” for “Siegmund”). “Basketball was the religion of Brownsville,” said Kagan — Brownsville, Brooklyn. And Ziggy Banks did everyone proud.

Googling around, I found some news items about him, including this:

Ziggy Banks of Long Island University was the big man for the Merry Bachelors with a harvest of 25. A shot by Banks tied the game at 54, necessitating overtime.

I forwarded these items — concerning Leon Picon and Meta Schutz, and Ziggy Banks and the Merry Bachelors — to Kagan. He answered, “Enormous thanks for your wonderful historical labors. One amazing story and one delightful piece of information.” He ended his note, “Long may you wave.”

I said the same back to him. And I’m sure he is waving — shining, flourishing — as we speak.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.