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174

(1921) Author: Sigrid Undset
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nationally Norwegian. And it is the same with spiritual
movements.”

“Yes, but those sins were committed even when classical
education was the official foundation of all education.”

“Quite so. But it was only a small part of the classics —
a detached piece. A little Latin grammar and so on. We
have never had a complete picture among the stories of our
valued ancestors of what you might call the classical spirit.
As long as we cannot have that, we are outside Europe. If
we do not consider Greek and Roman history as the oldest
history of our own culture, we have not got European culture.
It does not matter what that history was in reality, but the
version of it matters. The war between Sparta and Messene,
for instance, was in fact only the fights between some
half-savage tribes a very long time ago, but in the delivery of it,
as we know it, it is the classic expression for an impulse which
makes a sound people let themselves be killed to the last man
rather than lose their individuality or the right to live their
own life.

“Bless you, for many a hundred years we have not fought
for our honour; we have lived merely to nurse our insides.
The Persian wars were really trifles, but for a vigorous people
Salamis, Thermopylæ, and the Acropolis mean the bloom of all
the noblest and soundest instincts, and as long as these instincts
are valued, and a people believes that it has certain qualities
to uphold, and a past, a present, and a future to be proud of,
these names will be surrounded by a certain glamour. And a
poet can write a poem on Thermopylæ and imprint it with the
feelings of his own time, as Leopardi has done in his ‘Ode
to Italy.’ Do you remember I read it to you in Rome?”

Jenny nodded.

“It is a bit rhetorical, but beautiful, is it not? Do you
remember the part about Italia, the fairest of women, who
sits in the dust chained and with loosened hair, her tears

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