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Inculcation of Classical Knowledge as National Orientation: An Inquiry into the Renaissance Era

By Sherif Jimoh
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The 16th century early modern period {1500-1800} characterized with secularized civic politics and nation states was precursor of the golden era commonly known as renaissance. The renaissance was an era in European history marking transition from Middle Ages to Modernity {1300-1500}. It is renowned for the re-discovery of classical world's cultural, scientific and technological advancement. It stems from view that human being {man} occupies an important pivotal role in relation to interaction with his environment. This consequently spurs his intellectuality through rational inquisitiveness about observable phenomena of his environment. As a means of standardizing this approach, rationalistic man formulated and adopted a social conceptualization which was to be known as renaissance humanism. This was a revival of classical antiquity and was first popularized in Italy before extension into whole of Europe. It thrived on a learning program Studia Humanitatis [known today as modern humanities] which included study in five {5} humanity subjects which were poetry, grammar, history, rhetoric and moral philosophy. Essentially, this learning was based on 'classical sources' which sprang up innovative flowering of Latin and vernacular literatures; the development of linear perspective and other techniques of artistic works {painting}; contribution of customs and conventions of diplomacy in politics; and development of inductive reasoning from observations in the annals of science. However, in spite of the revolutions spurred in the medieval renaissance era on many intellectual pursuits, it is on record the era was 'best known for it's artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term 'renaissance man'.

The Italian renaissance though famous for it's aesthetic aspect of civilization excelled in other aspects as well such as moral philosophy. Great moral philosophers of Italian origin or contact include Niccolo Machiavelli, Pico della Mirandola, Matheo Palmieri who all shared humanism concept as their ideology and published treatises which dwelt extensively in the ideal citizenship and scholarship of man in the society. They were all of the view that every man must develop into a 'universal being whose person combined intellectual and physical excellence and who was capable of functioning honorably in virtually any situation'. In other words, in the view of renaissance humanists, every citizen must be able to 'speak and write with eloquence and clarity and thus capable of engaging in the civic life of their communities and persuading others to virtuous and prudent actions'. A foremost publication of this era was Oration on the Dignity of Man credited to Pico della Mirandola and described as 'the manifesto of renaissance'.|

Ultimately, the renaissance era humanistic revolution which thrived greatly on intellectuality resurgence culminated in two historically significant events which reverberative impact was felt through-out of Europe. On the one hand was the Protestantism {European Reformation} which arose in direct and open confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church and papal authority in particular. Renowned reformers such as Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Peter Waldo sought to reform the Orthodox Catholic Church tenets and practices. Specifically, in 1517, Martin Luther published his celebrated Ninety-five Theses in Germany which served to condemn publicly the Catholic Church normative practices such as papal authority over purgatory; Treasury of Merit; unison of Law and Gospel. Rather, he argued that there was marked distinction between the Law and the Gospel and thus asserted 'a complete reliance on scripture as the only source of proper doctrine {sola scriptura} as well as the 'belief that faith in Jesus is the only way to receive God's pardon for sin rather than good works {sola fide}'. On the other hand were the Indo European languages comprising Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages which partly owed their genesis to variants of vulgar Latin. In particular, it is common knowledge Europe has had a number diverse spoken dialects since historic times regarded as linguae francae such as French, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese. However, it is on record that Renaissance Latin popular amongst educated populations of western, northern, central and part of eastern Europe contributed majorly to the rise of standardization of national languages {official languages} beginning with the establishment of the first language academy in Italy, Academia della Crusca in 1582/83.

Classics, otherwise referred to as classical study, is study of the classical antiquity. It essentially involves study of Greco-Roman languages and literature. Traditionally, in the West, the study of classics is considered 'one of the cornerstones of the humanities and a fundamental element of a rounded education'. Etymologically, classics is adjectival derivative of the Latin word Classicus and implies 'belonging to the highest class of citizens'. However, the modern usage of the word {classics} implies 'literature of the highest quality and to the standard texts used as part of a curriculum'. Medieval era education glorified in teaching students earlier modules of classics and Latin was a popular language of medium of instruction.

The focus of this writing is essentially on a critique of Renaissance literature as a model of classical study in re-orienting Nigerian educational policy along line of classical standard. The originality of Renaissance era humastic revolution was famous for its visual arts {especially paintings} and architectural excellence, precisely in Italy. However, upon its spread to other parts of Europe, a new genre of humanities emerged, rhetoric arts {prose, poetry} and creative arts {dance and drama} which was widely accepted. The latter genre {rhetoric arts} can be examined via a standardized methodological training exercise {pedagogy} called in Greek terminology 'progymnasmata'. This is 'preliminary exercises' foundationally taught to male citizens especially, in ancient Greco-Roman era. This would guarantee their effective and mastered art of public writing and speaking. This practice as well included training in virtues for ancient classical era citizens as they were bound to 'uphold the good and the right of the community'.

Progymnasmata training involves a set of pedagogical exercises identified as fourteen precepts of some literary themes of classical era nature, starting from fable and ending at law. Other themes included anecdote, encomium, thesis, argument etc. These themes were categorized into foundation, intermediate and advanced stage. And each theme was taught in a classic model by familiarizing citizens {students, in the case of this writing} with classic antiquity or ancient material {contents} from which to draw basic inspiration. Similarly, every phase of learning was accompanied with standard methodology of inculcation of thematic theory, analysis and practice.

In the case of the Foundation category, citizens were exposed to short lessons, typically comprising observations of narrations, nature study, picture study and copy work. In the West, learning content is picked from Primer series which are dedicated children books. Similarly, learning inspiration was drawn from classical era authors such as Aesop and Homer. In the long run, citizens would continue to digest, critique and imitate contents from these classic era sources until they attained full mastery. An important aspect of this category's learning exercise is poetry. For instance, in the West, this represents a 5th Grade study module where pupils are exposed to select hymns {Biblical verses} and poetic verses of old generations of American and British poets such as William Woods worth, Geoffrey Chaucer, Martin Luther, William Shakespeare. Poetic learning from the foundation is significantly important because of two reasons: much of early publications in mythology and fiction existed in poetic form; and 'the skills learned in Poetry for Beginners are the necessary foundation for the Intermediate Poetry and Advanced Poetry'.

For the Intermediate stage, the main focus is on essay writing and analysis. Similarly in the West, this category is prescribed for 7th Grade and higher learners. And the content of study is found in Diogenes, Athens famous cynic. The main focus of this content is in maxim and chreia. Diogenes maxim is further classified into beginning essay writing; while Diogenes chreia is classified as advancing essay writing. The literary modules prescribed for the former include select writings credited to Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Roosevelt, Erasmus. The literary modules prescribed for the latter include writings credited to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Seneca, Robert Louis Stevenson. In this category, learners are introduced to early writing focus on particular themes which is gradually consolidated with passage of time, by consistent exposure to an array of antiquity content sources as available. The rationale being that 'to write well, learners must be well and broadly read'.

In the Advanced stage, learners are further introduced to particular essay themes such as argumentative, descriptive and thesis writing. This stage is designated for learners between the 9th and the 12th Grade. In the West, a select ancient Greek authors were carefully chosen for respective themes. For instance, Herodotus' 'Histories', Athanasius 'On the Incarnation of the Word of God', Aeschylus' trilogy 'The Oresteia' were all introduced to learners to digest and internalize their modes of argumentative writings. It is on record that Herodotus who is Greek father of History is famous for court room rhetoric in terms of arguing for or against a common place or a particular issue. Similarly about Plutarch's 'Lives', who is famed for ceremonial rhetoric {special anniversaries, funeral orations} in terms praise, encomiums and sometimes blame of a person or an event. And the same too about Demosthenes' 'On the Crown' who is famed for thesis writing on a particular subject issue or common place event.

By the time a learner completes his rigorous and vigorous training, both in tuition and practice, in all of these select classic publications, then obviously, he must have had a well ground educational background. And he can more importantly socially interface, both in the art of public speaking and writing.

At this juncture, i need to come local and reflect on home experiences as obtainable in Nigeria. As a Nigerian citizen, born and bred at home, i am quiet aware my generation was not trained in the real classic training as enumerated in the fore-going. My generation passed out of the University almost two decades ago. Therefore, it could be inferred my generation still had a small dose of good old days of 1980s and 1990s quality teaching by hard working teachers. Nonetheless, we had nothing near the semblance of classic teaching as painted in the fore-going. Even though, there were quiet hard-working students who went extra miles on their own to have taste of classic learning; it would not still seem original. Many of my generation would only later have a good dose of classical training by travelling abroad and start proper learning afresh. I would not have an authoritative information about the relative standard of the educational setting of indigenous generations before my own who had Higher School Certificate {HSC}. But it could be discerned it must be of a classic standard because educated folks then who attended schools have an enduring quality educational retention in terms of good speaking and writing {up to classic hand-writing}. I have a paternal uncle who was trained in those days whose diction and fluency i constantly marvel at.

But nay, this can not be said of contemporary educational training in our educational institutions. Especially, post year 2000 downwards, our country, Nigeria is retrogressively reeling in backward educational standards. At least, my own generation still had the opportunity of tasting good education because our own teachers had equal opportunity too of better education. Sadly, our current crop of 21st generational citizens {students} are very unfortunate in not having opportunity of tasting at least good teaching and learning. I don't know whom to blame amongst the government, parents or teachers. But definitely, the blame is either a collective or an individual entity own.

A significant dimension to this national saga is the adverse consequence of poor education in damaging both image and economy of Nigeria. Many a people may not be aware that the level of education of a country is inexorably tied to its level of commercial tourism. The more educated citizens of a country are, the more potential they have to excel in commercial and image-making tourism. This writing has no sympathy for hospitality tourism and neither scenic tourism {natural scenery} because these are commonplace types of tourism, patronized by the wealthy and usually for pleasure purpose {because of huge cost implications}. Rather, this writing is directing our national consciousness to the creative industry as a potential source of commercial export tourism. A functional creative industry has dual functions and ability to positively launder the image of a country and improve her export proceeds. India for example, has a global image in the film making industry since as far long ago as i could remember. More recently, India has upped her motion pictures advancement by foraying into a bi-lingual film production [English translated movies]. The unique thing about this new creative venture is that it not obliterated India's rich traditional culture. A good example of this is the Zee World Productions {movie series} which are household names in Nigeria and around the world. Is this not creative industry tourism? Similarly, the Western countries are very popular in their creative productions, whether blockbuster films or best selling books which they export globally. For instance, Holly Wood industry greatly contributes to the economy of America both in cash and kind since age long time ago up to the current times. What do you say about recent ever-green block buster films like Suits, Gray Anatomy and a host of others? What of the best selling literary books {fictions} of James Hadley Chase series and Harlequin series?

The big question to pose here is what is the place of Nigeria in creative industry tourism? Whether in the literary genre or drama {movie productions}, Nigeria has continuously dwindled in the fortunes of the creative industry as a nation in general. What obtains is proliferation of non-professional vulgar and fetish traditional entertainments commonly called 'home-view videos' in Nigeria. These are basically for local consumption at home with no potential global export value. Even, the critical indigenous viewer is sick and tired of such productions because they are not devoid of rich and savory contents but also, poor productions because lack of sufficient financing investment. This scenario is a prevalent national emergency issue, owing fundamentally from lack of a good and qualitative national formal education, as a fore-runner of efficient professional practice.

Most indigenous creative art practitioners are not at first well educated, by classic standard, and secondly, they are not professionals in their art. This assertion is factual because a professional will not but produce a professional job acclaimed to even critics. But some of them who were smart, like Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade went abroad, [this writing presupposes] and took classic training in their profession. Hence, they became proper professionals and could appear on the global scenes.

At best, what Nigeria currently parades as national pride, are a host of few individuals are have carved a niche for themselves in the creative industry such Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie {for literary art}; D'banj and those in his clique in the case of music; Omotola and her clique in the case of drama. But Nigeria has a population of almost 200 million citizens. So what is fate of the rest indigenous creative artists, especially in the film making industry who have branded themselves NollyWood {in imitation of Holly Wood and Bolly Wood}. Nigeria has just imitated in mere brand name without accompanying professional practice and ethics imitation. To buttress this, the current tourism contribution to Nigeria's GDP, according to the National Bureau of Statistics {2019} is at an infinitesimal less than 1 percent .This is the real reason why the there is national clamor for more investments in the tourism sector by the Nigeria's Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Muhammad. And ditto for recent national strident clamor for review of archaic educational policy of Nigeria by concerned stakeholders.

Way Forward
This writing will articulate the following emergency national interventional measures, if our country Nigeria must retrace her steps and get her bearings right in the hope of a revitalized, efficient creative industry sector as an avenue for tourism boost.

1} re-introduction of classic educational training to our schools, from primary to tertiary with strong emphasis on creative art professionalism.

2} establishment of creative industry national institutes which will professionally train and re-train potential practitioners.

3} massive funding from government {by way of grants or loan able revolving schemes}

because this is only what can guarantee the requisite professional expertise as pivot for tourism development and progress.

As much as this writer knows, the writing's third suggestion is what is commonly acknowledged and demanded for by our indigenous practitioners from government. But they are oblivious of the fact that the preceding two suggestions are the foundation for a successful and buoyant creative industry.

Sherif Jimoh wrote from Kwara State

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Sherif Jimoh and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."