When ideas go extinct, we all grow poorer. Half the world’s 7,000 languages now face extinction — a dramatic shift in human intellectual history. Our 21st-century world — replete with wondrous technologies — rests upon the foundation of all humankind’s prior wisdom and creativity. This human knowledge base is durable and, during 99 percent of human history, has been passed solely from mouth to ear. Yet it is fragile, mostly unwritten and vulnerable to forgetting.
The prominent figures of Athenian society — Socrates, Aristotle, Plato — are widely considered to be the forerunners of American democracy. But according to Hunter Rawlings, classicist and president of the Association of the American Universities, these giants of history had little influence on Thomas Jefferson and the writing of the Declaration of Independence — and thus little influence on the democracy Americans enjoy today.
Rawlings’ 10:45 a.m. morning lecture in the Amphitheater was preceded by a performance by Bill Barker, a Thomas Jefferson interpreter dressed in full 18th-century regalia, complete with a tri-corner hat.