E. K. Rand on being a humanist


British Library, Add MS 47678, containing some Cicero letters with explanatory glosses, from around 800 AD.

The American classicist and palaeographer Edward Kennard Rand (1871-1945) is one of those philologists who, having authored more than 200 publications, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. There is a one in German, which only serves to show the discrepancy in interest in philology between various nations. Pope Professor of Latin at Harvard, Rand is known to the wider public for his Loeb translations (especially of Boethius) and for his book The Founders of the Middle Ages, published in 1928. In the latter, he left us one of the most memorable descriptions of what a humanist is. I have transcribed it below, seeing that Google cannot find it anywhere on the web.

A humanist is one who has a love of all things human; one who cares more for art and letters, particularly the art and letters of Greece and Rome, than for the dry light of reason or the mystic’s flight into the unknown; one who distrusts allegory; one who adores critical editions with variants and variorum notes; one who has a passion for manuscripts, which he would like to discover, beg, borrow or steal; one who has an eloquent tongue which he frequently exercises; one who has a sharp tongue, which on occasion can let free a flood of good billingsgate or sting an opponent with an epigram’

(E. K. Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1928), p. 102).

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