Thomas Jefferson and the Classics

 A. From a Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Joseph Priestly, January 27th, 1800:

Dear Sir, - In my last letter of the 18th, I omitted to say anything of the languages as part of our proposed University. It was not that I think, as some do, that they are useless. I am of a very different opinion. I do not think them very essential to the obtaining eminent degrees of science; but I think them very useful towards it. Suppose there is a portion of life during which our faculties are ripe enough for this, and for nothing more useful. I think the Greeks and Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition, whether we examine them as works of reason, or of style and fancy; and to them we probably owe these characteristics of modern composition. I know of no composition of any other people, which merits the least regard as a model for its matter or style. To all this I add, that to read the Latin and Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury as in architecture, painting, gardening, or other arts. I enjoy Homer in his own language infinitely beyond Pope's translation of him, and both beyond the dull narrative of the same events by Dares Phrygius; and it is an innocent enjoyment. I thank on my knees, HIM who directed my early education, for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, or have not since acquired.

B. From Sarah Randolph's, The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson, pp. 340-41

In his youth he had loved poetry, but by the time I was old enough to observe, he had lost his taste for it, except for Homer and the great Athenian tragics, which he continued to the last to enjoy. He went over the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, not very long before I left him (the year before his death). Of history he was very fond, and this he studied in all languages, though always, I think, preferring the ancients. In fact, he derived more pleasure from his acquaintance with Greek and Latin than from any other resource of literature, and I have often heard him express his gratitude to his father for causing him to receive a classical education. I saw him more frequently with a volume of the classics in his hand than with any other book.