Back when Ansel Adams wrote his spoof The Trudgin’ Women for an early 1930’s Sierra Club high Sierra trip, he could count on his audience knowing something about ancient Greek drama. The trudgin’ referred to backpacking, not to the experience of reading Euripides’ The Trojan Women or other ancient Greek drama. That experience was (generally thought to be) anything but trudgery or drudgery.
People like me, who were not classicists, would find a good translation or, often, encounter one in college. My memory of Lysistrata is that it was not drudgery but very funny. My classmates and I read the translation my college required: by Dudley Fitts, a secondary-school teacher who was also a classicist and translator. (He gave the Spartans what a New Englander thought was a Southern accent.) But that was not my first acquaintance with the title. According to a Ralph Story’s Los Angeles episode, which I saw in the mid-1960s, an early 1930’s L.A. production was ordered closed for obscenity by the Los Angeles Police Department. They wanted to arrest the author, but Aristophanes could not be found.
I enjoyed reading Greek drama, but to judge by a recent New York Times article I should have felt as if on some kind of death march of students “trudging through their Aristophanes” instead of over the Sierra Crest, while clever young men like Mark Zuckerberg were dropping out and making their millions. I do not disparage people who seek their fortune in a bright new city or a garage of genius rather than tolerate a mediocre college—or “college,” as we seemingly must call places that do not deserve the name. But I very much dislike the idea implicit in the article, that either university or Aristophanes is somehow ipso facto boring. To a good student a good education will be a pleasure worth having for its own sake. To a student whose aim is not an education but a qualification, the whole process may seem like an imposition—and maybe it is.
More to the point is the article’s horror of the colossal debts being undertaken by young people to get an education, or an “education,” or a qualification, or whatever it is. I treasure my university education, but I am dumbstruck by the thought that today I might have to trudge under nearly a quarter of a million dollars of debt for it. Even more shocking than the price is the possibility that instead of a thrilling liberation, some unfortunate “university” students are getting a Pink Slime Education for that price. No wonder bright young people are seeking alternatives!