All the strange connections and the classics

I admit it. I frequently see strange connections in things that most people would find not connected or only vaguely connected. But there you are. At this blog, you get what you pay for.

Michael K. Ausbrook practices law in Bloomington, Indiana. He does a lot of state and federal post-conviction litigation (federal habeas cases attacking state convictions). He and I share a connection in that I handle a lot of those cases as a judge. Additionally, we are both enamored with the late Loren Eiseley.

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and first educated at the University of Nebraska where he received degrees in both English and Anthropology, Loren Eiseley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) was a world-renowned anthropologist and a writer of unsurpassed talent. He taught and published essays, poetry and books from the 1940s through the 1970s.

During this period he received more than 36 honorary degrees and was a fellow of many distinguished professional societies including the Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Philosophical Society. At his death, he was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Publishers Weekly referred to him as “the modern Thoreau.” In the broad scope of his many writings he reflected upon such diverse topics as the mind of Sir Francis Bacon, the prehistoric origins of man, and the contributions of Charles Darwin. For more, visit the Loren Eiseley Society here.*

After the post on Richard Arnold recently, Michael wrote me an e-mail. He has allowed me to reprint a portion of it. That portion reads as follows:

As I mentioned in an earlier email, my father, also an Arkansan, was in the same Harvard law school class.*

Your post caused me to go look up Judge Arnold on the web again; It was interesting to see that he went to Exeter, taking Classics, and then majored in Latin and Greek at Yale. I went to Exeter, took Latin and Greek, and then majored in Classics at the University of Pennsylvania. (Georg Knauer, one of the great Vergil and Homer scholars of the 20th century, had just arrived there from Berlin, which was some consolation for Loren Eiseley’s withdrawal from the field because of illness just as I got to the U. of P.) It occurs to me that I might be part of the last generation for which a so-called classical education was not just plain strange.

Apropos of nothing, except maybe Exeter, I’ll share with you the fun fact about the one person, were you to have been a President of the United States, you would not have wanted to be associated with in any way: Robert Lincoln, who was sent off to Exeter when he wasn’t quite ready for Harvard. He was, obviously, Abraham Lincoln’s son; he was Garfield’s Secretary of War; and he was standing feet from McKinley when McKinley was shot.

(Italics supplied by Kopf.)

Don’t you see? In some strange way, and if only for a moment, the love of the classics brought Richard Arnold, Michael’s father, Michael and me (and perhaps even Robert Lincoln) together. Eiseley would not have been surprised.


*Michael didn’t tell me, but his Dad was a very distinguished lawyer.

**Read “The Slit” from his collection of essays entitled the The Immense Journey. That chapter is the introduction to the book, and is prompted by Eiseley peering into the skull of a long-lost rodent in an exposed crevice in the High Plains. You can read “The Slit” for free here (click “look inside” on the upper left and then scroll down). You will be hooked. You can buy the little book for $10.00. It will be the best investment of your life.

Update, 11:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2014:  I forgot another connection. Michael is a 1993 Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Indiana Law school and was elected to Order of the Coif. Richard Arnold’s brother, Morris (Buzz), who served with Richard on the Court of Appeals, was Dean of the Indiana law school when he was appointed a federal district judge.

8 responses

  1. Interestingly, the importance of the Classical Education is something that I grasped only in my later years (I am 65) as I began to probe deeply for myself the origins of Christianity through the studies of more ancient religions from which Christianity emerged. My goal (which I am still pursuing) was to answer the question “What is Christ really trying to tell us”? Even the Church teaches us that the broad universal messages of the Church, while helpful, are the beginning and not the end of answering this question.

    I am ashamed to admit to the extent to which I never realized how much the importance of the higher spiritual messages contained in Greek, Roman, and Norse, Mythologies as well as the messages being conveyed by the great philosophers and “Saints” of all ethnicities and religions is so completely correlated. I am sure the demise of the Classical Education (which would have taught us that at an earlier age and about its importance) is due to the fact that today, students embarking on a choice of educational paths are not taught about this correlation, about its importance in their lives (i.e., they are taught to only care about the fleeting material world and “making a living”), and to their therefore treating it as irrelevant.

    If one is primarily concerned about higher levels of existence as Christ and many others have taught we should be, the importance of acquiring an understanding of what truths have historical been shown to be universal cannot be underestimated. The only way to acquire a view of truth that withstands the doubts and the lack of credibility that inheres in basing one’s beliefs on something gleaned or repeated from any single historical event or person (or a limited set of them) is to see whether what we found in those events or people is, in fact, universal. We must expand our knowledge beyond the times we live in or a single period of time in order to acquire “understanding”. That is what the classical education is for.

    I wish I would have known that.

  2. Judge:
    I consider myself a relatively sophisticated man who reads a lot but I must profess ignorance when it comes to Dr. Eisley and his prodigious output. After your blog post I went to Wikipedia and was amazed at what I read. I then went to Amazon and ordered every one of books that they had available. I expect–thanks to you–to enjoy many hours of awesome intellectual fulfillment. As connections go (you to me to Loren Eisley) it may not be as impressive as “six degrees of Robert Lincoln”, and yet…

  3. sdroar,

    I have no real claim to an education in the classics. I graduated from the Kearney State College, and I was admitted there on academic probation. But, I had two professors that were educated in the classics, and they took me under their wing. They taught me what you wrote: “We must expand our knowledge beyond the times we live in or a single period of time in order to acquire ‘understanding’. That is what the classical education is for.”

    All the best.


  4. Lawn chairs, gophers, and rifles.

    Now, for the benefit of the gallery and the cloth to be weaved.

    Get there Judge.

  5. How many men do you know named Lorin? Listened to him lecture at Penn. Made me think, mostly about how much I didn’t know and hadn’t thought of.

  6. Lorin,

    I missed the connection. Thank you for supplying it.

    There is a lyric quality to your personality (at least the one I perceive given the limitations of this medium). It is similar to the lyric quality of that great man’s writing.

    All the best.


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