A “classical education” sounds very narrow – basically the
study of a couple of dozen Greek and Roman authors from the period between 600
BC and 200 AD.
Yet the Americans and Britons who studied the classics in
the 18th and 19th Centuries were the same men who
presided over the greatest expansion of the power and wealth of their
respective nations. There are still many
who argue that the classics have something timeless to teach the modern world.
Technology may change, but people, and the challenges they face in life, remain
the same. Classical authors are brilliant at describing those challenges in a
time when they were simpler and clearer, and they provide “role models” in the
great men who overcame them.
In practice, this gives a much wider view of the world than
a specialist degree in economics, accounting, or business administration.
Since many of the heroes – and authors – of the great
classical works were statesmen, it is easy to apply
those works to contemporary politics. They also say a lot about leadership in
general. Of course, little is said about business as such – entrepreneurs are
rarely the subjects of epic poems or histories – but the point of the classics
is not to fill us with facts so much as to build our characters...
entrepreneur has to get used to the idea of being on his own. He makes
money when others do not because he does things which others do not. This
contrast between the brave wisdom of the lone hero and the fickle stupidity of
the crowd is a constant theme in the classics.
entrepreneur acts. Classical heroes do not wait around for something to
happen or for someone else to do things for them. They decide on what needs to
be done – and they do it.
3. The entrepreneur thinks. The classics
can be irritating at first: before you get to the good bit – the action – there
is always a lot of speechifying first. Yet you soon realise that the speeches
contain the analysis of the situation on which the action is based. The action,
when it finally comes, is decisive precisely because all aspects of the problem
have been considered with a ruthless logic that is all too rare these
cannot control events. For all their careful thought and decisive action,
the classical heroes understood that they were at the mercy of what could never
be foreseen or prevented. Homer portrayed the greatest of mortal heroes, Achilles,
Hector, and Odysseus, as no more than the playthings of childish Olympian
“gods” – just as even the brightest and most energetic entrepreneurs remain
slaves to the vagaries of the market.
5. Take nothing for granted. The Greeks had
a word for being too self-satisfied – “hubris”. It was always an invitation to
disaster – something modern Greece has forgotten.
6. Courage in the face of adversity. In both
literature and history, the classical hero was always at his best when the odds
were against him and everyone else was in despair. That is the moment when the
true hero is revealed – and the true entrepreneur.
Iliad and The Odyssey
History of the Peloponnesian War
Trial of Socrates
Commentaries on the Gallic War
Plutarch: The Parallel Lives: Greek;