Sure, they look attentive. But they're actually looking at the reflection in the window of a guy doing devil sticks.
The Shorter version of today's reading, by Cardinal Newman (though written before his title, I believe, back when he was just plain Larry Oliver*) is that ancient Athens was awesome. This can't be good news for those who are trying to beat back the Newman is gay rumor:
But a freshman like Eunapius soon got experience for himself of the ways and manners prevalent in Athens. Such a one as he had hardly entered the city, when he was caught hold of by a party of the academic youth, who proceeded to practise on his awkwardness and his ignorance.Of course, what can you expect, right? When in Greece, etc. And speaking of Greece, one of the downsides of the otherwise perfect Athenian campus is that it was located, literally, in a shithole:
However, as to this Eunapius, Proæresius took a fancy to the boy, and told him curious stories about Athenian life. He himself had come up to the University with one Hephæstion, and they were even worse off than Cleanthes the Stoic; for they had only one cloak between them, and nothing whatever besides, except some old bedding; so when Proæresius went abroad, Hephæstion lay in bed, and practised himself in oratory; and then Hephæstion put on the cloak, and Proæresius crept under the coverlet.
Learned writers assure us distinctly that the houses of Athens were for the most part small and mean; that the streets were crooked and narrow; that the upper stories projected over the roadway; and that staircases, balustrades, and doors that opened outwards, obstructed it;—a remarkable coincidence of description. I do not doubt at all, though history is silent, that that roadway was jolting to carriages, and all but impassable; and that it was traversed by drains, as freely as any Turkish town now.But it doesn't matter, not to Newman, because you didn't come here for the wireless in the dorm or the meal plan, dammit:
It is but a crib or kennel,—in which he sleeps when the weather is inclement or the ground damp; in no respect a home. And he goes out of doors, not to read the day’s newspaper, or to buy the gay shilling volume, but to imbibe the invisible atmosphere of genius, and to learn by heart the oral traditions of taste...No awful arch, no window of many-coloured lights marks the seats of learning there or elsewhere; philosophy lives out of doors. No close atmosphere oppresses the brain or inflames the eyelid; no long session stiffens the limbs. Epicurus is reclining in his garden; Zeno looks like a divinity in his porch; the restless Aristotle, on the other side of the city, as if in antagonism to Plato, is walking his pupils off their legs in his Lyceum by the Ilyssus.Yes -- they have class outside; the most distracting form of class, in my opinion (though classrooms in the age of texting must also rank up there). Isn't it wonderful? Short answer: no. In my opinion.
Leaving Academe aside, this passage does bring up one of the key differences between L.A. and other cities, which is that your place is less likely to be a hovel than it is in other, more crowded cities -- the apartment we owned in Brooklyn would seem minuscule to us after all this time here. But the advantage of the laughably tiny urban apartment is that it makes you go out, makes you be a public person. Here you can just get drunk in your backyard and it's perfectly pleasant. And when you get drunk in someone else's backyard, you have to get yourself driven home. It's not authentically Athenian. Newman wouldn't approve.
*Joke stolen by me, but I can't remember from whom. Also, h/t to my dad for the America link.