Recently in a college class I was attending a student asked "Why do we have to read this old stuff?" The student continued "There is so much better stuff on TV, why do we have to spend so much time reading old, boring stories, the supposed classics?"
A literal bomb went off in the classroom and students and instructors were stunned. This classic literature course was part of the curriculum. The simplicity and naiveté of the question demanded an answer. It was as if a 4-year-old asked his grandparents "why is the sky blue?" A complicated, yet simple question that the adult must answer. This was a question not only for the year 2007, but a quandary for the ages.
How do you attempt to prove the relevancy of the classics? The first response from the professor was "These writings have survived the test of time!" This answer would definitely not satisfy the questioner. He is not aware and doesn't appear to be interested in the history of the bygone eras that produced these writings. Historical curiosity was absent.
The second response was "Human feelings and human needs are basic and do not change." What happened in the day of the Bible can instruct us today in the third millennium. Shall we disregard the Iliad and the Odyssey because they speak about ancient wars? We can learn from past mistakes and past motives for declaring war.
The suffering and hardships on the lives of our forefathers will aid us in facing the difficulties of today. When we read Huckleberry Finn we can see clearly the evils of slavery. We can confront the sins of the past with a greater and surer knowledge.
In today's world, are we compelled to justify the valued literature that has been passed down to us? Shall we discard Shakespeare into the rubble heap of time. His insights concerning love, greed, power, politics and his 16th century humor are universally admired. His plays and sonnets are studied today for their content and insight.
Personally, as a septuagenarian, I now appreciate and find a 21st century relevance in classical literature.