Christophe Cochet (attrib.), Didon, Musée du Louvre (17th c.)
The Latin I loved; not what my first masters, but what the so-called grammarians taught me. For those first lessons, reading, writing and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek. And yet whence was this too, but from the sin and vanity of this life, because I was flesh, and a breath that passes away and comes not again? For those first lessons were better certainly, because more certain; by them I obtained, and still retain, the power of reading what I find written, and myself writing what I will; whereas in the others, I was forced to learn the wanderings of one Aeneas, forgetful of my own, and to weep for dead Dido, because she killed herself for love; the while, with dry eyes, I endured my miserable self dying among these things, far from Thee, O God my life.Today is the feast day of Saint Augustine, which is very appropriate for the opening of school. The above is the saint's account of how he loved literature as a youth, especially the story of Dido and Aeneas in the great epic of Vergil.
For what more miserable than a miserable being who commiserates not himself; weeping the death of Dido for love of Aeneas, but weeping not his own death for want of love of Thee, O God. Thou light of my heart, Thou bread of my inmost soul, Thou Power who gives vigor to my mind, who quickens my thoughts, I loved Thee not. I committed fornication against Thee, and all around me thus fornicating there echoed “Well done! well done!” for the friendship of this world is fornication against Thee; and “Well done! well done!” echoes on till one is ashamed not to he thus a man. And for all this I wept not, I who wept for Dido slain, and “seeking by the sword a stroke and wound extreme,” myself seeking the while a worse extreme, the extremest and lowest of Thy creatures, having forsaken Thee, earth passing into the earth. And if forbidden to read all this, I was grieved that I might not read what grieved me. Madness like this is thought a higher and a richer learning, than that by which I learned to read and write.
[...] Let not either buyers or sellers of grammar-learning cry out against me. For if I question them whether it be true that Aeneas came on a time to Carthage, as the poet tells, the less learned will reply that they know not, the more learned that he never did. But should I ask with what letters the name “Aeneas” is written, every one who has learnt this will answer me aright, as to the signs which men have conventionally settled. If, again, I should ask which might be forgotten with least detriment to the concerns of life, reading and writing or these poetic fictions? who does not foresee what all must answer who have not wholly forgotten themselves? I sinned, then, when as a boy I preferred those empty to those more profitable studies, or rather loved the one and hated the other. “One and one, two”; “two and two, four”; this was to me a hateful singsong: “the wooden horse lined with armed men,” and “the burning of Troy,” and “Creusa's shade and sad similitude,” were the choice spectacle of my vanity.
-- Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 1 (A.D. 397-398), trans. Albert C. Outler