25th Anniversary of OBTA
Twenty-five years. A quarter-century. A moment in the flow of millennia. An eternity in the eyes of a child. During the last 25 years the world has undergone transformations on an unprecedented scale, but its Logos is still beyond our comprehension. The fundamental questions about human nature remain unanswered. Despite the huge technological leap, one of the most reliable ways of attempting to unveil the order of things still leads through the mirror of Classical Antiquity. Treated as a cultural experience, the ancient tradition has been a marker of changes across the globe, while our dialogue with the masterpieces of the past – whether in literature, music, or the visual arts – helps us to better understand the present as well as to shape the future with new hope.
The discovery of this potential for Eastern and Central Europe in the difficult period of striving for and rebuilding freedom after 1989 led Professor Jerzy Axer to the establishment of the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition in Poland and East-Central Europe (OBTA), approved unanimously by the Senate of the University of Warsaw in 1991, which then entrusted to Prof. Axer the function of OBTA’s Director. From the very outset this pioneering initiative reached beyond the borders of one country in the belief that the reception of Classical Antiquity is a phenomenon that should not be reduced to any political maps. On the contrary, it is a common experience, and one to be studied in broad international cooperation. For when looking in the reception mirror and comparing the various images emerging therein we can better understand each other, and this is crucial for the development of civil societies worldwide. Thus, OBTA’s important mission (if we may use this now somewhat grandiose word) has always been to contribute not only to the research on the reception, but also to the popularization of the ancient tradition and to the transformation of the University in the spirit of liberal education.
Prof. Jerzy Axer’s vision attracted scholarly and non-academic soulmates sharing his belief that it was possible to provide young people with an elitist education. We say “elitist” not in the sense of the material status of any of the groups involved, but as a complex process of demanding collaboration between professors and students who – in keeping with the idea of tutorship and mentoring – develop together and learn from each other. That is how many cutting-edge endeavours came into being in OBTA’s environment, ones such as: the College of Inter-Area Individual Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (MISH), Modern Greek Philology, BA and MA Cultural Studies – Mediterranean Civilization, the East-Central European School in the Humanities with its programmes aimed mainly at young faculty members from the countries once under Soviet domination, inter-university studies »Artes Liberales« Academy under the agreement concluded between leading Polish universities, etc.
Over the years, OBTA also became a hub for research of an ever wider scope, Poland joined the European Union, and certain key institutional reforms within education took place. All this resulted in a natural metamorphosis of the Centre into the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies Artes Liberales, in 2008. OBTA as the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition – with a slightly abbreviated name which better reflected its new-old functions – became a part of the Institute. OBTA’s first Director in this embodiment was Prof. Jan Kieniewicz. Meanwhile the Institute developed further and on the 1st of October 2012 it was transformed to the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” with Prof. Axer as the Dean.
Today OBTA is a permanent unit of the Faculty. The transdisciplinary projects being carried out at the Centre involve both national and international collaboration. We study the reception of Classical Antiquity across continents with our colleagues from North America, throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand. We combine the cultivation of the memory of the Masters of Classical Studies with scholarly endeavours, ventures of an educational character, and popularization exceeding the frontiers of the University. Today’s OBTA wishes to continue the traditions of the Centre established in 1991, in line with Prof. Axer’s faith that it is people who create an institution and never the other way round. We are also drawing on the potential of globalization, which gives the ancient tradition an unexpected opportunity to reach new circles of the recipients of culture on a scale that neither Alexander the Great or Caesar could dream of.
According to some scholars, 25 years was the legal age of maturity for a citizen in the Late Roman Empire. We accept the burden of adulthood, however, we are not going to resign from the joy of our mythical childhood. Not only because the reception of Classical Antiquity in children’s and young adults’ culture serves as a particularly sensitive marker of transformations and identity building – but also because child-like joy is one of the most beautiful emotions that may be awoken at the University, understood as a place where people striving for knowledge discover the world and learn from each other. So, our adventure continues and there are still many worlds awaiting discovery. The fact that OBTA’s ﬁrst and still current address is ul. Nowy Świat [New World St.] may be more than merely a coincidence.
On the 25th anniversary of OBTA, Professor Jerzy Axer’s idea that the reception of the ancient tradition is a living matter and that it is worth returning to Classical Antiquity in search of a space for mediation and mutual understanding is as valid today as it was at the moment of OBTA’s birth. We hope for many happy returns!
Director of OBTA
For more information about OBTA see the volume Antiquity and We (2013), at www.al.uw.edu.pl/antiquity_and_we.