as likely to do harm as to do good by their faith in the value of parsing Caesar

Tea Addict

Senior Member
Republic of Korea Korean
Hello everyone. I would like to know what "as likely to do harm as to do good by their faith in the value of parsing Caesar" means in the following sentences:

Of these there were two sorts: careless young women who admitted that they intended to leave the “beastly classroom and grubby children” the minute they had a chance to marry; and studious, sometimes bulbous-browed and pop-eyed maidens who at class prayer-meetings requested God to “guide their feet along the paths of greatest usefulness.” Neither sort tempted Carol. The former seemed insincere (a favorite word of hers at this era). The earnest virgins were, she fancied, as likely to do harm as to do good by their faith in the value of parsing Caesar.

- Sinclair Lewis, Main Street, Chapter 1

Already at the senior year of the college, Carol and her female classmates talked about what they would become when they graduate. Some girls were already engaged to be married; others would have to work. Most of those who were not engaged meant to be teachers. Of those girls there were two sorts: careless girls and earnest girls. But neither sort seemed good to Carol.

In this part, I could not understand what the phrase meant. Were they likely to do harm because of their faith while parsing Caesar...?

I would very much appreciate your help. :)
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Parsing Caesar" is one thing they might do as teachers. I expect she means translating Caesar's Gallic Wars from Latin, but it could be understanding the text of Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (I don't think it really matters which). I would make a guess that Carol uses "parsing Caesar" as an example of education that is useless in ordinary life, but I cannot be sure. The studious girls believed that this type of teaching was good ("had value"). Carol thought that this belief (in the value of teaching useless subjects, I guess) would be as likely to do harm as good (to the children being taught, I suppose).
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Uncle Jack,

    Thank you so much for the clear explanation!
    So in Carol's opinion, the studious girls could afflict as much harm as good (probably on their students) by believing that parcing the work of Caesar, or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (or simply interpreting difficult literary works which would be useless in ordinary life), constituted a very worthwhile education.
    Your explanation made everything clear to me.
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I don't think it's usual or common to refer to Shakespeare's play as Caesar. I'm sure the reference is to Caesar's own Latin. The Gallic Wars was the first Latin text we tackled at school, as far as I recall.
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    I'm sure the reference is to Caesar's own Latin. The Gallic Wars was the first Latin text we tackled at school, as far as I recall.
    Dear velisarius,

    Thank you very much for the additional explanation.
    Then "Caesar" in the quote would refer to Caesar's own work.
    I truly appreciate your help. :)
     
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