Simmons first sketches the development of educational practice in the schools of the classical and Renaissance eras. He then presents a lively narrative of the fortunes of classical learning in the modern age, including accounts of the classical tongues' influence on some of the West's most prominent writers and statesmen, including, among many others, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Arnold, Theodore Roosevelt, Evelyn Waugh, and C. S. Lewis. Simmons demonstrates the personally cultivating and intellectually liberating qualities that study of the Greek and Latin authors in their own languages has historically provided. Further, by tracing the historical trajectory of Greek and Latin education, Simmons is able to show that the classical languages have played a crucial role in the development of authentic Humanism, the foundation of the West's cultural order and America's understanding of itself as a union of citizens.
In Climbing Parnassus Simmons presents the reader not so much with a program for educational renewal as with a defense and vindication of the formative power of Greek and Latin. His persuasive witness to the unique, now all-but-forgotten advantages of study in, and of, the classical languages constitutes a bracing reminder of the genuine aims of a truly liberal education.