Saturday, August 22, 2009

Searching for the Richest Source

A scholar once asked, "Why do the schoolchildren of so many nations study English literature?"

And his answer was because it is the best, the richest source of fine writing.

He didn't mean that other countries don't have excellent authors, poets, and playwrights. [In my opinion, War and Peace is the greatest novel ever written.] But when you're up against Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Trollope, Orwell, Austen, and company, you're dealing with the varsity team.

Where am I going with this? While sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office recently, I was reading a book on Roman history and wondering what practical lessons could be extracted from the power games of Julius Caesar when the thought came: Which period of history is the richest source of lessons for modern life?

In the introduction of his work on the two dictators, Lord Bullock wrote, "Looking back, I cannot think of a better preparation for writing about Hitler and Stalin than a close study of Thucydides, Tacitus, and those sections of Aristotle's Politics that deal with the Greek experience of tyranny."

Is there a particular period of history from which we can glean extraordinary insight into how the world works? My initial reaction is similar to Bullock's. Roman and Greek history have timeless lessons - read today's papers and consider the strategies of Augustus Caesar - but I've met people who are convinced that the French Revolution is the richest source.

This is sort of a parlor game, akin to the "Which books would you take if you were to be stranded on a deserted island? challenge. But it can be both thought-provoking and fun.


pawnking said...

The western world is built upon three pillars: The systematic rationalism of the Greeks, the moral values of the Hebrews, and the pragmatic state-orientated approach of the Romans. Study of these three cultures will always be the most fruitful when understanding modern society.

Rob said...

The constant revelation that history keeps repeating itself, for in the past we find the way to the future.

Chinese history is very interesting but a little more inaccessible.