Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mirrored From Antiquity

In a curious click of serendipity, two excellent new paperback releases, Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve and Christopher Krebs' A Most Dangerous Book , each detail modern applications of famous ancient Roman texts. They both deal in their own ways with the understanding of large ideas and the consequences thereof.
The Swerve concerns Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, an extraordinarily humanist view arrived at centuries before the Enlightenment, and the gripping story of its barely surviving down to modern times. As a direct refutation of the very basis of its power, it was in the interests of the Roman Church to see it obliterated, and they very nearly succeeded.
A Most Dangerous Book is Tacitus' Germania - a generalized depiction of the Empire's enemy beyond the Rhine. Tacitus had probably never been to the region himself,and what he saw as a monolithic culture was actually a fragmented polyglot of different tribes. However, taken a certain way, the image he depicted struck a romantic chord with latter-day German nationalists, particularly the Nazis. Himmler's twisted reading of it found a philosophical basis for the depredations of "The Master Race" and, in the midst of wartime, sent agents to steal its earliest extant manuscript.
Both books read as intellectual thrillers, and taken together they form an instructive mirror image of impulse and history,


1 comment:

Alane Mason, editor of The Swerve said...

And both from W. W. Norton & Company! Thanks much, Josh.

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