Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes…

Most of the historical categories we consider – indeed most of the categories we consider – are constructs of the classification mad nineteenth century. Take, for instance, the Renaissance – nineteenth century rationalist were required to posit that the Enlightenment [another construct] existed and if it was to be a great period of learning the knowledge had to come from somewhere so voila we have the Renascence [as it was first called before French affectations became de rigueur], the rebirth of learning that precedes the Enlightenment. Never mind that all of the learning discovered by the Enlightenment had been known and preserved by the monastic traditions of the Age of Faith that had now become the Dark Ages – who tells the story is often more important than the facts.

Most of our introduction to the classical world came from collections like the Harvard Classics that tried to present enough of Plato, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reinforced by Cicero and Pliny that confirmed that the Classical World had been composed of a serious gentlemen who were remarkably Victorian in their outlook – no small feat when presenting the ideas of Montaigne and Schiller – but this was a world in which my classics professor used to take us through Ovid by saying, “well there is no need to translate THAT passage.”

The reality of course is that the classical world was pagan and other than a few random tribes wandering through the desert did not even have the teachings of the prophets to guide them. The true enlightenment would come with the introduction of Christianity which is first and foremost a system that grants man dignity by making him part of God’s creation and frees him from the whim and caprice of paganism. What Mount is actually describing is the decline of Christianity and the resurgence of paganism in the modern world. It will not end with reasoned discourse by wise men strolling through a Pantheon. It is ending with planes screaming from the skies in flames and the children who were not flushed down a medical drain while still in their fetal stage wearing suicide vests into crowded markets. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Full circle : how the classical world came back to us Ferdinand Mount London; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010 Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. 438 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

So much about the society that is now emerging in the twenty-first century bears an astonishing resemblance to the most prominent features of what we call the classical world – its institutions, its priorities, its entertainment, its physics, its sexual morality, its food, its politics, even its religion.

The ways in which we live our lives correspond – almost eerily so – to the ways in which the Greeks and Romans lived theirs. Whether we are eating and drinking, bathing or exercising or making love, pondering, admiring or enquiring, our habits of thought and action, our diversions and concentrations recreate theirs. It is as though the 1500 years after the fall of Rome had been time out from traditional ways of being human.

This eye-opening book makes us look afresh at who we are and how we got here. Full Circle is profound and often disquieting. Ferdinand Mount peels back 2000 years of history to show how much we are like the ancients, how in ways both trivial and crucial we are them and they are us.


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