Monday, August 29, 2011

The bookshelf

Toby Wilkinson, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: It is weirdly difficult to go to the bookstore and find a narrative history of Egypt from Narmer to Cleopatra, and this book fills the gap. Strictly a political-military account, with literature and religion touched upon only in that context. Wilkinson flogs a bit more than necessary the fact that Egypt was not a liberal democracy, but it's worth being reminded how much suffering underlay those monuments and treasures. Also notable is that he does indeed carry the story past the decline of the New Kingdom up to the Romans, as a succession of regional badasses occupies Egypt.

P.A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic: A short but influential sketch by Brunt, demonstrating that plebeian unrest was more than the backdrop to the politics of the Republic. I would rather have been reading Brunt's Fall of the Roman Republic, but that thing is over $200; Oxford U P seems squarely on the side of the optimates.

... Here's an interesting quote from Brunt's book:
By modern standards the ancient world was always poor and "under-developed." If any progress was to be made, it was inevitable that the majority should hew and carry in order that a very few might have the means and leisure to cultivate the arts and sciences. Even in democratic Athens property was unequally distributed; slave labour supported the wants of poets and philosophers and enabled quite humble citizens to devote some of their energy to war and government. Plato had said that in his day, the fourth century, every city was divided into the city of the rich and the city of the poor, just as Disraeli said that in nineteenth-century England there were "two nations." What distinguished Rome was neither economic inequality nor exploitation but the enormity in the scale of both. Whether or not this be deemed a fit matter for moral condemnation, the facts are of the highest historical importance, for revolution was to spring from the misery and resentment of the masses.
Brunt's obituary in the Telegraph is also worth quoting:
He liked to tell the story of how he had once dozed off in the presence of an undergraduate, and woke to hear himself declaring: "No, that cannot be correct." He quickly asked his student to repeat the last two sentences of his essay, and was relieved to discover a flagrant error
Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom: A good pop biography of a man too sensible for his times. May lead me to actually read my copy of The Praise of Folly.

No comments:

Post a Comment