Brett Williams's Reviews > A Student's Guide to Classics

A Student's Guide to Classics by Bruce S. Thornton
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it was amazing

What an enjoyable, enlightening and inspiring little book. Laced throughout Thornton’s survey of classical (Greco-Roman) categories (drama, poetry, history—sadly lacking science and mathematics) are morsels resurrecting the epic expanse of this human pageant responsible for Western civilization. To think the ancient Greeks (to a lesser degree the Romans) attained such heights between 700 BCE to 100 CE, one can’t help but puzzle over the pale nature of our own times. While we don’t live in a Dark Age (yet) sampling such astonishing achievements of that intellectual / artistic era makes our present look stable, comfortable and dreadfully dim. While ignored by current fashions, Thornton seeks to introduce those lost in our present to this brilliant heritage.

Some of the most stirring moments come from Thornton’s footnotes on the life and times of great creators. “Catullus was part of a social and artistic movement that rejected ideas of Roman culture for the values of Hellenistic Greek civilization, which focused on the individual and his sensibility, his experiences rather than his duty to the State.” One can hear echoes in our own age when calls for patriotism challenge civil rights as well as our problems with excess individualism. The severe austerity of lugubrious ancient Israel clashing with inquisitive, luxurious, decadent Greco-Rome—resonant still in the West’s spilt personally—takes place in these same pages. Lessons for popular culture are frequent: “Thucydides’ concern for accuracy, his insights into human nature and political psychology, his realist acceptance of the tragic nature of human affairs, his refusal to admit supernatural causes… all set the standard for historical writing as a sincere, painstaking effort to get at the truth of things.” Thornton’s concise definitions illuminate the subject in ways not often articulated by we tourists on classic shores: “The essential elements of all satire is an attack on hypocrisy and pretension delivered with brutal wit, driven by the imperative to tell the truth while laughing.” And we see a recurring warning when replacing people with things: “The myth of the Five Ages which starts with a paradisiacal Golden Age then degenerates into the wicked present, the Iron Age of suffering, hard work and moral decay.” Only postmodern professors detached from reality could encounter these constants of the human condition and make-believe there are no universal human truths.

Thornton shows us why the Greco-Roman world is birthplace and lifeblood of our West and why it’s right to embrace it, and ignorantly scandalous to suppress or replace them with revisions or inventions of the politically motivated.

One note on ISI books, which this is: the ISI opposes vacuous fads in academia which their books seek to ameliorate, but they not infrequently add their own religious views where they appear to be replacing one contradiction with another (some volumes promote fallacies of Creationism over science). No such contradictory bylines or innuendo exists in Thornton’s text, nor would it be easy to mask in an appraisal of Greco-Rome. A quick and splendid little book.
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Reading Progress

May 19, 2006 – Started Reading
June 25, 2006 – Finished Reading
March 19, 2020 – Shelved

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