If you couldn’t tell, I am passionate about early history. Early history means that marvelous moment between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. 16th to 18th centuries. It’s what we academic types usually call “the early-modern.”
The early-modern era had something of a love-loathing relationship with Antiquity. The recovery of classical texts by writers like Aristotle, Plato, and Galen in the thirteenth century helped to usher in the Renaissance. Ancient philosophy, science, and literature became a benchmark of high learning–and the foundations on which European culture would seek to build itself.
In France, the sixteenth-century poet Joachim du Bellay wrote a treatise called the “Defense and Illustration of the French Language.” In it, he argued that for French and France to come into itself as a nation it would be critical for authors to “ingest” classical texts, digest them, and integrate them into the very fabric of French knowledge. In his poems, he often lamented the fall of Rome and compared himself to Ulysses. Writing was a quest of origins and the efforts to integrate those origins into something new, something distinct, something French.
This week’s choice for Book of the Week shifts the focus to one of the ancient “superstars” for early-modern writers: Herodotus. Writing in the 5th century BCE, Herodotus provided critical historical information about the ancient past. Much of what he had to say is apocryphal. He made up a few tall tales–but it’s the tall tales that I adore! I’m an early-modern marvels junkie, after all.
Justin Marozzi’s The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History retraces the travel of this ancient great. And the result makes for a brilliant interweaving of a long-lost past and an equally intriguing present.
Step right up: it’s not all dusty history. There be dog-headed men, gold-digging ants, and flying snakes in these parts. I think you’ll really enjoy this one.
To enter this week’s drawing, just click here.