Sumeria, Babylonia, Ancient Egypt, Assyria, the Code of Hammurabi, the Rosetta Stone, Nebuchadnezzar. These all hold immense interest for me and so I have been re-reading once again Our Oriental Heritage, this first book in Will Durant's The Story of Civilization. The first half is about the Near East and the second about East Asia and I confess that although I have read the part about India, Thailand, China, and Japan in the past I do not re-read it.
This round of re-reading started with Shakespeare. I decided after some floundering to read the English history plays in order and then go on to the comedies and Julius Caesar and the rest. So I picked up King Lear and read that and I'm ready for Cymbeline next. But then I though, well, my British history could use a little brushing up, so I got out John Richard Green's A Short History of the English People.
Green's book begins with the arrival of Hengist and Horsa, the surely mythical leaders of the Anglo-Saxons who killed off or drove out the Celtic inhabitants of England. Could they be called Vikings? That was the era of yearly summer raids on the British Isles. So I got my hands on the Viking novel, The Long Ships. And the book was a delight. But it takes place in the year 1000. Clearly I needed to go back to Roman Britain and pick up the story there.
Well, a quick start on Roman history sent me to Greek history and then it was clear I was again going to have to start with the neolithic Near East as I've done a couple of times before. The paleolithic era? One has to draw the line somewhere.
So I have read 385 pages of Our Oriental Heritage (again.) It ends when Alexander marches into Persia. Today I begin reading about neolithic Crete and the Minoans. I wonder if I'll ever get back to Shakespeare, which is just yesterday in comparison to these histories that begin 10,000 years ago.
Obviously, I consider Durant's 11-volume history first-rate or I wouldn't be re-re-reading it. For a book published in 1935 it holds up amazingly well. Durant is an interesting guy. He was born in 1885 the son of parents who emigrated to Massachusetts in the Quebec diaspora. After graduating from St Peter's college in New Jersey he taught Latin, French, English, and geometry at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He was also college librarian. Obviously a multitalented man. His wife, Chaya Kaufman, whom he called Ariel, helped him with all his books and was co-author of the later ones.
2012 No 98