6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I recently told a friend that I don't study history so as to avoid repeating it. That is an exercise in futility. I study history so that when it repeats, I can ride along in style.
We live in a time when things are changing, perhaps more than they ever have in the history of man. The times are volatile, and there is no common footing, mutual understanding, the narratives have been destroyed, our leaders no longer even know their history much less understand it. The problems of the third fourth and fifth centuries, the problems of late antiquity have returned.
For that reason Peter Brown's insights into that fateful era are of infinite worth for understanding what is happening today, and perhaps understanding what needs to be done to help things along, to ride it out, to capture influence. The book gives phenomenal insights into the economy of power, what gained a man power, how power was to be wielded, what went in to being a citizen, and what was at stake. Perhaps I betray my own Christian background when I say these things have not changed, perhaps they have morphed a little since then, but people are people. We still need the same things, we want the same things, and our deepest needs and wants are sometimes things we are unaware of. This book allows a person to reflect on the differences and parallels to our own times and society.
As always Peter Brown writes in a fascinating and engaging manner with interesting insight gleaned from what could pass as boring material if you were someone else. In short he understands the paideia of which he writes. In doing so he elucidates late antiquity with daylight of understanding, rectifying false interpretations of history, perhaps correcting myths of understanding. I could not put this book down. Peter Brown shows why a degree in political science is really a degree in history.
For pastors, this book is of incredible value. This is a period of time in which giants of the church and theology took great strides in shaping and forming who we are as Western Christians. It was a time when the church began, perhaps not as innocently as we would like to believe, to wield power. But that power came with a price. As bishops and other church men took over positions of power in the politics of empire, and the Bible came to replace Homer, interpretations of the Bible were given new meaning. When the position of "philosopher", who was to be a buffer and arbitrator, was taken over by priests, monks, and holy men then the ascetic lifestyle of the philosopher came to be their lifestyle. To this day this is reflected in the piety a pastor or priest is supposed to have, a piety not so much derived from scripture, as it is from the philosopher's paideia, the his learning, instruction and manner of life which gave him power in the face of governors and emperors. The idea of being baptized later in life, after you had sown your oats, and were willing to truly take on "true Christianity" as the higher paideia of the philosopher, came about at this time, and is reflected in the life of Gregory Nazianzen. This became a time when becoming a bishop was good reason to divorce your wife, and then to converse with her for the purpose of taking care of family business was reason enough to be deposed. (Pg. 138, ftn 93.) One can see from this how the idea of digamy, and not, bigamy, polygamy or womanizing, comes to form the interpretation of 1 Timothy 3 as justification for this new form of asceticism among the clergy, in a letter meant to speak out against such asceticism!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Truth telling is ordinarily irrelevant or annoying to power. Most media is mere echo chamber for the talking points of whatever power happens to be in. Similarly, for most Greeks and Romans of means, Demosthenes and Cicero were more fairytale figures in stories these peoples wanted to believe about themselves. We are familiar with many a golden age gone dross.
The Emperor was the Decider. You may be permitted to trundle in from your province and speak your piece. But killing the messenger was rather commonplace, especially if there was anything except the respectful silence and sotto voce groveling once the Emperor had risen from his seat. Professor Brown mentions a delegation from Sardis (the one before the popular Broadway bar), feeling afterwards for their heads, making sure they were still attached.
Still, in a far reaching empire of 104 districts, the local elites held both the benefit of belonging and the benefit of distance. Emperors spent not much time on their roads apart from summer vacation to the villa. Mostly, they dispatched limited term governors who were best served by keeping peace with their local elites, especially with the Legions away on the frontiers. Pilate washing his hands comes to mind.
That most Greek of cultural cornerstones, liberal education, featuring rhetoric, formed their virtual highway upon the Roman road. As once was true in sport as in war, personal excellence in education and rhetorical skill are what really persisted into and flourished with the Roman Age.
"Timing is everything." The stand-up will tell you. So a polished speech must delivered with perfect poise, deportment, carriage and bearing. Those are much to put over all as one appearance. Think of the perfect balance and stance of the Greek statue, extend it to voice and movement, to launch the perfect words. Here is the staged harmony of content, appearance and sound. Then think of Ross Perot. "Can I finish?" No, not with a spear in your neck.
You needed every and any psychological edge. Anger carried stigma; worse, it invited corporal punishment, always a prerogative of the state.
The Philosopher became the special emissary of truth. Highly educated and well spoken, the Philosopher was freed from normal society and free to intervene. Fearless, the Philosopher was sometimes burnished by torture - the ticket to the show. Death was rare; after all, 90% of gladiators retired comfortably. Death did come to Hypatia, the great Greek Mathematician Philosopher in Egypt, at the hands of Christian terrorists. You might like the film Agora which is nicely faithful and unusually accurate to the history. Rachel Weisz dies more gently but gives a commanding performance as Hypatia.
Professor Brown is no soppy romantic idealist. He states clearly that the term "philosopher" has become shop-soiled from abuse. He is one of the best Classical scholars of any age. He has done landmark work in late antiquity and in the rise of Christianity. He recently completely rewrote his masterpiece on this subject because of feverish scholarship and discovery in this field since he first published - no mere revised edition.
The Philosopher still, in the post Demosthenes and Cicero Age, could become the privileged advisor. Themistius, we are told, who was made proconsul of Constantinople under Constantius II, refused the grand salary. Thereby he remained advisor to the many subsequent Emperors for thirty years.
Enter the Christians. In particular here come the monks. Suddenly they were everywhere. And they were not much popular with the local notables, whose world was being turned upside down. The educated elite of the old classical world were being overwhelmed by the popular crowd. "Any old woman", Augustine quipped, could be baptized into the inner circle. This was still tat time when the bible, so to speak, was accessible by all. Holy Cow, for want of a better image, the last really can be first. Big time, to quote Jerome. The Church Fathers could have been strictly Via Madison types, Ambrose and these just mentioned - - all Madmen.
As the fourth century wore on, the shift to Christianity was appreciated by the local notables, who jumped on the cart. The bishop became a vital connection to the Imperial government. Here is Professor Brown:
In the name of a religion that claimed to challenge the values of the elite, upper-class Christians gained control of the lower classes of the cities.
De facto temporal power thus accrued to the bishops. Flavian of Antioch dashed off to see the Emperor Theodosius, attempting to head-off a wagon wreck. Fabian, sorry, Flavian had a media moment. He engaged the boys' choir to sing the petitions. They brought down the house; and Theo bawled like Peter Ustinov into his cup. As Professor Brown understates: It was a good sign.
In case you are curious, the Flavian flap was over the Riot of the Statues in 387. The statues of Theodosius and his Empress were toppled and dragged into talcum powder. It was a more convincing predecessor of the Sadam statue, where the camera, in the unofficial footage, panned back to a square empty of people. Cheers were dubbed later.
Professor Peter Brown wrote his lectures of 1988 at University of Wisconsin at Madison, honoring Merle Curti, into this 1992 book of just 158 pages of important scholarship.