Michael Grant - The birth of Western civilization
Greece and Rome

The tradition that holds us in thrall

Michael Grant
Without Greece and Rome, for better or for worse-and almost certainly, despite all our faults, for worse-we should not be what we are. Their significances crowd in upon us with an insistence that is far too many-sided and complex to be satisfied by simple metaphorical phrases indicating the debt, legacy or heritage that we owe to these sources.
For one thing the influences which, whether we like it or not, hold us in thrall have reached us in many different times and ways, and at every level of consciousness and profundity. In some matters-the classical contribution in the political field, or certain central aspects of the messages of Virgil or Cicero-impingement on the world has been continuous, so that a direct chain of inheritance can be traced all the way through the intervening centuries until the present moment. And yet, even in such basic themes, there have also at many periods been revivals that are due in a larger degree to intentional resuscitation than to the bonds of continuity. When Cola di Rienzi, in the 14th century, tried to restore the antique Roman Republic, this was not only because he was heir to a continuous tradition (though he had the stones of Rome to remind him of this) but because he had 'rediscovered' Livy. Others-Petrarch is perhaps the most famous of themhave often made similar rediscoveries of ancient authors : which really means that they cast the contemporary spotlight upon some part of the almost inexhaustible store, and reinterpreted it in the light of topical preoccupations.

Western Civilization series