Antiquity: The Civilization of the Ancient World
© 2003 Norman F. Cantor
256 pages

Perhaps western history is all Greek to you. In that case, Norman Cantor’s Antiquity may shed a little light on the subject. It is a brief work, scarcely over 200 pages,  and in it Cantor reviews the primary roots of Western civilization (Greece, Rome, and Judaism), as well as more material considerations like the role of cities.  Civilizations of the middle east also appear through the Jewish connection.  This book has a curious organization, and one of its chapters eschews narrative altogether: instead, Cantor presents the debates within early Christian thought as a lively conversation involving St. Augustine and a few others.   Although the book is intentionally pitched as a survey for the historically illiterate, Cantor doesn’t shy away from probing a little more deeply when he can —  exploring the meaning behind classic architecture, for instance, the common emphasis on rationality and restraint that linked Greek aesthetics and philosophy. (Of course, they can’t help but be linked, considering that aesthetics was considered one of the branches of philosophy, along with ethics and metaphysics.)   Cantor holds the Roman empire in especially high regard, declaring that it was the most harmonious and stable multiethnic society in history. 

Although I enjoyed this quick romp through the ancient and classical world well enough ,  it has its quirks — the unusual approach to reviewing Christian thought, for instance, and the fact that Cantor believes that imperialism and  plutocracy  were passed down not by human nature, but by the classic heritage.   I’m preee-eety sure they had war and imperialism in China, Africa, and…oh, everywhere else.  Those who have a serious interest in repairing historical blind spots can probably find better works.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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4 Responses to Antiquity

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I've really enjoyed a lot of Cantor's books, even with the flaws that you mentioned – some of them are pretty glaring! This one is still on my TBR, but I will get to it eventually.

  3. Stephen says:

    Ah, good ol “eventually”! We'll all be reading wonderful books then. 😉

  4. Brian Joseph says:

    I read Canor’s In the Wake of the Plague about the Bubonic Plague. I liked that book. This seems a little on the short side for such an important subject. I agree with about imperialism and other negative human traits. They certainly were not confined to the West.

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