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