Sunday, May 08, 2005

How the Irish Saved Civilization

This is the first in Thomas Cahill's "Hinges of History" series. This is the first of four that have been published. There will be seven when he's done. I read GIFTS OF THE JEWS (second in the series) a while ago. You should read it too. HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION was more entertaining, but then outside of a few rakes like David and the young Solomon, the Old Testament Jews were a pretty dour lot. Not that they didn't help create the world as we know it, but one would probably rather have a few drinks with the early Irish, both pre and post-Christian, although later in life, Noah certainly demonstated serious skill in over-imbibing.

It's amazing what one person with a compelling idea and the charisma to inspire others can do to change the world. By convincing the warlike Irish to become literate, St. Patrick remade their society and guaranteed the survival of at least some of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Irish texts in addition to creating the foundation of a new Irish literature.

As Mr. Cahill states late in the book,
The Greek bible, the Greek commentaries, and much of the literature of ancienct Greece were well enough preserved at Byzantium, and might be still available to us somewhere - if we had the interest to seek them out. But Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought. And when Islam began its medieval expansion, it would have encountered scant resistance to its plans - just scattered tribes of animists, ready for a new identity.

With the survival of Western Civilization once again at stake, it's important to realize that the rise of the west didn't happen automatically. People created and fought for what we have today. This is a book that helps one appreciate what we have, why we have it, and how easy it is to lose.

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