Why bother learning Latin? How did the Romans pronounce Greek? Should the Elgin Marbles be handed over to the Modern Greeks? Did the ancients have market economies? Should Epicurus be venerated above Plato and Aristotle? Why is Carol Ann Duffy not even a bad poet? What makes Macaulay a great historian and L. Neil Smith a great science fiction novelist? Why is The Daily Mail—easily the best newspaper in England—not fit for wrapping fish and chips?
Sean Gabb deals with these and other issues in this collection of essays. Lively and provocative, they are written for every lover of ancient or modern literature.
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By Sean Gabb
Aug 12, 2011
Literary Essays by Sean Gabb Reviewed by L. Neil Smith firstname.lastname@example.org Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise Sometimes - even lately, when Western Civilization seems to be grinding itself to bits - when you open your e-mail you get a lovely surprise. That's exactly what happened this afternoon when I discovered I had received a .PDF copy of another new book written by the British thinker and writer (in that order, unlike so many others) Dr. Sean Gabb. Now a disclaimer is in order here. Sean is my friend and colleague in the grim and silly business of trying to save what people who came before us struggled to create and preserve for the past 8000 years or so. I have reviewed his books - favorably; he is a great writer, an observer of unusual clarity and intellectual power - and he has reviewed mine. With only one possible exception, he is the only individual I have met (in the virtual sense; we have yet to meet in person) whose understanding and mastery of English is greater than... More > mine. The possible exception? Fantasy novelist Tim Powers. So you'll just have to trust me that if the Good Doctor turned out a clinker, I would say so. I wouldn't enjoy doing it, but I wouldn't hesitate. This is not it. Instead, we're offered interesting and unusual notions on a wide range of subjects, all the product of arguably the best libertarian mind of our age - although he acknowledges, and once again, I agree, that not everything is a proper subject of politico-economic analysis. Joseph Stalin, Sean quickly points out, "was passionately fond of Mozart". And Lenin famously loved his cat. Sean first touches on classical Greek in the English-speaking world. As one of the very last Americans who began learning Latin before high school (but knows nothing about Greek), I appreciated much of what he has to say here, and will reread this essay as many times as I can until I manage to squeeze every last drop of wisdom out of it. He then takes on poetry in a way I haven't heard since I was too young to shave. A confessed onetime poet himself, Sean marshals the best damn slam-the-door-in-their-faces rant against modern "poetry" I have ever read. If you're a poet who believes (as I do) that poetry is more than obscure prose typeset in short lines, that it ought to have meter, and possibly even rhyme, you'll probably want to have his baby. One of the fascinating questions Sean asks is whether the "Elgin Marbles" should be returned to Greece. These, in case you are unaware, are classic sculptures associated with the Parthenon. Their possession has been debated almost since the Ottoman Empire let Lord Elgin carry them off to Old Blighty. At the time, the Greeks didn't seem to give a damn. Archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann and Howard Carter were my boyhood heroes back when the other kids were all crazy about Mickey Mantle. I've seen the marbles myself, on a 1976 visit when it was also possible to touch the Rosetta Stone - which I assuredly did. As the husband of an aspiring archaeologist, and someone who often debates property rights questions himself, my interest in the matter is fairly intense. Sean considers every possible angle. Are modern Greeks the proper heirs in any sense to the ancient Greeks? Has their demonstrably miserable stewardship of the remaining sculptures in Athens proven those in England should remain there? His conclusions may surprise you. What Sean has written here is no less than an historical page- turner. His refutation of the Marxist claim that market behavior as we know it didn't exist in the classical world of ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt - reminiscent of fraudulent claims by ex-historian Michael Bellesiles that few colonial Americans were armed, and anticipatory of the global warming hoax - kept me up past my bedtime. Sean's best line: "Capitalism is what people do; socialism is what governments do." Sean considers differences between today's Olympics at their best and the ancient Olympics at their worst, and makes some evolutionary predictions about athletes that would give Olaf Stapledon the cold shivers. In a touching and ultimately uplifting essay, Sean considers, and then reconsiders, and then re-reconsiders one of the great works of the once famous 19th century historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay, who was exceedingly important to him as a youth, somewhat embarrassing to the judgement of a slightly older scholar, and finally admired once again in the mature judgment of a grown man. It is one of the most moving and admirable examples of total honesty with oneself that I have ever witnessed, and it nearly brought this former Marlboro Man to tears. I could go on, especially since two of the remaining items in this book are about me and my work. But I'll leave the rest of the process of delightful discovery to you. A brightly shining exception to the observations of Lord Acton, Sean is not just a great man, he is a _good_ man. If there were a thousand of him, even a hundred, we could have a decent, livable society tomorrow. We probably will, in the end, and when we do, a very large part of that victory will be his own to claim. He's one of the last civilized men left on the planet.< Less
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