The Classical Tradition
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $69.95 hb, 1088 pp
Unlike China, whose history similarly goes back to the Bronze Age, Europe has been shaped by spectacular collapses and profound renewals, first after the Mycenaean Age and then with the fall of the Roman Empire, which severed what we know as Antiquity from the modern world. The new Europe that emerged from half a millennium of turmoil, cultural regression, and repeated invasion by foreign predators was fundamentally transformed. Its centre of gravity had moved from south-east to north-west; its population was largely composed of former Celtic and Germanic barbarians; its new languages were vernaculars emerging from the pidgin Latin spoken by illiterates; and its religion was Christianity. What made it possible for these originally tribal peoples to build Europe was the blueprint of an extraordinary civilisation, which at first they barely understood, but to which they became the unlikely heirs.