In this elegant new book, Salvatore Settis traces the ways in
which we have related to our ‘classical’ past, starting
with post-modern American skyscrapers and working his way back
through our cultural history to the attitudes of the Greeks and
Settis argues that this obsession with cultural decay, ruins and
a ‘classical’ past is specifically European and the
product of a collective cultural trauma following the collapse of
the Roman Empire. This situation differed from that of the Aztec
and Inca empires whose collapse was more sudden and more complete,
and from the Chinese Empire which always enjoyed a high degree of
continuity. He demonstrates how the idea of the
‘classical’ has changed over the centuries through an
unrelenting decay of ‘classicism’ and its equally
unrelenting rebirth in an altered form.
In the Modern Era this emulation of the ‘ancients’
by the ‘moderns’ was accompanied by new trends: the
increasing belief that the former had now been surpassed by the
latter, and an increasing preference for the Greek over the Roman.
These conflicting interpretations were as much about the future as
they were about the past. No civilization can invent itself if it
does not have other societies in other times and other places to
act as benchmarks.
Settis argues that we will be better equipped to mould new generations for the future once we understand that the ‘classical’ is not a dead culture we inherited and for which we can take no credit, but something startling that has to be re-created every day and is a powerful spur to understanding the ‘other’.
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James Porter, Journal of Roman Studies
"A thought-provoking and very readable book, especially in light
of the recent debate regarding the future of the Ancient History
Anastasia Bakogianni, Journal of Classics
"This is a terrific book – the fundamental statement we
have long been hoping for, that confronts the European Classical
heritage with the full complexity of its resonance in the age of
globalization and postmodernity. It is brief, punchy and bright
– very learned, but wearing its learning lightly, engaged,
committed, always enthusiastic. Settis writes as a great authority
immersed in the living Classical tradition, yet very sensitive to
its swathe of receptions (art historical, architectural, poetic and
historiographic, as well as literary). He leads us through a
dazzling and hugely stimulating confrontation with the deep pasts
and the futures of the Western tradition."
John Elsner, University of Oxford
"Salvatore Settis seeks a contemporary answer to Arnaldo
Momigliano’s question: why study ancient history? In this
dynamic and urgent series of chapters, Settis considers the
classical in a global setting. European culture is seen to be
demarcated by its rhythmic returns to classical civilization as an
“elsewhere” of both time and space. Settis places
classicism under scrutiny as a cultural project, rather than
revering it as an icon, and argues that, through the classical,
myth is absorbed into history. The deep tradition of cycles of
death and rebirth unique to European history offers rich
opportunities for viewing the past as alien, and therefore capable
of providing a wider understanding of “otherness.” This
provocative text takes nothing for granted."
Elizabeth Cropper, National Gallery of Art
2. Ancient History as Universal History.
3. ‘Classicism’ and the ‘classical': Retracing our Steps.
4. The ‘Classical’ as the Dividing Line Between Post-modern and Modern.
5. The ‘Classical’ amongst the ‘Historical’ Styles and the Victory of the Doric.
6. The ‘Classical’ is not ‘Authentic'.
7. Greek ‘Classical’ versus Roman ‘Classical'.
8. The ‘Classical', Liberty and Revolution.
9. The ‘Classical’ as a Repertoire.
10. The Rebirth of Antiquity.
11. The ‘Classical’ before ‘Classical Antiquity'.
12. The ‘Classicism’ of the ‘Classical’ Period.
13. Eternity Amongst the Ruins.
14. Identity and Otherness.
15. Cyclical Histories.
16. The Future of the ‘Classical'.
Note on the Text.