Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Fustel Would Not Have Tweeted

The great French historian Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges did not like to be distracted by the transitory.  He therefore adopted a firm policy for dealing with his contemporaries and competitors:
[H]e had imposed upon himself the principle of not reading them, and in particular of not reading the works of Mommsen, until he had almost finished his book. He insists on this independence from modern authors also in the reply to Morel, where the books of Becker and Marquardt are specified among those not read.  ... If the Cité antique is haughtily devoid of references to modern authors while revealing an enviable familiarity with classical texts, one must deduce from this not simple ignorance, but intentional disregard ... . In his inaugural lecture at Strasbourg in 1862 Fustel declared: ‘I then resolved to have no masters on Greece other than the Greeks themselves, nor on Rome than the Romans.’ Even more explicitly, in fragments published after his death: ‘I would rather be mistaken in the manner of Livy than that of Niebuhr; and in the manner of Gregory of Tours than that of Mr Sohm.’
Fustel's most enduring work  is certainly La Cité antique in which he sketched a view of early history in which the family precedes the state, while creating (and guaranteeing) private property.  I gather he still counts as a precursor of the sociologist Emil Durkheim.  I have a copy of The Ancient City over there on the far wall with the Greek and Roman stuff, in an Anchor paperback with design and typography by, I am astonished to discover, Edward Gorey.  No date but I'd guess late 50s, maybe early 60s.  I got about twenty pages into it once and then set it aside as, shall we say, not apposite to my needs. Query, was this a mistake?  Does anyone read Fustel now?  Should I?

Source: Momigliano, Arnaldo (2012-06-26). "Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges," Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Kindle Locations 5599-5609). University Of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

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