Martial’s three offensive lessons for writers

In a ranking of the ancient world’s most offensive writers, the Roman epigrammatist Martial (1st century AD) arguably deserves the top position. There are writers who offend general sensibilities, there are writers who offend precise individuals in writing, and there are those who, like Martial, do both with gusto and without apology. In his Epigrams,Continue reading “Martial’s three offensive lessons for writers”

Script as a source of authority

The history of writing may be broadly divided into two large periods: the instrumental and authoritative stages. In the first period, ranging from the invention of script to around 1100 AD in the West (yes, the West, as there is always a point of view from somewhere, and this is mine), writing was conceived asContinue reading “Script as a source of authority”

Is destruction a form of reception?

To trust our common parlance and the idiosyncrasies of our language, we’d think the worst destroyers of public property had been the Vandals. You’d thiNk they were the first to vandalise Europe, to deface the cityscapes with their taste for destruction. But the Vandals are no more vandalising than the Gothic style belongs to theContinue reading “Is destruction a form of reception?”

An idle thought about ancient otium

The opposition between work and rest goes back as far as history can see. In the Bible, it goes back to Creation itself. God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. In ancient Rome, the opposition work-rest was captured by the concepts of otium – negotium. Not every Roman who wrote about thisContinue reading “An idle thought about ancient otium”

The fertility of medieval history writing

The medieval period was a lab experiment in history writing. The historiographical legacy of classical antiquity had been rich, but the types and methodologies of history-writing developed between around 500 and 1500 CE were not only more vast, but also formative for how history was to be written in the West. To the ancient canonicalContinue reading “The fertility of medieval history writing”

The wasteland of popular history

Every author has to walk a fine line when writing a book. Fiction requires the creation of a hall of mirrors, or illusions hiding the cluttered backstage where the authors work their tricks. Many writers of non-fiction who deal in ideas and persuasion need to make sure they target the right audiences and don’t upsetContinue reading “The wasteland of popular history”

The paradox of myths

If you subscribe to Karl Popper’s famous ‘paradox of tolerance’, you should consider its corollary, what I would call, the ‘paradox of myths’. According to Popper, the pursuit of tolerance has the strange effect of nurturing intolerance as the way by which tolerance is made possible. We see this perverse principle in action in relationContinue reading “The paradox of myths”