Surprising Facts about Western Culture

Paraphrased nuggets from a really big book people say is great (From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun, 2000) with occasional annotations:

• Dante was a nickname. His real name was Durante. (p. 113)

As in Jimmy?

Faust was a puppet show in England when Goethe saw it and got inspired. (p. 112)

Now if only we could make a puppet show out of Goethe’s writings, imagine what it might inspire!

• Virgil was a magician. (p. 47)

He sure pulled The Aeneid out of his ass! 

• The French Protestants provoked their own massacres. (p. 86, 113, etc.)

I’m not getting involved.

• Amerigo Vespucci really does deserve all the credit. Because he knew. (p. 104)

Don Quixote is not a novel. (p. 111)

• Da Vinci was not a “Renaissance Man.” (p. 79)

• Tolstoy proved that opera is absurd. (p. 176)

• Italians used to be considered smart. (p. 149)

• Academia started as writers workshops. In Italy! (ibid)

• Germans were once peaceful and doltish. (p. 178)  Part of being a Renaissance Person was being anti-German, euphemistically referred to as Gothic. But everyone knew you meant them.

• The Counter-Reformation was really just reform. Every society has its Inquisition, they just don’t call it that. (p. 38)

• Luther : Calvin : : Marx : Lenin  (p. 34, 37)

Ok, so then Vespucci : Columbus : : Ben Franklin : Everyone who got struck by lightning before Franklin?

• Thomas Aquinas was almost excommunicated–twice! (p. 40)

Three times could be a charm Benedictus!

And yeah, I’ve only gotten to page 200–about a quarter way in.

©2012 Alan Brech–no one can steal from Barzun the way I just did

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