Scholars Gone Wild! More Barely Burlesqued Quotations from a Reputedly Great History of Western Culture

From Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000) with little or no distortion:

•  Kepler, the discoverer of the elliptical nature of planetary orbits, “was a practicing astrologist.” (p. 196)

He invented the elliptical writing used in modern horoscopes.

•  Newton was “a dedicated alchemist.” (p. 196)

He sure struck gold when he combined figs with shortbread.

•  Paracelsus was “hot with anger against authority.” (p. 197)

You should have seen his brother Full-On Celsus–as a little boy the Church confirmed him just so they could immediately excommunicate him, he was that bad.

•  The Catholic Church defended Galileo as long as they could. It was the rest of the public that was against him. (p. 204)

•  Pascal was too Catholic to be a mystic. (p. 215)

Jesus was too mystic to be a Catholic.

•  Science is bourgeois.  It’s just so new money. (pp. 206-207)

•  The Middle Ages were jolly, not gloomy. Feudalism was a breeze. (p. 225-226)

•  No one thought the world was going to end in A.D. 999. It’s a myth. (p. 227)

•  Dante’s beloved Beatrice was nine years old. (p. 233)

Reading his poems is now like watching Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

•  Romantic poetry and courtly love indirectly led to women’s rights. The Crusades helped too. (pp. 232-234)

My love is like an autonomous independent being 

who dependeth not on my regard for her self-worth,

nor yet the approval of any man she may be seeing

to imbue her life with meaning, or give birth

•  Medieval medicine makes a lot of sense. (p. 223)

•  In the Middle Ages, bands of graduate and undergraduate students roamed the countryside practicing anarchy. The more sedentary just preyed upon the nearby townspeople. (p. 229)

•  In the Middle Ages, there was no Middle Ages. (pp. 224-225)

If only that were also true for the Postmodern Era.

•  In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Germany and Italy caused “harm” to other European powers “by their tempting weakness.” (p. 241)

Blaming victims again? (see May 24th post below)

•  Dueling is an improvement over clan warfare, and absolute monarchs are better than dueling aristocrats (pp. 241-243)

Now here Barzun might be on to something.

Alan Brech 2012

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