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Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers Paperback – October 16, 2009
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The conciseness and liveliness with which Richard reviews the ancient histories make his book a useful resource for all. Recommended. (CHOICE)
[An] engaging account of what the founding generation knew about the classical world. . . . This book is well worth owning. Beyond showing what kind of education the Founders had and sketching out how it shaped their own accomplishments, it serves as an introduction to the kind of education that most of us have missed out on―and reminds us that it's never too late to get started. (Human Events)
Renowned classicist Carl J. Richard . . . delves into the lessons of history that the Founders leaned upon. . . . A necessary reminder of where to look if one seeks the deepest roots of American liberty. (New American)
Carl Richard has given us another engaging and lucid glimpse into the rich and fascinating classical world of America's founding generation. With his thorough knowledge of both the classical past and how men in the eighteenth century understood it, Richard is able to show a broad audience of modern readers―who themselves may know little about the classical world―why ancient Greece and Rome have so long attracted Americans like a magnet. (Caroline Winterer, Stanford University)
Carl Richard has written a book that is as entertaining as it is informative. He brings the words and world of the Greek and Roman ancients to life with the same passion and understanding that kindled the Founding Fathers. Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the moral and intellectual sources that inspired the founders and helped define the ideals of American democracy. (Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion)
I have read Carl Richard's Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts with great pleasure. This is superb work. Historians of the American founding have long known that the founders were powerfully influenced by the ancient writers, but in the absence of long and tedious labors have not known enough about the subject to make their own studies complete. Richard has performed those labors for us and presented his findings in a way that is both crisply written and richly informative. (Forrest McDonald, University of Alabama; author of We the People)
About the Author
Carl J. Richard is professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
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Lutz reports on the different sources cited in pamphlets and other publications in his research. Certainly, there were references to the Greeks and Romans, but it was not most referred to.
The thesis here is that Greece showed the problem of too much democracy; Rome showed the problem of not being diligent in the protection of a republic. The arguments here are nicely supported with concrete examples.
Overall, very readable. An interesting thesis. But, in the end, overstated. . . .
Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers proceeds to tell the story of the ancient world, from the Grecco-Persian War to the Roman Empire. Each chapter deals with a different period of history. Richard ends the chapter with a brief discussion of the "lessons" the American Founding Fathers drew from this history. He provides copious examples of the American Founding Fathers drawing inspiration from the ancient sources and debating the meaning of history. For example, they saw in Plato's writings and the Roman Republic as the ideal form of mixed government, combining the rule of the one leader (Consuls), rule of the aristocrats (Senate), and the rule of the people (Tribunes). They believed this system accounted for the Roman Republic's success by not going to the extremes of tyranny (one-man despotism), oligarchy (corrupt rule by the wealthy), and ochlocracy (mob rule). This became the foundation for our separation of powers in the form of the president (the one), the Senate (the aristocrats), and House of Representatives (the people). As a lawyer interested in constitutional law, I enjoyed this discussion immensely.
So why do I wish I had read Richard's Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts earlier in my life? Because over the years, I've read several books about ancient Greek and Roman history, to the point where Richard's book seems a bit too shallow or simplistic. Admittedly, his audience is the general public who, unfortunately, do not know anything about Grecco-Roman civilization. However, some of his depictions of ancient history struck me as too simplified. For example, he seems to accept at face value that Cataline was actually planning a coup in 63 B.C., whereas the historical evidence is mixed.
Ironically, I also thought the way Richard organized the chapters could make Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts confusing to readers with absolutely no knowledge about the ancient world. In each chapter, Richard begins with the historical account as told by ancient historians. Only later does he point out the potential biases and flaws in those accounts. On the one hand, the American Founding Fathers received most of their information about Greece and Rome from the ancient historians, so Richard is portraying history as they would have understood it. On the other hand, it might be confusing for some readers to keep the facts straight. For example, the ancient historians often blamed the collapse of the Roman Republic on the "Punic Curse," the corrupting love of luxury, and the ambition of a few men like Caesar. The Founding Fathers accepted those theories, as can be seen in their wariness of modern Caesars. However, as Richard later explains, many modern historians attribute the fall of the Roman Republic to other causes, including increased reliance on slaves (which squeezed lower-income farmers out of business and into the army), a lesson that the Founding Fathers certainly did not learn (only the Civil War would teach America about the corroding influence of slavery). As such, readers should be careful in reading the book to distinguish between mythologized history and actual history.
I would recommend this book to the reader who had a basic high school or college education about the classics, but hadn't read much about ancient history since then. It's too basic for ancient history aficionados, but it would also be useful to have at least a bit of background because Richard does tell this history quickly. Fortunately, if you're in that category, you'll probably enjoy the book and seeing how our Constitution was so shaped and inspired by events over 2,000 years ago.
If after reading Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers you want to read more about these periods of history, I recommend Tom Holland's Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, Donald Kagan's The Peloponnesian War, and Neil Faulkner's Rome: Empire of the Eagles, 753 BC - AD 476.
Although, as a primer, I would also suggest Dr. Richard's background offering: "The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment".
The book outlines the kinds of Documents / writings and basis' for information leading toward the formation of the Constitution of the United States. It clearly and understandably explains the types of influence and reasons our Constitutional Framers did-what-they-did, in creating the precepts for a VERY JUST & LASTING GOVERNMENTAL SYSTEM as proscribed by our Constitiion.
Highly recommend as being written by a very knowledgeable Constitutional Scholar, and Historian of great writing ability.
Reading this book will make one understand the underpinnings of our Government - BETTER. rlv