Saturday, 14 January 2017


Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984) is the only future history with introductory discussions of the teaching of history. Ampsaugh rightly states in the Prologue that it is impossible to teach mere unprocessed "facts" because the facts must first be selected, interpreted and evaluated - and not just in that order. Facts must be interpreted and evaluated in order to select them. His example of interpretation is:

"'...who really mattered more in the long-term course of events, the Greeks or the Persians?'" (p. 15)

I am not sure that we need to make such a comparative judgment? The Persians influenced post-Exilic Judaism and thus early Christianity but I do not put that in the same category as Greek contributions to language, literature, philosophy, science, mathematics and politics. Anderson discusses Cyrus the Great's significance in "Brave To Be A King."

Amspaugh's example of moral judgment is:

"'Was it right, was it desirable that Christianity take over Europe, or that it be later faced with such enemies as Mohammedanism and Communism?'" (ibid.)

History happened that way. Does it matter now whether it was desirable? Anderson discusses the influence of monotheism in "Delenda Est." See here. For an alternative view, see here and here.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But the Persians did have an effect on political philosophy as well. As Poul Anderson stressed in "Brave To Be A King," the Persians of the Achaemenid Dynasty was the first nation to prove it was possible for a multi-national empire or society to be ruled mildly and justly. Something the Greeks failed to achieve. So I would disagree with Amspaugh's dismissal of the Persians.

And, unsurprisingly, I agree it was right for Christianity to have converted Europe and many other parts of the world. And Poul Anderson did not have a high opinion of Islam (while stressing that many Muslims are decent PERSONS). I recall Anson Guthrie saying in HARVEST OF STARS that Mohammed was one of the worse disasters to happen to the human race. A view I agree with.

And, yes, it does matter what happens in history because I believe many renowned persons or events were either good or bad or had good or bad outcomes.

While some selecting and editing is inevitable in any effort at teaching history, it has to be done honestly, with no attempt made at denying the darker side of human nature. A good history will do both that and refer readers to other sources for fuller details about persons and events in history, both good and bad.

All this reminded me of St. Gregory of Tours TEN BOOKS OF HISTORY (better known as the HISTORY OF THE FRANKS). The bishop of Tours certainly had a POV and made selections on what to include in his work, but St. Gregory was an honest man and did not try to white wash history. I've read his book three or four times.


Paul Shackley said...

I think it was me dismissing the Persians, not Amspaugh! The first just multi-national society is a very big contribution.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Oops! I'm sorry to have misunderstood you. Only goes to show I should reread TALES OF THE FLYING MOUNTAINS.

I should perhaps have mentioned that St. Bede's HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH AND PEOPLE is another example of an honest historical work written in the early Middle Ages.

Btw, I'm currently reading Greg Bear's JUST OVER THE HORIZON: THE COMPLETE SHORT FICTION (Volume 1). Bear was of course the son in law of PA. By and large I find myself liking most of what I'm reading (while being dubious here and there).