The Vital Eternity

A thought of Thomas Traherne’s, quoted in Christopher Rick’s True Friendship, resonated throughout my reading of Gilbert Highet’s The Classical Tradition: “Men do mightily wrong themselves when they refuse to be present in all ages and neglect to see the beauty of all kingdoms.”

This gently instructive phrase came to mind again while reading Richard’s post on La Chanson de Roland. His book-related blog is one of a minority that is prepared to listen to literature across the gulfs between ages, that doesn’t limit his reading to this materialistic, contemporary age; other blogs of similar inclination include Wuthering Expectations and The UntranslatedThese always worthwhile and often brilliant bloggers are prepared, as far as possible, to become a medieval knight while reading Roland, or an English aristocrat while exploring Trollope, rather than attempting to twist a narrative into an elusive contemporary context.

Highet is more forgiving of Christianity than is my tendency, and his book is dated in its almost exclusive focus on male writers, but he is powerfully eloquent in tracing the enduring influence of Greek and Roman culture on literature through the ages. It leaves me with a renewed and urgent determination to learn Greek and refresh my schoolboy Latin.

In Highet’s conclusion he writes: “The difference between an educated man and an uneducated man is that the uneducated man lives only for the moment, reading his newspaper and watching the latest moving-picture, while the educated man lives in a far wider present, that vital eternity in which the psalms of David and the plays of Shakespeare, the epistles of Paul and the dialogues of Plato, speak with the same charm and power that made them immortal the instant they were written.”

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