Friday, March 2, 2007

Writing History and Immortality

If you need some inspiration on what, for me, is a rainy Friday morning, you can find it in the paper by Katharina de la Durantaye, just noted, here. In examining protection of literary authorship in Ancient Rome, she explains that writing history was thought to be a way to ensure immortality. That was the true reward for writing history. Here's a passage:
In pre-Christian times, the dominant conception of immortality was not directed towards a beyond, towards the places of eternal renown or blame evoked by Christian thought, but to the portion of immortality that could be achieved in this world. For Romans, immortal were they who lived on in the minds and hearts of the living. For this reason, men sought to erect monuments to and for their immortality during their own lives through such massive initiatives as Augustus’ restorations of the city of Rome, as well as through inscriptions, monuments, foundations or specific testamentary provisions of varying sorts.

Authorial activity was well-suited as a means for ensuring immortality—and in more senses than one. The heroes described and praised in a work could be rendered immortal through it....A literary form particularly well-suited, and highly valued, for its ability to preserve and to consecrate the memory of individuals was history. It allowed the author to favorably sketch the portrait of a person and his or her acts for posterity all the while maintaining the modest pretence of objective recounting.

...[A] literary work could also grant immortality to its author. In that an author adorned his work with his name, he created a link between the hero or heroes of the poem and—for the contemporary world as for posterity—a link with himself. This bond lasted as long as the memory of his work, or its heroes, lasted. What is more, an author could aspire to fame, respect, and immortality through the form chosen and independent of the content and individuals depicted therein.

The poet came to be seen as an elect individual through his ability to recognize the divine in the natural or, in some cases, the receipt of the divine gift of inspiration (making the poet a vates or seer)....The proximity of the author to the gods was for this reason carefully judged and highly valued by society.
For the rest, click here.