Thursday Dances: Cataclysmic Codices

“What books would I bring if the world would be destroyed by aliens or cylons and we had to restart civilization as we know it?”

What a question!  And how tempting it is to lay aside the booklist question in order to pursue the nature of the catastrophe…but I’ll keep myself in check.  I talked over the booklist question with a friend I knew to be familiar with Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.  We agreed that we would *not* bring a shopping list, nor blueprints, unless the blueprints were extensive enough to be of use.  Rather, we’d opt for something more fundamental, and would not limit ourselves to one book unless we had to.

Thankfully Thalia’s already got charge of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which did arise as a possibility in the course of our conversation.  We talked about bringing the Bible, Shakespeare, the works of St. Augustine, Pascal (I’d bring the first two and my friend could handle the latter two).  We pondered the best way to sum up or collect all the pieces of art or music in a volume (and couldn’t really get beyond the Norton Anthologies of both, so if you have other suggestions, please make them).  We figured that it might be wise to bring as much information on chemistry, physics, and calculus as possible, despite our personal failure to study them very deeply; why, we asked, leave all the legwork to the people trying to rebuild the world?

Then I consulted my eldest brother, who, after due mention of the Bible and Shakespeare, determined that he would bring a Latin missal, breviary, and patristic writings; a collection of Plato and Aristotle; Homer and Virgil; Dante’s Divine Comedy in Italian; all of Aquinas; and (somewhat peculiarly) a scientific manual that our dad consults regularly.  These, he figured, were among the documents on which the present civilization was founded.  If they did so the first time, then there was no reason they should not again.

So, figuring he would have those covered, I imagine myself bearing the dictionary; a volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry; The Wealth of Nations; a pretty solid anthology of not-Anglo Saxon poetry; some book or other on animal husbandry and agriculture; the small bag of honeymoon-worthy books; and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

…then hopefully I’d find the person who brought Tolkien along.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine

Tuesday with Thalia: The End of the World

This is the last post of the Spring Book Meme, and, fittingly, it concerns the end of the world as we know it. For, as my mother is quick to mention, if it really concerned the End of the World, we would have no need or desire for books!

What, we ask ourselves, is the book we would want with us if the civilization collapsed around us?

I have given thought to this matter for many years, not just in preparation for today’s blog. I harbor a feeling that I must prepare myself, not just for the Last Day, but for the remainder of these weary last days. I never go anywhere without planning a route back to my family in case of sudden disaster. For example, I went to Meadowmount, the violinist’s practice….gulag… in the Adirondacks. I figured if the world ended, I would take my violin, my bedding and Mr. Galamian’s gun and find a boat from Lake Champlain, through the waterways of the Great Lakes, down to Green Bay, over on the Fox river, carry my boat to the Wisconsin river in Portage, and arrive at my family’s house within a few weeks. I was almost disappointed that the world continued lurching through eternity.

So this post answers a question that I have actually considered a great deal. The book I would guard, cherish and preserve against the ravages of time is Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In the introductory book, Thucydides himself sums up his own purpose in writing this history.

“The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time. (My italics. I seem not to trust your readership today. It’s a fluke. )

Though this does sum up the major reasons I want to preserve Thucydides, I should also mention that the writing is lovely. Even in translation, Thucydides’s writing is beautiful. He recounts the tragedies and follies of his times as honestly as he could, in the hope of saving us and our children trouble. Don’t lose his wisdom.


PS. All this chat about the end of the world is making me le tired. I’ll just take a nap before I fire ze missiles, shall I?