BY ALEX P. VIDAL
When I posted in the Facebook the photo of myself carrying Dr. Will Durant’s “Caesar and Christ” book in the United States last year, I accompanied it with a caption that screamed, “The Search Is Over!”
Indeed, the long search was over; the desperate search that began in summer of 2001 after I finished reading Dr. Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy,” which, according to many historians, social and political scientists that I have talked to, is the best book ever written about philosophy (I began reading Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World” in 2002 although it first rolled off the press in Oslo, Norway in 1991. Although I admit that I am a big fan of “Sophie’s World,” to me, “The Story of Philosophy” is the greatest ever book on philosophy next to the Holy Bible).
In the Philippines, I went from one bookstore to another and my desperate hunting expedition became an exercise in futility. I tried my luck to search the book abroad but my desperation grew even more intense when all I could manage to collect was “The Age of Voltaire” (A history of European Civilization from the French Regency to the Seven Years’ War) or Part IX of The Story of Civilization, and “The Age of Reason Begins” (A history of European Civilization from Elizabeth to Galileo) or Part VII of the 10 volumes.
Atty. Ernesto Justiniani Dayot said my only chance to even catch a glimpse of “Caesar and Christ” is to visit the library of the Lyceum University in Intramuros, Manila where I could find all the 10 volumes. I stopped my madness for a while and focused my wrath on the “Sophie’s World.” After “Sophie’s World,” my craving for “Ceasar and Christ” continued — until I went to Canada and the United States where luck was waiting for me at the Goodwill department store in Lake Forest, California.
And, “Eureka,” the search was over! God works in mysterious ways, indeed!
“Ceasar and Christ” is Part III of Dr. Will Durant’s monumental survey of world history. The work on “The Story of Civilization” originated in 1914 when Dr. Durant first began to collect material. Fame–with “The Story of Philosophy” — lay a dozen years ahead.
More than 20 years later, in 1935, Part I, “Our Oriental Heritage,” was offered to the public. This was followed in 1939 by the second part, “The Life of Greece.” In 1944 came “Caesar and Christ,” the result of 25 years’ preparation and five years’ writing. Like the earlier parts, this volume is an independent self-contained segment of a 10-volume cultural history of civilization.
In this massive book, whose scope and wit recall the golden days of historical writing, Dr. Durant recounts the flaming pageant of the rise of Rome from a crossroads town to world mastery.
He tells of its achievements through two centuries of security and peace, from the Crimea to Gibraltar and from the Euphrates to Hadrian’s Wall, of its spread of classic civilization over the Mediterranean and western European world.
Dr. Durant tells of Rome’s struggle to preserve its ordered realm from a surrounding sea of barbarism and of its long, slow crumbling and final catastrophic collapse into darkness and chaos.
Primarily a cultural history, Caesar and Christ lavishly discusses government, industry, manners, morals, the status of women, law , philosophy, science, literature, religion, and art.
Besides the varied pageant of the Catos, the Scipios, and the Gracchi, of Hannibal, Marius, Sulla, Catiline, Pompey, Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, and the Emperors, good, bad, and indifferent, we view Cicero (busy in all departments of life), Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Tacitus, Juvenal, and such cultivators of latterday Hellenism as Plutarch, Lucian, and Marcus Aurelius.
Dr. Durants accompanies us to watch the rise of temples, basilicas, and forums pass a day of games and spectacles at the Flavian amphitheater (correctly nicknamed the Colosseum). Turning to the eastern Mediterrarian, Dr. durant’s book will make us accompany Christ on his ministry, witness the tragic scenes of the Passion, and sail and walk with Paul on his missionary labors.
RISES AND FALLS
The colors darken, Palmyra rises and falls. The Empire attains a new–and spurious–invincibility under Aurelian, declines, and finally stiffens into a bureaucratic mold.
Caesar and Christ contains many parallels to modern history, and Dr. Durant presents them with lucid authority. He believes that a reading of past events should illuminate the present. In the class struggles and jockeying for power that typify Roman history from the Gracchi to Caesar, he finds an analogue to the development of Europe and America from the French Revolution to the present time.
He reminds us that dictators have ever used the same methods. He tells us that the dole was restored to more than a century before Christ and that the first Roman labor union was established about 600 B.C.
We hear of bank failures, pork barrels, depressions, governmental projects and regulations, State Socialism, war-time priority plans, electoral corruption, pressure groups, trade associations, and other phenomena of anciet Rome that might easily fit into front-pages headlines of our own era.