What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

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Updated 06 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Since the publication of Eliza May Butler’s Tyranny of Greece over Germany in 1935, the obsession of the German educated elite with the ancient Greeks has become an accepted, if severely underanalyzed, cliché. In Down from Olympus, Suzanne Marchand attempts to come to grips with German Graecophilia, not as a private passion but as an institutionally generated and preserved cultural trope. 

The book argues that 19th-century philhellenes inherited both an elitist, normative aesthetics and an ascetic, scholarly ethos from their Romantic predecessors; German “neohumanists” promised to reconcile these intellectual commitments, and by so doing, to revitalize education and the arts. 

Focusing on the history of classical archaeology, Marchand shows how the injunction to imitate Greek art was made the basis for new, state-funded cultural institutions. 

Tracing interactions between scholars and policymakers that made possible grand-scale cultural feats like the acquisition of the Pergamum Altar.

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What We Are Reading Today: The Development Dilemma by Robert H. Bates

Updated 11 August 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Development Dilemma by Robert H. Bates

In The Development Dilemma, Robert Bates responds to this challenge by turning to history, focusing on England and France. By the end of the 18th century, England stood poised to enter “the great transformation.” France by contrast verged on state failure, and life and property were insecure. Probing the histories of these countries, Bates uncovers a powerful tension between prosperity and security: Both may be necessary for development, he argues, but efforts to achieve the one threaten the achievement of the other. A fundamental tension pervades the political economy of development.

Bates also argues that while the creation of a central hierarchy—a state—may be necessary to the achievement of development, it is not sufficient. What matters is how the power of the state is used. France and England teach us that in some settings the seizure and redistribution of wealth—not its safeguarding and fostering—is a winning political strategy.

These countries also suggest the features that mark those settings—features that appear in nations throughout the developing world.

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