Great Men of Action & the Contour of History


“It follows from this that the main story of our history has to do with the deeds of men of action. But here at the very outset an important question may be raised: do the deeds of men of action then, after all, constitute the great events of history? An affirmative answer may be given with much confidence.”

“Great men of history carve out the contour of history. High culture can only rise from the soil fertilized by material prosperity. The swords of Leonidas, Themistocles, and Pausanias must prune the tree of civilization before the flower of Periclesian culture can bloom at Athens. There are no names like Livy, Horace, Ovid, and Virgil in the annals of Rome before the conquests and the carnage of Marius, Sulla, and Caesar.”

“But let is hasten to add that the deeds of men of action can never be rightly understood unless they are considered in relation to the intellectual and social surroundings in which these men of action moved. In other words, the civilization and culture of each succeeding period cannot be ignored. […] It furnishes the atmosphere everywhere for our picture, or, if you prefer, the setting for our stage.”

Excerpted from: The Historians' History of the World: Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia edited by Henry Smith Williams, Volume 1, 1907. (31)

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