Books remind me that I will never be truly satisfied with my level of knowledge. In high school, I was particularly weak in the areas of history and geography because I was so concerned with changing the future with math and science that I figured things of the past, things that were not subject to change by my hand in my lifetime, were secondary to my education. But I was wrong, incredibly wrong.
History is more vital to me as a person and a writer and a creative mind than I ever knew. Math and science have become perfunctory now – equally important, but just… more of my day job. History places us in context. It manipulates our experience of art, anchors the stories, and if framed properly, can be just as enjoyable as something fictional.
I’ve been reading Rubicon – The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, a narrative history by Tom Holland. The book has awakened my appreciation for history. Be amazed at Holland’s expertly-crafted opening paragraphs:
In the beginning, before the Republic, Rome was ruled by kings. About one of these, a haughty tyrant by the name of Tarquin, an eerie tale was told. Once, in his palace, an old woman came calling on him. In her arms she carried nine books. When she offered these to Tarquin, he laughed in her face, so fabulous was the price she was demanding. The old woman, making no attempt to bargain, turned and left without a word. She burned three books, and then reappearing before the King, offered him the remaining volumes, still at the same price as before. A second time, although with less self-assurance now, the King refused, and a second time the old woman left. By now, Tarquin had grown nervous about what he might be turning down, and so then the mysterious crone reappeared, this time holding only three books, he hurriedly bought them, even though he had to pay the price originally demanded for all nine. Taking her money, the old woman then vanished, never to be seen again.
Who had she been? Her books proved to contain prophecies of such potency that the Romans soon realised the only one woman could possibly have been their author – the Sibyl… only two things could be asserted with any real confidence – that her books, inscribed with spidery and antique Greek, certainly existed, and that within them could be read the pattern of events to come. The Romans, thanks to Tarquin’s belated eye for a bargain, found themselves with a window to the future of the world.