Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers

Tracy Lee Simmons is a writer and public speaker who focuses on history and the classical world of Ancient Greece and Rome. The author of the book Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons has had numerous articles published and in 2019 reviewed Princeton University Press’ Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series for The Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

Since the 1940s, a trend identified by CS Lewis has been prevalent in the classics of treating primary literature as so complex as to be digestible only by credentialed professionals. This has led to an explosion of secondary works that expound on the works of the likes of Plato, Thucydides, and Seneca, and steer many students away from reading the originals.

In response, Princeton University Press has set about publishing a compact series of translations that seek to return Greek and Roman authors’ major works to ordinary readers. An example is Cicero’s Laelius de Amacitia, the title of which is rendered clearly in the series as “How to Be a Friend” and presented in such a way as to engage, as much as to inform. The take home for today’s reader is that friendship extends far beyond the pedestrian forms celebrated on social media and is a complex and evolving art.

Mr. Simmons describes these books, with ancillary materials kept at the absolute minimum, as providing “surprising heft for the average reader.” They bring age-old wisdom to contemporary readers, without the academic baggage that often makes them daunting to simply take up and enjoy. 

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