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How the Irish Saved Civilization (1995)

de Thomas Cahill

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Séries: Hinges of History (1)

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6,406961,524 (3.67)110
The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history -- the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe. Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become "the isle of saints and scholars"--And thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians. In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization -- copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost -- they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task. As Cahill delightfully illustrates, so much of the liveliness we associate with medieval culture has its roots in Ireland. When the seeds of culture were replanted on the European continent, it was from Ireland that they were germinated. In the tradition of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, How The Irish Saved Civilization reconstructs an era that few know about but which is central to understanding our past and our cultural heritage. But it conveys its knowledge with a winking wit that aptly captures the sensibility of the unsung Irish who relaunched civilization.… (mais)
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The purpose of this book is to rectify a wrong, the wrong being leaving Irish history in the fringes and not providing the Irish the credit it deserves for preserving civilization. A social and religious history of Ireland. As (Western) Rome fell, Europe saw many libraries destroyed and people become illiterate. Intellectual life in Europe ground to a halt, but fortunately, many works survived via Ireland. When Patrick turned the Irish towards Christianity, the monks gathered and transcribed as many books as they could. As the monks traveled and expanded their reach, they brought their knowledge with them. In this way the Irish saved civilization because otherwise, many foundational ideas would have been forgotten.

The fall of Rome had precipitated in destruction of its social and intellectual standards. Libraries burned and no opportunities to learn. Roman law survived the destruction of its civilization as bishops remained. With the fall of intellectual standards, the people became more illiterate but desired the lost peace provided by a rule of law. Bishops were used to read and write the laws. The kings were educated by bishops in diplomatic elements of justice.

Although Rome’s civilization fell, many works escaped destruction. The surviving works preserved many intellectual topics. Patrick managed to convert many Irish to Christianity by transmuting Irish virtues to Christian equivalents. Loyalty, courage and generosity turned into faith, hope, and charity. Many Irish wanted to be Romanized and saw that becoming Christian conferred its privileges.

As membership and monks grew, the monks started to gather and teach. Soon after, students came from all over to Ireland to learn. The monks turned no one away due to the Irish virtue of hospitality. Tolerant of people and ideas. Rather unlike the orthodox tradition of uniformity, the monks tried to obtain as many books into their libraries. Monks began to set up libraries in different communities which brought even more students to Ireland. As the monks expanded their reach, they brought their learning with them. Illiterate Europe was reconnected with its own past via scribal Ireland.

This book tries to rectify a wrong, that the Irish are generally left out of history of civilizations, but this book only briefly discusses the Irish and gives more prevalence to other societies. For a book on Irish history, there is not much Irish history in it. Although the Irish should get credit for their part in preserving intellectual thoughts, it is wrong to give them all the credit as the empire of Islam did the same and more. Pretentious credit is a wrong as much as not giving enough credit. It is generally true that intellectual life was difficult in Europe after Rome’s fall it is not true that there was no learning. There were trends to learn and gain knowledge that did not come from the Irish books, such as from underground philosophical movements. Another reason for the fall of intellectual life was not Rome’s fall, but because Christian communities banned opposing ideas.

The story does need more Irish history but what it does tell is a story of intellectual life. That tolerance to different people and ideas is very effective in convincing change. Knowledge and information are tenuous and fragile as by not passing them on, they are lost. The transmission of knowledge and information to the future is paramount to the progression of the human intellect and civilization.
( )
  Eugene_Kernes | Jun 4, 2024 |
I just couldn't stay focused on hardly any of this. ( )
  Tytania | May 20, 2024 |
Between 400 and 600, the world as it had been previously known ended for Europe and the Near East.

We generally look at this period as a dark time since it featured the collapse of the Roman Empire, a loss from which Europe would strive to recover over the next 1400 years.

But that period looked quite different in Ireland, as well expressed by Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (affiliate link).

Cahill set the tone by exploring the Roman world and Ireland as they had existed at the turn of the fifth century: Rome, the inheritor of the legacy of the Classical world and over a millennium of philosophical, scientific, religious, etc. advancements and learning; Ireland, as pagan and remote as ever.

Cahill then explored the great reversal over the next two hundred years: overrun by the “barbarians” to the east, beset by plagues and famines, the Roman Empire collapsed, and in the urgency of survival, much of the ancient learning was lost. Patricius, a Briton Celtic born and raised as a Christian, was captured by Irish pirates and was enslaved; he escaped slavery but felt called to proclaim Jesus to the Irish. After getting some training, Patricius returned and found ways to well evangelize the Irish; he would become known as St. Patrick, and by the end of the fifth century Ireland had been well evangelized and mostly Christian. Cahill describes how the Celtic Christianity of this age was quite distinct from standard Roman Catholicism later, or even at that same time, and how little connection existed between Rome and Ireland.

Cahill then considered what would follow: many of the Irish would dedicate themselves to Jesus and the monastery, and not a few desired to cultivate learning. Irish monks and scribes would collect manuscripts of the Bible but also of the Greek and Latin classics and would copy them.

Thus Irish Christians preserved a lot of the classical works which remain to this day. The Book of Kells is a beautiful Irish manuscript. And Irish monks would spread throughout western Europe, setting up monasteries in Scotland, England, and what we consider France and Germany. Many of Charlemagne’s favored scholar monks were Irish. And wherever they went, they not only brought their distinctive expression of Christianity, but also dedication to copying manuscripts and preserving the heritage of a culture which had not been their own at the time.

While there were still conflicts among the Irish from 450-600, the chaos enveloping everywhere else left them alone: they would only begin suffering Viking, then Anglo-Norman, then British invasion after 750. In this way the Irish lost some of that distinctiveness in scholasticism and suffered themselves as other Europeans had been suffering in the fifth and sixth centuries.

But by the time the Vikings began to invade and pillage, the situation in France, Germany, England, etc. had somewhat stabilized. Their own would learn from the Irish monks and continue their work in their countries.

When the author told this story, it was not otherwise well known. The author likes to make broad characterizations which we today would find a bit prejudicial. But the story is quite engaging and powerful, and a reminder of the great power possible in the Gospel of Jesus Christ: for as the rest of the world was burning, Ireland found Jesus and enjoyed a golden age. ( )
  deusvitae | May 4, 2024 |
I can't say I didn't like this book because who doesn't love to read about the magical, mysterious history of Ireland? However, it's definitely not something I'd read again. The first 60 pages could have easily been summed up in a paragraph or two to set the stage for the story---I should really get a prize for muddling through them as I did.

After that, it seemed the author took turns being very basic (to the point of explaining the proper pronunciation of Celts or being vague for chapters about the enigmatic "Patricus"---gee, wonder who that turned out to be?) and being so tedious that I found myself skipping paragraphs just to stay awake.

Still, as usual, I found some interesting bits. I didn't realize that the Biblical Galatians were the people of Gaul---ancient Celts. Now I'm craving to go back and reread Galatians with that in mind.

There's a book I read in college, Sun Dancing, about Skellig Michael. If anything, this book gave me a desire to go back and read through that again. ( )
  classyhomemaker | Dec 11, 2023 |
Amazing. I truly enjoy learning how the past has shaped the present. ( )
  KeithK999 | Dec 3, 2023 |
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Cahill, Thomasautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Donnelly, DonalReaderautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Graaf, Renée deTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies' head. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.
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The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history -- the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe. Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become "the isle of saints and scholars"--And thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians. In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization -- copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost -- they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task. As Cahill delightfully illustrates, so much of the liveliness we associate with medieval culture has its roots in Ireland. When the seeds of culture were replanted on the European continent, it was from Ireland that they were germinated. In the tradition of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, How The Irish Saved Civilization reconstructs an era that few know about but which is central to understanding our past and our cultural heritage. But it conveys its knowledge with a winking wit that aptly captures the sensibility of the unsung Irish who relaunched civilization.

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