More Christian vandalism 2

Medieval monks, at a time when parchment was expensive and classical learning held cheap, simply took pumice stones and scrubbed the last copies of classical works from the page. …

In some cases “whole groups of classical works were deliberately selected to be deleted and overwritten in around AD 700, often with texts authored by [the fathers of the Church or by] legal texts that criticised or banned pagan literature”.

Pliny, Plautus, Cicero, Seneca, Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Livy and many, many more: all were scrubbed away by the hands of believers.   The evidence from surviving manuscripts is clear: at some point, a hundred or so years after Christianity comes to power, the transcription of the classical texts collapses. From AD 550 to 750 the numbers copied plummeted.

This is not, to be clear, an absolute collapse in copying: monasteries are still producing reams and reams of religious books. Bible after Bible, copy after copy of Augustine is made. And these works are vast. This was not about an absolute shortage of parchment; it was about a lack of interest verging on outright disgust for the ideas of a now-despised canon. The texts that suffer in this period are the texts of the wicked and sinful pagans.

From the entirety of the sixth century only “scraps” of two manuscripts by the satirical Roman poet Juvenal survive and mere “remnants” of two others, one by the Elder and one by the Younger Pliny.

From the next century there survives nothing save a single fragment of the poet Lucan.

From the start of the next century: nothing at all. Far from mourning the loss, Christians delighted in it. As John Chrysostom crowed, the writings “of the Greeks have all perished and are obliterated”.  He warmed to the theme in another sermon: “Where is Plato? Nowhere! Where Paul? In the mouths of all!”  …

It has been estimated that less than ten percent of all classical [Greek] literature has survived into the modern era.   For Latin, the figure is even worse: it is estimated that only one hundredth of all Latin literature remains.   If this was “preservation” — as it is often claimed to be — then it was astonishingly incompetent. If it was censorship, it was brilliantly effective. The ebullient, argumentative classical world was, quite literally, being erased.

 

(from The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey)

 

 

 

Posted under Christianity by Jillian Becker on Thursday, May 24, 2018

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This post has 2 comments.

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  • Jeanne

    Jillian, I had no idea that the destruction went so far as to obliterate entire centuries of work. A truly manmade disaster. Still awaiting my book…

  • liz

    How sad that so much of the Greek and Latin classical writings are lost forever. All because of religion. Hard to imagine how different history would have been if they had been preserved – the Enlightenment probably would have happened centuries sooner…