Peter Brown author of ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ Profiled in The Chronicle

j9807[1]Princeton author Peter Brown is profiled in The Chronicle for his impressive work surrounding ancient Rome and Christianity, which he most recently covered in his book Through the Eye of a Needle. Brown is an accomplished historian who is “deservedly famous” for his originality and style. Critics hailed Through the Eye of a Needle and it won numerous awards including the 2012 R. R. Hawkins Award through the Association of American Publishers, the 2012 PROSE Award- Classics & Ancient History through the Association of American Publishers, and the 2012 PROSE Award- Humanities also through the Association of American Publishers.

Read the profile below.

Roman Yeoman

By Peter Monaghan

Historians and classicists considered the last centuries of the Roman Empire an era of obscurity and decline until Peter Brown led a generation of scholars in illuminating them.

From Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in 1776, until Brown’s first books, in the 1960s, the period from the third century AD to about the eighth, when Christianity thrived in the barbarian kingdoms that swept Rome away, was commonly conceived as an auxiliary Later Roman Empire and even as the Dark Ages. Now, thanks in large part to Brown, those centuries are Late Antiquity, an acknowledgment that Western civilization did, indeed, continue to advance.

With his latest book, the Irish-born Brown, now an emeritus professor of history at Princeton University, provides more compelling evidence about just what those years were like in the increasingly Christian West, and in particular about the role of wealth as institutional Christianity gained ground. The book, released late last year by Princeton University Press, has a title as imposing as the text—540 pages plus 200 more of notes: Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD.

The title, of course, comes from Jesus’ proverb that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Elsewhere, Jesus tells a wealthy man to “sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”

That posed a problem for wealthy Christians, and even for those of modest means. Brown’s view is that they resolved it by believing they could save themselves from the depredations of money by making the church flush, so that it could provide welfare in an empire in crisis. That transformed Christianity into a worldly power and with that, writes Brown, began Europe’s progress toward the opulent Roman Catholic culture of the Middle Ages.

Brown shows that the concept of righteous giving, while not fully divesting one’s wealth, took hold after an ascetic attitude lost out to a more earthly one, espoused by St. Augustine. He argued that to renounce all material goods thwarted the church’s worldly work. What came to drive donors’ “daily acts of kindness and generosity,” then, was their deep conviction that any generosity to the church “joined heaven and earth.”

Writing in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Kyle Harper, an associate professor of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma, said that thanks to the “unerring moral balance” Brown brings to his subject, “perhaps for the first time, the problem of wealth in early Christianity is treated in full, with no righteous fury at blatant hypocrisy nor any apology for a church that rationalized its enrichment by feeding the poor.”

“Predictably brilliant,” “a masterpiece,” “vast,” “remarkably readable,” was the estimation of Garry Wills, who has called Brown’s book his favorite of 2012.

Last month the Princeton press received the R.R. Hawkins Award from the Association of American Publishers for “professional and scholarly excellence.” It was not the first honor for Brown; in 2008 he was one of two winners of the Library of Congress’s Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity, and shared its $1-million purse.

Continue reading the full article at The Chronicle.

Beware the Ides of March!

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome’s greatest statesman and orator, was elected to the Roman Republic’s highest office at a time when his beloved country was threatened by power-hungry politicians, dire economic troubles, foreign turmoil, and political parties that refused to work together. What did he have to say of the death of Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 B.C.? Here’s an excerpt from Cicero’s How to Run a Country on Tyranny:

People submit themselves to the authority and power of another person for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they do it because of goodwill or gratitude for favor shown to them. Sometimes they do it because of the dignity of a person or because they hope to profit from the act. Some people subordinate themselves fearing that if they don’t, the other person will make them submit anyway. Sometimes people surrender their freedom because of gifts or promises. Finally, as has so often been the case in our own country, people submit to the power of another because of outright bribes.

The best way for a man to gain authority over others and maintain it is through genuine affection. The worst way, however, is through fear. Wise Ennius once said: “People hate the man they fear—and whomever they hate, they want to see dead.” Just recently we’ve learned, as if we didn’t know it already, that no amount of power can stand up to the hatred of the people. The death of Caesar, who ruled the state through armed force (and whose legacy still rules us) shows better than anything the terrible price paid by all tyrants. You will have a difficult time finding any despot who doesn’t end up like him. I say it again, using fear to maintain power simply doesn’t work. But the leader who keeps the goodwill of his people is secure.

Those rulers who wish to keep their subjects under control by force will have to use brutal methods, just as a master must when dealing with rebellious slaves. Whoever tries to govern a country through fear is quite mad. For no matter how much a tyrant might try to overturn the law and crush the spirit of freedom, sooner or later it will rise up again either through public outrage or the ballot box. Freedom suppressed and risen again bites with sharper teeth than if it had never been lost. Therefore remember what is true always and everywhere and what is the strongest support of prosperity and power, namely that kindness is stronger than fear. That is the best rule for governing a country and for leading one’s own life.

Eager to read more? Check out Philip Freeman’s Introduction to How to Run a Country. You might also want to have a look at How to Win an Election, Quintus Tullius Cicero’s no-nonsense advice on running a successful campaign for his brother Marcus. Here’s the Introduction.

Looking Back at 2012 “Through the Eye of a Needle”

As we come to the end of the holiday season and are almost to the New Year, we take the time to reflect on the magnum opus of the historian of late antiquity Peter Brown: Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD.

2012 has seen reviews of Brown’s important book in the New Republic, the New York Review of Books, and in the UK in BBC History Magazine, The Guardian, The Literary Review, and The Times Literary Supplement, to list just a few.

Why the interest in how Christianity and conceptions of wealth changed over a period of a two hundred years a few millenia ago? With ongoing discussions about how much each of us owes society (whether we’re talking holiday gifts or taxes and the so-called fiscal cliff), the issues around giving and our beliefs couldn’t be more timely–and it certainly can’t hurt that Brown is the top scholar to draw connections between the ancient past and today. As Glen W. Bowersock writes in the New Republic:

It is exciting to watch a historian who has already written so extensively on Late Antiquity absorb so much new scholarship, revise his old reviews, and re-imagine the world we thought we knew from him. . . . Through the Eye of a Needle is a tremendous achievement, even for a scholar who has already achieved so much. Its range is as vast as its originality, and readers will find everywhere the kinds of memorable aperçus and turns of phrase for which its author is deservedly famous. . . . There can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a historian and teacher of genius.

In his piece “A Masterpiece on the Rise of Christianity” in the New York Review of Books, Garry Wills (who also selected the title as his book of the year in the Chicago Tribune) says:

To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema….Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one’s way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature.

Writing in his five-star online review at Christianity Today, Peter Leithart affectionately calls the book “deliriously complicated,” and goes on to write:

As usual, Brown leaves no stone unturned in his search for insight and evidence. … He paints a colorful social setting for early church debates about theology and ethics without becoming reductively sociological, and often overturns accepted mytho-history in the process. He quietly draws on contemporary theory but typically lets ancients speak for themselves because his aim is to introduce us to an exotic world. Through it all, he focuses on the masses of details by treating attitudes, beliefs, and practices about wealth as a ‘stethoscope’ to hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization. … Brown has captured the rough texture of real history. It is testimony to the success of Brown’s subtle, provocative, and beautifully written book.

Across the pond, Tom Holland champions Peter Brown and the book in History Today, BBC History Magazine, and Twitter. In History Today, Holland calls Brown the “greatest living historian of late antiquity.” He goes on in BBC History Magazine:

Through the Eye of a Needle is the crowning masterpiece of Peter Brown, the great historian who virtually invented late antiquity as a periodisation. The book’s theme might seem specialised: the evolution of attitudes towards wealth in the last century and a half of the Roman empire in the west, and the century that followed its collapse. In reality, like so many of Brown’s books, it gives us a world vivid with colour and alive with a symphony of voices. It is not only the most compassionate study of late antiquity in the west ever written, but also a profoundly subtle meditation on our own tempestuous relationship with money.

Meanwhile, Peter Thornemann of the Times Literary Supplement calls it “[O]utstanding. . . . Brown lays before us a vast panorama of the entire culture and society of the late Roman west.” And at The Guardian, Tim Whitmarsh writes,”His sparkling prose, laced with humour and humanity, brings his subjects to life with an uncommon sympathy and feeling for their situation.”

Through the Eye of the Needle has also been selected as a best book of the year at the Institute of Public Affairs blog, among others. Doubtless, the interest in the origins of how society balances faith and finances will continue well into 2013 and we would do well to heed the fascinating lessons of Brown’s much-lauded work.

To learn more about the author and his latest book:

bookjacket

Through the Eye of a Needle
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
By Peter Brown

New Ancient World Catalog!

Be among the first to check out our new ancient world catalog! http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/ancient13.pdf

Of particular interest are some of our new and forthcoming titles including Peter Brown’s masterpiece, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, and Marcus Tullius Cicero’s entertaining common sense guide, How to Run a Country: An Ancient Guide for Modern Leaders selected, translated, and with an introduction by Philip Freeman. Sara Forsdyke offers a fascinating new perspective in Slaves Tell Tales: And Other Episodes in the Politics of Popular Culture and Ancient Greece, Peter S. Wells challenges existing views in How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times, and Ian Morris resolves some of the biggest debates in global history in The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations.

Also, be sure to revisit the winner of the 2012 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit from the American Philological Association, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose, by Leslie Kurke.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our ancient world titles, sign up with ease here: http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/ Your email address will remain confidential!

We’ll see everyone at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association January 3-6 in Seattle, WA. Come visit us at booth 108!

Through the Eye of a Needle and Rethinking the Other in Antiquity are selected as Cambridge Heffer’s Classic Books of 2012

Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

Peter Brown

Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.

“To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema. . . . Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one’s way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature.”–Gary Wills, New York Review of Books

 

bookjacketRethinking the Other in Antiquity

Erich S. Gruen

Gruen shows how the ancients incorporated the traditions of foreign nations, and imagined blood ties and associations with distant cultures through myth, legend, and fictive histories. He looks at a host of creative tales, including those describing the founding of Thebes by the Phoenician Cadmus, Rome’s embrace of Trojan and Arcadian origins, and Abraham as ancestor to the Spartans. Gruen gives in-depth readings of major texts by Aeschylus, Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and others, in addition to portions of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how they offer richly nuanced portraits of the alien that go well beyond stereotypes and caricature.

Providing extraordinary insight into the ancient world, this controversial book explores how ancient attitudes toward the Other often expressed mutuality and connection, and not simply contrast and alienation.

“[T]he range of research, and the depth of thought, are extraordinary. Gruen has taken on a massively important subject, and he has brought a genuinely new perspective to the scholarly conversation.”–Emily Wilson, New Republic

Quintus Tullius Cicero, campaign strategist and younger brother of the celebrated Roman orator, to blog live on Facebook during tonight’s presidential debate

Quintus Tullius Cicero, author of the bestselling campaign manual HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, will be blogging Live on Facebook during tonight’s presidential debate.

Here is a snippet from Quintus Cicero’s blogging session during last week’s running mate debate:
In Rome we had a very simple solution to the problem of public funding for health services for our citizens. There was none. If you had enough money, you got medical care. If you didn’t, you prayed to the gods you wouldn’t die.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
by Peter Brown

“Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one’s way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature.”
—Gary Wills, New York Review of Books

Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world’s foremost scholar of late antiquity.

Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.

Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity’s growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.

The random draw for this book with be Friday 9/28 at 11 am EST. Be sure to like us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

This Week’s Book Giveaway

We’re back with another giveaway! We know everyone has their social media preference, so this week we’re giving you up to three ways to win! Like us on Facebook, add us to your circle on Google+, and/or follow us on Twitter to be entered to win a copy of How to Win an Election!

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians
by Quintus Tullius Cicero
Translated and with an introduction by Philip Freeman

How to Win an Election is an ancient Roman guide for campaigning that is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s headlines. In 64 BC when idealist Marcus Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator, ran for consul (the highest office in the Republic), his practical brother Quintus decided he needed some no-nonsense advice on running a successful campaign. What follows in his short letter are timeless bits of political wisdom, from the importance of promising everything to everybody and reminding voters about the sexual scandals of your opponents to being a chameleon, putting on a good show for the masses, and constantly surrounding yourself with rabid supporters. Presented here in a lively and colorful new translation, with the Latin text on facing pages, this unashamedly pragmatic primer on the humble art of personal politicking is dead-on (Cicero won)—and as relevant today as when it was written.

A little-known classic in the spirit of Machiavelli’s Prince, How to Win an Election is required reading for politicians and everyone who enjoys watching them try to manipulate their way into office.

“Were he alive today, no doubt, Quintus would be making big bucks as a political consultant. . . . Speaking to us from a distance of more than two millenniums, Quintus Cicero’s words are incisive and revelatory: They remind us that, when it comes to that strange beast known as politics, human nature hasn’t changed very much since then. The past, that’s right, isn’t even past.”—Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9658.pdf

The random draw for this book with be Friday 8/3 at 11 am EST. If you like us on Facebook, add us to your circle on Google+, and/or follow us on Twitter, you’re automatically entered to win! Good luck!

Check out book video from Philip Freeman, translator of our new book HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION

Check out this short video our author Philip Freeman recently did for his new book HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians.

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

FACT: “For much of its history Memphis was the first city of Egypt. Founded shortly before 3000 b.c., it was the Old Kingdom capital of the country from the time of the union of the two lands, serving as royal residence from the early second dynasty (from c. 2890 to 2173 b.c.). In a nodal position some 40 kilometers south of the Delta apex, Memphis lay at a key point on the Nile, the main artery of the country.”

Memphis Under the Ptolemies: Second Edition
by Dorothy J. Thompson

Drawing on archaeological findings and an unusual combination of Greek and Egyptian evidence, Dorothy Thompson examines the economic life and multicultural society of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis in the era between Alexander and Augustus. Now thoroughly revised and updated, this masterful account is essential reading for anyone interested in ancient Egypt or the Hellenistic world.

The relationship of the native population with the Greek-speaking immigrants is illustrated in Thompson’s analysis of the position of Memphite priests within the Ptolemaic state. Egyptians continued to control mummification and the cult of the dead; the undertakers of the Memphite necropolis were barely touched by things Greek. The cult of the living Apis bull also remained primarily Egyptian; yet on death the bull, deified as Osorapis, became Sarapis for the Greeks. Within this god’s sacred enclosure, the Sarapieion, is found a strange amalgam of Greek and Egyptian cultures.

“[A] masterful analysis of the surviving evidence for ancient Memphis.”—John F. Oates, American Journal of Philology

“[A] book of utmost importance to all readers interested in ancient civilizations. . . . Thompson’s concentration on the Hellenistic period provides a penetrating study of all aspects of this city from the time of Alexander to Augustus.”—C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Choice

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9703.pdf

Philip Freeman talks politics, elections, Cicero, and HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan

Translator of our little but powerful new book Philip Freeman discussed the election as well as Quintus Cicero and HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan last Friday.  It is a very entertaining segment so take a look.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Philip Freeman talks Cicero and HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION on NPR’s All Things Considered

We were pleased to tune-in yesterday afternoon to catch PUP author Philip Freeman discuss his new translated work by Quintus Tullius Cicero called HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians on NPR’s All Things Considered.  Host Robert Siegel even reads from the book! 

Take a listen if you have a few minutes!