I first read The Enchantress of Florence last year, just before I went to Florence.  It’s a whimsical, imaginative tale about a man who comes to the Mughal capital and tells the emperor a story.  Salman Rushdie is amazing, and I cannot accurately describe how apparent it is that he lovingly chooses each word and weaves them expertly together.

The passage I loved is on page 249, and it was the first page I’ve ever dog-eared in a book.  I can’t stand intentionally breaking the spine of a book or bending all the pages to keep the place.  Ugh.  So annoying.  However, this passage was so beautiful that I had to mark it:

The past was a light that if properly directed could illumine the present more brightly than any contemporary lamp.  Greatness was like the sacred flame of Olympus, handed down from the great to the great.  Alexander modeled himself on Achilles, Caesar followed in Alexander’s footsteps, and so on.  Understanding was another such flame.  Knowledge was never simply born in the human mind; it was always reborn.  The relaying of wisdom from one age to the next, this cycle of rebirths: this was wisdom.  All else was barbarity.

Candle in Lincoln Cathedral

Hopefully, it’s clear why this passage appealed to the classicist and historian sides of me.  It has a grand metaphor and uses examples from classical antiquity to illustrate its point.  Most of us have heard the saying about history being doomed to repeat itself if we don’t understand it.  This is saying that history and the passing of knowledge is true wisdom.  It’s an absolutely beautiful passage.

Brass Lamps, Egypt

Glass Lamps & Candle Holders, Turkey

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