Book Review: Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts

Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How The Ancients Inspired The Founding Fathers, by Car. J. Richard

This is, admittedly and avowedly, a book of midbrow popular history for those who are interested in the Founding Fathers and who are interested in knowing the inspiration that our nation’s founders found in the classical Greeks and Romans. Although this is a task that is not unfamiliar to those who have read about these men, who made their love of republican Rome in particular very obvious [1], this book does a good job of distilling the Greek and Roman influence on the Founding Fathers in a way that is factually outstanding, easy-to-read, and very direct. At only about 180 pages of text, this is a book that provides solid information in a very small package to interested readers who have read about the Founding Fathers and want to look at what inspired and influenced them. The author himself makes it clear the audience he is aiming at, and writes a book that hits its target.

In terms of the contents of this book, the book takes a chronological approach to the aspects of the classical inheritance that the Founding Fathers found of particular interest. After introducing the fondness of the American founders with storytellers, the author takes a look at Sparta and the problem of individual rights, the vindication of republican government during the Persian Wars, Athens and the weakness of democracy, the fall of Greece as indicating the need for a strong central government, early Rome and the importance of republican virtue, the fall of Rome and the lesson of vigilance, and the preciousness of liberty in light of the early Caesars. This is an author that manages to understand what many contemporary writers on politics do not–the founders did not want America to be a democracy, they profoundly distrusted what they viewed as the mob even if they recognized the need for a popular mandate, and they were highly conspiratorial when it came to their own political worldview, something that contemporary Americans share.

In reading this book, one is struck by the poignant nature of the struggle of the early Americans to rebel against what they saw as tyranny by pointing to classical tradition to give them encouragement. They did not mind Cicero’s vanity [2] and preferred Tacitus’ moralizing to Seutonius’ gossipy chatter, which is more akin to the political discourse of our own times. In reading this book, we do not see the Founding generation as perfect; we see them as courageous, idealistic, moralistic, and certainly more than a little paranoid. But we see the patterns that have informed our own lives as well, and we know where our own paranoia comes from, our own fear of losing our freedoms, our own concerns over unscrupulous political opponents who lack virtue. It is odd how those fears never seem to go away. The price of freedom, even of the modest sort of political freedoms that we have, is eternal vigilance, and the cancer of slavery was only rarely recognized by the Founding Fathers, some of whom realized that slavery created a threat for demagoguery, a threat that was sadly realized, especially in the period after the 1960’s, an area that this book mercifully does not discuss.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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