"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Majestic City of Constantine

Thomas Madden remains, especially after the death of Jonathan Riley-Smith, one of the most important Crusades scholars in the world today. Madden, an award-winning and widely respected scholar who teaches history at Saint Louis University (where he directs their Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies) is the author of such studies as The New Concise History of the Crusades and Crusades: The llustrated History.

This short essay of his, discussing one of Riley-Smith's books, is invaluable for highlighting the problems discussing "the Crusades" today, a discussion marred by what the psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan calls "time collapse" and group identities built on "chosen traumas."

Madden is a wide-ranging scholar, and in addition to his several studies on the Crusades, he has also authored other works dealing with cities that have had a huge influence on the fortunes of Eastern Christianity, including Venice: a New History and Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice

He has, next month, a new book coming out that remains at the centre of the Eastern Christian imaginary (to borrow Charles Taylor's phrase). I look forward to reading:Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World (Viking, 2016), 400pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
For more than two millennia Istanbul has stood at the crossroads of the world, perched at the very tip of Europe, gazing across the shores of Asia. The history of this city--known as Byzantium, then Constantinople, now Istanbul--is at once glorious, outsized, and astounding. Founded by the Greeks, its location blessed it as a center for trade but also made it a target of every empire in history, from Alexander the Great and his Macedonian Empire to the Romans and later the Ottomans. At its most spectacular Emperor Constantine I re-founded the city as New Rome, the capital of the eastern Roman empire, and dramatically expanded the city, filling it with artistic treasures, and adorning the streets with opulent palaces. Around it all Constantine built new walls, truly impregnable, that preserved power, wealth, and withstood any aggressor--walls that still stand for tourists to visit.
      From its ancient past to the present, we meet the city through its ordinary citizens--the Jews, Muslims, Italians, Greeks, and Russians who used the famous baths and walked the bazaars--and the rulers who built it up and then destroyed it, including Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who christened the city "Istanbul" in 1930. Thomas F. Madden's entertaining narrative brings to life the city we see today, including the rich splendor of the churches and monasteries that spread throughout the city.
     Istanbul draws on a lifetime of study and the latest scholarship, transporting readers to a city of unparalleled importance and majesty that holds the key to understanding modern civilization. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, "If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital."

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