Monday, September 07, 2009

To have a few books

"Traveling through the present, but aware of the past, it is a good thing also to have a few books. Not too many; that would be crushing. Marco Polo is good; William of Rubruck in some ways is better. Best of all, I think, would be the old Mongol epic chronicle called the Secret History. I did not have that in those days, but I did have a modern Mongol chronicle, very romantic but embodying a lot of old material. Arash used to snort at it, but it gave me a lot of ideas for starting conversations. Keeping the books in mind, you can compare the formal record of history and of old travelers with the patchwork legends current in our own time, in which Chinese and Mongol elements and the history of dynasties hundreds of years apart are all mixed up. In this way you can sometimes get a deep and vivid sense of the double character of history, as continuity and change."

Owen Lattimore, Mongol Journeys, p. 123, 1941

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