Thomas Cahill's talk last night to nearly 600 history lovers included the author singing his own melody to Sappho's poem, which he had translated from ancient Greek, and fielding a question about who might be the next pope.
What's not dusty about history are the people who lived in other, alien times, he said. Our world views and philosophies differ from theirs but our bodies are the same as theirs.
"You must find the human beings" in history, Cahill told the mostly over-50 audience at his Authors! Authors! talk in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater.
Through his wide-ranging, hour-long discourse, smartly tailored Cahill touched on contributions by St. Patrick, Jesus, Homer, David, and the terrors created by Alexander the Great.
Cahill, 65, is in the midst of a 40-year project to tease from western history the threads that created contemporary western sensibility: why we think and feel the way we do. He also aims to describe the essential moments in history when everything was at stake until someone arrived and helped the world move on.
First in his "hinges of history" series was 1995's How the Irish Saved Civilization, set in the 5th century. It centers on St. Patrick and the Irish monks who copied literature and history while Europe was trampled by ignorance.
Next came his three books about ancient Greeks, ancient Jews, and primitive Christians.
He plans to publish the final volumes in 2006, 2008, and 2010.
Cahill's love of history began at his mother's knee. He listened to the aphorisms she had heard from her own mother, a countrywoman from the midlands of Galway in Ireland, such as "When you've harrowed as much as I've ploughed, then you'll know something" and "You never know who'll take the coal off your foot when it's burning you."
He understood there were lives that had been left behind, and he felt a connection with those strangers. He found the metaphors thrilling.
After his talk, a man from the audience asked Cahill, a Catholic who lives in Rome part of the year, to speculate on who might become the next pope.
"My nomination would be John XXIII," he said to audience applause. Cahill wrote a 2002 book, Pope John XXIII, about the beloved pontiff who led the Catholic church into the modern era with the Second Vatican Council. "I can tell you, what's going on right now is a food fight," he said. The two big voting blocks are church leaders from Latin America and Europe.
Most likely, he said, the next pope will be an Italian. "They're a naturally moderating people. They're not extremists."
Among last night's audience were some 100 people from St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee. Pastor Roger Miller purchased the tickets from a grant he received for clergy renewal.
Pastor Miller has said he was influenced by how St. Patrick not only converted a pagan nation but also improved the Irish people's character and quality of life. He plans to travel to Ireland this year to walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick.
The next speaker in the Authors! Authors! series will be Debbie Travis at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 11, in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater. She wrote Debbie Travis' Painted House and hosts television programs offering decorating techniques that can be done for modest costs.
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