The reality known as Western civilization has included in preeminent ways authors of rare quality who have contributed mightily to the course of human history and helped shape the purposes, thoughts, and lives of regimes and individuals in profoundly remarkable ways. While such authors have been characterized by unique thoughtfulness on matters of far-reaching importance, one also finds among them differing perspectives which have brought about radically new turns in the evolving destinies of humankind. In authoring what some have called seminal texts, such persons were keenly aware of notions and behaviors that dominated the lives of those amongst whom they lived. Yet, the great authors that we speak of have evidenced in explicit or implicit ways that they saw more deeply and more broadly than most of their contemporaries. In doing so, they often opposed the prevalent thinking of their own times.
In looking back over the passage of time in the West, one can readily see that the authors spoken of above initially emerged in ancient Greece and Rome and eventually came to be referred to as “classical”. The latter term has come to denote a particular historical time period, but also connotes a kind of excellence that is long-lasting and that is close to or at the very heights of human excellence simply. However this be, authors of classical antiquity have properly been associated with extraordinarily revealing and refined poetry, insightfully observant histories, and a rationalism acutely aware of the primacy of reason and the hierarchical order of human virtues. Their range of inquiry brought them to consider nature itself, the natures of particular realities, the make-up and working of the human soul, all matters human and those approaching what is divine. It is surely not accidental then that for many centuries after they had scaled the heights of human authorship many in the West turned and returned to them for enlightenment about life and the world.
With some exceptions, the pinnacles of Greek and Roman philosophy, poetry, and histories occurred roughly between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D. From the latter century on, however, Western civilization was to be decisively affected by events and thinking which emanated from what is nowadays referred to as the Middle East. In ways far surpassing the effects of belief in the many gods of Greece and Rome, biblical religion (Judaism and Christianity) came to change the West and the world. In having done so, the authors of one book and those writers who drew their thinking from that book have impacted the course of human existence and touched in perhaps unfathomable depth the hearts and minds of countless human beings – rulers and ruled, wealthy and poor, citizens and subjects, men and women.