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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Kenneth Clark's Civilisation 



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Kenneth Clark was born on July 13, 1903 and educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford. He was a Trustee of the British Museum and a member of the Advisory Council of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Spanish Academy, and the Conseil Artistique des Musees Nationaux. Kenneth Clark's Civilisation was published in 1969; it was also the subject of a 13-part BBC production. Lord Clark died in 1983.


Chapter One: The Skin of Our Teeth

Chapter Two: The Great Thaw

Chapter Three: Romance and Reality

Chapter Four: Man - the Measure of All Things

Chapter Five: The Hero as Artist

Chapter Six: Protest and Communication

Chapter Seven: Grandeur and Obedience

Chapter Eight: The Light of Experience

Chapter Nine: The Pursuit of Happiness

Chapter Ten: The Smile of Reason

Chapter Eleven: The Worship of Nature

Chapter Twelve: The Fallacies of Hope

Chapter Thirteen: Heroic Materialism


"One of the too few authors who tempt me to use superlatives; [Clark] is the most widely cultivated person I know, and also the best at making his profound feeling for the arts contagious. The book glows with excitement." Raymond Mortimer, The Sunday Times



Editor's last word:

Clark makes the comment that the vitalizing element of civilization is a hope for the future. Without this positive spirit people will not plant oak trees, which require a great number of years to mature.

We see this spirit of confidence blossoming into stellar and stunning accomplishment in the civilization of ancient Greece. Open almost any college textbook to the introductory pages, and you’ll find, in many cases, the subject under review to have been invented by the Greeks during the fifth century BC.

what was 'in the water' during the fifth century BC

What was it about that time that produced such incredible advances, never before seen in history, in almost every field of enquiry?

Greece’s “golden age” delivered the beginnings of democracy and the rule of law; of theatre, the invention of “tragedy”; of philosophy, science, mathematics, the various arts, architecture with the Parthenon; we could go on.

What gave rise to this “great thaw” of the human spirit? The triggering elements seem to have been a bursting forth of human hope, confidence, a generalized sense of well-being.

In 490 BC the Persians attacked. The Greeks led by the Athenians defeated this vast army. But the Persians returned in 480, to be set back once again. But these comments greatly understate the issue.

One professor said that it would have been like “Luxembourg defeating the Soviet Union.”

Such an amazing lop-sided victory by a relatively small group of people sent shock waves of hope, pride, and confidence throughout Greek society. And this justified hubris became the attitudinal seedbed of an enormous accomplishment.

Contrast this with the period of history after the fall of Rome. Dear Mother Church was largely in charge, as she did her best to convince her fear-based subjects that “you are no good, born in sin, and God could never love you.”

golden age to dark age

This kind of negativity resulted in what history calls the “Dark Ages”; for hundreds of years, a time of scant production and essentially no-growth for human society.