Sunday, June 19, 2011

Human Accomplishment: Art, Music and Literature

The Fjordman Report

The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.

This post is the first in a series called “Europe And Human Accomplishment”.

The 2003 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 by the American political scientist Charles Murray has achieved a well-deserved status as a modern classic. Murray attempted to quantify the accomplishments of individuals worldwide in the arts and sciences. He did this by comparing important reference works made by leading scholars in their respective fields regarding various different forms of achievement, ranked individuals according to the amount of space they were given in the books he employed as source material, and only included persons in his lists over “significant figures” who were mentioned in at least half of these qualifying sources. “Setting the cutoff at 50 percent includes almost everyone who is famous and large numbers of the obscure.”

Imhotep, Immanuel Kant, and J.S. Bach

In addition to this, Charles Murray also attempted to analyze some of the variables involved in rates of human accomplishment, such as religion, political systems, urbanization and wars. The author found that nearly all important scientific and technological advances in the modern world until the mid-twentieth century were made by Europeans or their descendants overseas.

What had mankind accomplished by about 800 BC? Quite a lot: They had animal husbandry, a variety of grain and fruit crops, irrigation, several writing systems including the first alphabets, written laws, stone buildings and walled cities, mirrors, bow drills, swords, leather, glass, bronze, iron, silver, gold, mining, papyrus, board games, furniture, musical instruments, sailing boats, bridges, basic surgery, herbal pharmaceuticals, calendars and some knowledge of the solar and lunar cycles, simple geometry and algebra, wine and beer, red and blue dyes, cosmetics, jewelry, sculpture, painting, mosaics and fine architecture plus epics and poetry.

So why not start the book earlier? Primarily because the archaeological and historical records become increasingly uncertain the further back we move in time. Moreover, although these were accomplishments in their own right, essentially nothing of the art, music, medicine or mathematics from this archaic age is now a part of our everyday world. Murray’s work ranks named inventors, not inventions. These criteria do, sadly, leave out important advances such as the creation of the first undisputed writing system by the Sumerians, but it also excludes contributions made by European peoples in prehistoric times, from Paleolithic cave paintings to Stonehenge. This may be unfortunate, but it is not the result of any “Eurocentric” bias.

Early history is shrouded in myth, but a few individuals stand out. The Egyptian polymath Imhotep in the 27th century BC designed the Step Pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara, which at over 60 meters tall marked one of the world’s first truly large-scale uses of stone as a building material. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt states that “His historicity has been confirmed by the discovery of the base of a statue of Djoser that also bears Imhotep’s name.”

William Osler, a prominent Canadian professor of medicine, considered Imhotep to be “the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity.” Osler revolutionized the medical curriculum in North America at the turn of the twentieth century and introduced the German postgraduate training system. His very popular medical textbook The Principles and Practice of Medicine went through many editions during the 1900s.

In addition to the scientific disciplines, Human Accomplishment includes rankings in Western music and Western art, Indian literature, Japanese literature, Chinese literature, Chinese painting and Japanese art, as well as listings for Indian, Chinese and Western philosophy, respectively, but no ranking for Islamic philosophy. A separate philosophy inventory was not prepared for Korea or Japan because so much of Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese philosophy derives from Chinese sources, or from India in the case of Buddhism.

While Oriental philosophy is in content very different from its European counterpart, the Chinese did historically generate an extensive and well-developed philosophical tradition. By contrast, much of the philosophical writings in the Islamic world were simply commentaries on ancient Greek works, and even that was frequently considered suspect. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “Islamic philosophy” in the narrow sense of the word because most Muslim scholars concentrated on interpreting the Koran and religious texts. Western scholars read the Bible, yes, but they did many things besides that and created a vast literature of political and economic philosophy that was and is virtually non-existent in the Islamic world.

The seeds of some ideologies that are still with us today can be traced back to the mid-first millennium BC, with the Axial Age in philosophy and the rise of the great Iron Age empires in Eurasia: the Persian one followed by Alexander’s and Rome’s, plus comparable entities in India and China. These huge empires established Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity.

In Chinese philosophy, Confucius (551-479 BC) ranks far ahead of anybody else as the single most influential thinker in East Asian history. The only other person close to his level is Laozi (“Old Master”), the shadowy figure who may have been a rough contemporary of Confucius and is traditionally viewed as the first thinker in the philosophy known as Daoism or Taoism. The rationalist Neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200), whose synthesis reinvigorated Confucianism, is number three, followed by Mencius (ca. 371-289 BC), the most important ancient Confucian thinker after Confucius; Zhuangzi (ca. 369-286 BC), an interpreter of Daoism who exerted a great influence on the development of Chinese Buddhism and landscape painting; Xunzi (ca. 300-230 BC), who systematized Confucian thought; and the Neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529). Only in eighth place do we finally encounter an original thinker not associated primarily with either Confucianism or Daoism: Mozi (ca. 470-391 BC), who founded the interesting movement known as Mohism.

While others mattered, such as Buddhism or Legalism, the militaristic-totalitarian ideology that allowed the ruthless First Emperor — Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC) — to unify China, no single school of thought has had a greater impact on Chinese civilization than Confucianism.

Among the most prominent personalities in the history of Western philosophy, Aristotle (384-322 BC) ranks ahead of his teacher Plato (ca. 428-348 BC), followed by the highly influential German Enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), especially remembered for his Critique of Pure Reason; then René Descartes (1596-1650) of France, one of the leading lights of rational thought during the Scientific Revolution; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the most notable of the post-Kantian German idealists who later influenced Karl Marx; the Italian Christian theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) with his Summa Theologica; the English thinker and medical researcher John Locke (1632-1704), especially famous for his social contract and “blank slate” theories and for works such as An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and the Two Treatises of Government; and the Scottish philosopher, historian and economist David Hume (1711-1776).

After Hume comes Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), the most important Christian writer of Late Antiquity; the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), one of the most radical thinkers of early modern Europe; the polymath Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716); the freethinker Socrates (ca. 469-399 BC) from ancient Athens; the prominent German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860); the Anglo-Irish bishop and naturalist George Berkeley (1685-1753), best known for his empiricist philosophy; Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) of Germany (Prussia), who challenged traditional Christian “slave morality” and promoted such ideas as the “death of God,” the Übermensch and the will to power; the English author Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who in the 1651 book Leviathan effectively founded modern political theory with the social contract concept and his “war of all against all”; the logician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) of Britain; Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Swiss-born political theorist whose writings inspired the leaders of the French Revolution; Plotinus (ca. AD 205-270), the founder of Neoplatonism; and finally Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814).

Good medium-level names are Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Francis Bacon, Democritus, John Dewey, Epicurus of Samos, Martin Heidegger, Heraclitus of Ephesus, William James, Søren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mill, Parmenides of Elea, Pythagoras of Samos, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Schelling, Ludwig Wittgenstein and William of Ockham.

Other figures include Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes of Miletus, Anselm of Canterbury, Jeremy Bentham, Henri Bergson, Boethius, Bonaventure, Giordano Bruno, Rudolf Carnap, Chrysippus of Soli, John Duns Scotus, Empedocles, Johannes Scotus Erigena, Johann Gottfried Herder, Edmund Husserl, Leucippus of Miletus, Nicolas Malebranche, Montesquieu, Thomas More, Nicholas of Cusa, Blaise Pascal, Philo Judaeus, Charles Sanders Peirce, Proclus, Protagoras, Thomas Reid, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Herbert Spencer, Voltaire, Alfred N. Whitehead, Christian Wolff, Zeno of Citium and Zeno of Elea.

Parts of the source material treated political thinkers as secondary figures. This affected negatively on the rankings of important personalities such as Cicero and Machiavelli. The most striking omissions from Western philosophy are Jesus of Nazareth — Jesus Christ to believers — and Saint Paul, who shaped the young religion that was to become Christianity more than any other person apart from Jesus himself. They are not listed as they were purely religious figures. I understand this point, but it does look somewhat artificial since many explicitly Christian thinkers made the list, from Origen via Aquinas to Martin Luther and John Calvin. Mr. Luther showed little interest in philosophy not directly related to religious issues.

Murray defines “philosophy” as something intermediate between theology and science, “seeking truths about great metaphysical and ethical questions as does religion, but, like science, appealing to the mind instead of faith.” The Buddha did not invoke a divine being as part of his teachings. He qualifies as a philosopher. The teachings of Jesus and Muhammad seem qualitatively different in this regard, containing philosophical elements but ones that are subordinate to a religious message. They are therefore not part of the inventory of philosophy.

The author included people who were described in the sources as philosophers or theologians, be that Daoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish or Muslim ones. Excluded from the lists are persons whose writings primarily involved economics, sociology, psychology or political science (as opposed to political philosophy). Political figures are considered only to the extent that they also had an impact on political philosophy. Among the Founding Fathers of the USA, applying these criteria would include Thomas Jefferson but not George Washington.

Absent are Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and for that matter Adam Smith. Smith was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and in 1776 published his Wealth of Nations, widely considered the first modern work of economics, where he introduced the idea that trade is not always a zero-sum game but can be a win-win situation, plus the metaphor of the Invisible Hand. Marx is presumably excluded because he, too, doesn’t fall under the label philosophy, which is fair enough, but again it looks a bit strange to name later thinkers in the Marxist tradition like Sartre, who was an apologist for brutally repressive Communist regimes such as Stalin’s Soviet Union, but not Karl Marx himself. If we instead make a list of “people who influenced Western thought,” which is not at all the same as “Western philosophy,” then Marx surely has to receive a prominent place, regardless of whether you like his ideas or not.

Who does Charles Murray personally consider to be the most accomplished individual who ever lived? “Aristotle. He more or less invented logic, which was of pivotal importance in human history (and no other civilization ever came up with it independently). He wrote the essay on ethics (‘Nicomachean Ethics’) that to my mind contains the bedrock truths about the nature of living a satisfying human life. He made huge contributions to aesthetics, political theory, methods of classification and scientific observation. Who else even comes close?”

In Indian philosophy, Adi Sankara or Shankara in the eighth century AD added system to the haphazard insights of the ancient Upanishads. He became the leading exponent of the Advaita Vedanta School, whose thoughts still form the mainstream of Hinduism. Number two, far behind him in influence, is Nagarjuna, who flourished around AD 200 and founded the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls him “the most important Buddhist philosopher after the historical Buddha himself and one of the most original and influential thinkers in the history of Indian philosophy. His philosophy of the ‘middle way’ (madhyamaka) based around the central notion of ‘emptiness’ (sunyata) influenced the Indian philosophical debate for a thousand years after his death; with the spread of Buddhism to Tibet, China, Japan and other Asian countries the writings of Nagarjuna became an indispensable point of reference for their own philosophical inquiries.”

Number three is the eleventh-century Brahman philosopher and Hindu theologian Ramanuja. Only in fourth place do we find Siddhartha Gautama or Gautama Buddha, who was either a rough contemporary of Socrates in the fifth century BC or a younger contemporary of Confucius. He was the founder of a major religion or philosophy whose total influence throughout Asia exceeded that of Hinduism (and for that matter Confucianism), but his ideas were secondary within India itself. Nevertheless, it does look somewhat artificial to place a later Buddhist philosopher such as Nagarjuna above the founder of Buddhism in importance.

A few steps behind we find Madhva (ca. 1199-1278), the exponent of Dvaita, the Dualistic school of Hindu philosophy, in fifth place. After him comes the shadowy figure of Patanjali, who may have lived in the second century BC although this is not certain. Sometimes dubbed the “father of yoga,” Patanjali is alleged to have at least codified, and partly developed, some of the ideas behind the meditative practices of yoga (Sanskrit: “union”) in the Yoga-sutras:

“The men at the top — Confucius, Sankara, and Aristotle — are where they are because each, in some important sense, defined what it meant to be Chinese, Indian, or Western. Confucian ethics, aesthetics, and principles of statecraft became China’s de facto state religion in -3C and remained so for another two thousand years. As the man who shaped the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, Sankara has pervasively shaped Indian thought down to the present day. In the West, there is more ambiguity. Plato preceded Aristotle, Aristotelian thought owes extensively to Plato, and it was, after all, Plato rather than Aristotle of whom Alfred North Whitehead famously said that all of Western philosophy is his footnote. And yet in the end Aristotle had had the more profound effect on Western culture. Some of Plato’s final conclusions, especially regarding the role of the state, are totalitarian. In contrast, Aristotle’s understandings of virtue, the nature of a civilized polity, happiness, and human nature have not only survived but have become so integral a part of Western culture that to be a European or American and hold mainstream values on these issues is to be an Aristotelian.”

Only painting had a consistent tradition of named artists in China, which means that valuable contributions there in sculpture and ceramics are not included. For the same reason, the only inventory for music is the Western one, not because good music hasn’t been made in other cultures but because only the European one had a tradition of named individual composers.

In Chinese painting, the scholar and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) is tied for first place with the artist and poet Gu Kaizhi (ca. AD 344-406). They are followed by Wu Daozi (ca. AD 700-760); Dong Qichang (1555-1636); the influential landscape painter Ma Yuan (ca. 1160-1225); Huang Gongwang (ca. 1269-1354); Guo Xi (ca. 1020-1090) who completed the famous Early Spring hanging scroll painting in 1072; the landscape painter Xia Gui (1195-1224); the painter, poet and calligrapher Mi Fu (1051-1107); the artist Ni Zan (1301-1374); and the accomplished poet, musician, painter and statesman Wang Wei (ca. AD 701-761).

In twelfth place we even find an emperor, Huizong of Song (1082-1135), who was a skilled painter and calligrapher. He cultivated the arts almost to a fault and arguably neglected China’s military defenses. Mary and Robert Heiss explain in The Story of Tea: “Known for his aesthetic tastes, he ushered in the creation of luxurious porcelains characterized by refined elegance, underglaze decorations, subtle etched designs, and sensuous glazes. Song porcelains were mostly monochromatic and the most popular type — Qingbai porcelain — had a bluish-white glaze. These cups not only increased tea-drinking pleasure, but they also encouraged awareness and admiration of the tea liquor itself. It was during this point in the development of tea culture that teawares began to be viewed as objects of desire and value and not just as functional tools.” Teahouses became important places to socialize and play board games.

The invention of porcelain was aided by the natural presence of two key materials, kaolin (soft white clay) and petuntse, near each other in China. Tea came into widespread use as a social drink during the Tang Dynasty; Lu Yu wrote The Classic of Tea around the year 770. Camellia sinensis occurs naturally in Burma and in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of southwestern China. Tea was a medicinal herb in ancient times but became a daily drink between the fourth and ninth centuries AD. Its use spread to Korea and Japan via Buddhist monks. The elaborate Japanese tea ceremony was codified by Sen Rikyu in the late 1500s.

Europeans who came to China in the early modern period quickly developed a taste for the beverage, so much so that they spread its use to regions far beyond where it had previously been enjoyed, thus globalizing a Chinese invention and in return introducing American specialties such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and tobacco to Asia. The Dutch East India Company brought tea to Europe in the seventeenth century, and the Dutch later grew tea in their colonies in Indonesia. The British promoted it in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the nineteenth century, when the Scottish merchant Thomas Lipton created his famous tea brand. By the mid-1700s, tea had become popular in Russia, too. Russians became the first nation to invent a separate machine to brew it, a metal (traditionally brass) urn known as the samovar.

In Japanese art, the maximum score of 100 is achieved by Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506), a Zen Buddhist monk inspired by Chinese landscape paintings and a master of the style of monochrome ink painting, although he did use color skillfully later in his career. He was followed in the early 1600s by Tawaraya Sotatsu, the founder of the Rimpa school of painting.

Number three Ogata Korin (1658-1716) was another great master of the Rimpa school, famous for screen paintings, lacquerwork and textile designs. His brother Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) is often considered Japan’s greatest potter. In fourth place we find the painter Kano Eitoku (1543-1590), who came from a gifted artistic family. After him come Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610), founder of the Hasegawa school of painting; and the celebrated painter, potter, lacquerer and calligrapher Honami Koetsu (1558-1637), born in the imperial city of Kyoto into a family of sword polishers. In seventh place is the printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) from Edo (Tokyo). He is among the Japanese artists who are best-known to a Western audience with his woodblock prints Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, the sacred mountain of Japan, among them the beautiful color print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

In Chinese literature, the leading figure is without question Du Fu (AD 712-770), who spent years travelling in China. “Du Fu is barely known in the West. He is not only ranked first here but, according to those who are in a position to evaluate such things, was one of the greatest poets ever, anywhere. The problem for Western readers is that the aesthetic nuances and layers of meaning in great Chinese poetry cannot be retained in even the best translations.”

After him comes his contemporary poet Li Bai (AD 701-762), followed by Bai Juyi (AD 772-846) and the Song era poet and statesman Su Dongpo (1037-1101), a fine representative of the Imperial examination system at its best. Number five is Han Yu (AD 768-824); six the scholar and poet Qu Yuan (ca. 339-278 BC) from the Warring States Period of pre-Imperial China, whose death is commemorated during the Dragon Boat Festival. In seventh place we find the first prose writer: the Han Dynasty eunuch Sima Qian (ca. 145-87 BC), whose The Records of the Grand Historian was to shape Chinese historiography for centuries to come.

By universal acclaim, the greatest poet in Indian literature was the Classical Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa. He probably lived in the Gupta period, perhaps in the fifth century AD, and he may have been a Brahman (priest). Among the works ascribed to him, many of which are informed by Hindu mythology, is the drama Abhijnanasakuntala (“The Recognition of Sakuntala”), which was admired by Goethe when it was translated into European languages in the late 1700s, and the lyric Meghaduta (“Cloud Messenger”). Next to him we find Vyasa and Valmiki, the alleged authors of the great Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, respectively, yet their historicity is at least as debatable as that of Homer in archaic Greece.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet, novelist, short-story writer and playwright, was in 1913 the first non-European individual to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but traditional Indian literature before the British colonial period exposed India to Western influences was overwhelmingly dominated by just these three above-mentioned major figures.

The Japanese literature inventory is characterized by a large number of writers who all receive substantial attention rather than by a few dominant ones, as was the case with India. The ranking is topped by Basho (1644-1694), “by consensus Japan’s greatest poet and the master of haiku; Chikamatsu (1653-1725), by consensus Japan’s greatest dramatist, writing mostly for the bunraku (puppet theatre); Murasaki Shikibu (c. 978-1014), author of The Tale of Genji, by consensus Japan’s greatest work of literature (and the highest ranking woman in any of the inventories); and Saikaku (1642-1693), writer of brilliant erotic tales and famous for his speed-writing of haikai, humorous linked-verse poems that were the source of haiku.”

Number five is Mori Ogai (1862-1922), a modern novelist from an old samurai family who had studied medicine in Germany. Ki no Tsurayuki (died ca. AD 945), a man of letters from the Heian period, took part in the compilation of the first Imperial poetry anthology in Japan.

Murray prepared a separate inventory for “Arabic literature” which also includes several individuals who wrote in Persian, for instance the Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273), and non-Muslims who partly wrote in Arabic, such as the Lebanese-born Christian poet Khalil Gibran (1883-1931). Al-Tayyib Ahmad ibn Husayn al-Mutanabbi (AD 915-965), born in what is today Iraq and widely hailed as the greatest poet in the Arabic language, easily ranks ahead of Abu Nuwas (ca. AD 750-814). In addition to Arabic, Abu Nuwas knew Persian from his mother and was admired by Persian poets such as Omar Khayyam and Hafez for his style and for writing about wine, sex and subjects that were frowned upon by orthodox Muslims.

The blind Arab poet al-Ma’arri (973-1057) in third place led a more secluded life, although he, too, was a freethinker who questioned many central Islamic dogmas. Number four is Imru’ al-Qays, who may have lived around AD 500 and was the most famous Arabian poet of pre-Islamic times, above all remembered for his Mu’allaqat collection. Number five is Abu Tammam (ca. AD 800-845), born in Syria to Christian parents. Barely making it to the top twenty is the Moroccan Berber explorer Ibn Battuta (1304-1369). His Rihlah (“Journey”) describes Ibn Battuta’s travels in Islamic-ruled lands from West Africa to Southeast Asia.

As the case of Imru’ al-Qays demonstrates, Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula themselves admit that poetry has pre-Islamic roots in their culture. Arabic has been praised as a language well-suited for poetry, but the predominance of poetry is also because “Islamic literature operated under two theological constraints. Drama was considered to be a representational art and forbidden. Realistic fiction was considered to be a form of lying, and also forbidden.”

There never was anything resembling “theater” in the pre-modern Islamic world. Neither is this region known for its artistic traditions. Yes, fine Persian rugs can constitute works of art, but such handicraft traditions often have deeper historical roots that predate the Islamic conquests. As for calligraphy, Muslims could make some fine works in this category, but we should remember that East Asians such as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans and the Vietnamese often excelled in this art form while simultaneously creating extremely refined works of painting and sculpture as well as exquisite poetry. On the whole, Islam served to severely restrict most possible forms of artistic expression. It would be accurate to state that Islam inhibited artistic creativity more than any other major religious tradition in the world.

Those who have been fortunate enough to visit the Vatican and see the great Church of Saint Peter’s in Rome cannot fail to be awed by the beautiful paintings and sculptures it contains. The Roman Catholic Church has received a lot of criticism over the years and has sometimes deserved this, but then it should also be credited for its positive contributions. It is unthinkable in Islam that religious leaders in the centers of Mecca and Medina would hire artists like Michelangelo or Raphael to decorate mosques with paintings and sculptures, as many Catholic popes did. Muslim militants no doubt want the Sistine Chapel to suffer the same fate as countless un-Islamic works of art such as the destroyed Buddha status of Central Asia. If the ongoing Islamization of Europe continues, a day may come when they have their way.

Likewise, music wasn’t normally used for religious services; there is no Islamic equivalent of Johann Sebastian Bach, who filled Lutheran churches in Germany with magnificent compositions designed to uplift the Christian faithful, and gave God credit for his works. They include The Art of Fugue and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, still one of the most played works in the organ repertoire, The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Brandenburg Concertos.

In Western music, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) stands at the top next to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), with both men receiving the maximum score of 100. After them we find the German composer, organist, harpsichordist and violinist Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and the German composer, conductor and theater director Richard Wagner (1813-1883), with the prolific Austrian Classical composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) in fifth place.

Following Haydn there are quite a few personalities with a decent score in the 40s, 30s or high 20s: the German-born English Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759); the Russian-born composer, pianist and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971); the prominent French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918); the Hungarian piano virtuoso, composer and musical teacher Franz Liszt (1811-1886); the prolific Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828); the German Romantic composer and music critic Robert Schumann (1810-1856); the French Romantic composer, critic and conductor Hector Berlioz (1803-1869); the Austrian-born composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951); the German Romantic composer and pianist Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); the Polish-born composer, piano virtuoso and music teacher Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849); the Italian late Renaissance composer and opera pioneer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643); the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901); the German Jewish composer, pianist and conductor Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847); the German composer and opera director Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826); and finally the German opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787).

From Salzburg, Austria, Mozart was a child prodigy, famously prolific and still getting better when he died at the age of thirty-five. He wrote over 600 works during his lifetime, which include Eine kleine Nachtmusik, symphonies 40 and 41 (“Jupiter”), his 20th through 24th piano concerti and popular operas such as Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. The last year of his life was highly productive. He then created some of his greatest works, among them the opera Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”), the Clarinet Concerto K. 622 and finally his magnificent Requiem, left unfinished at the composer’s death in Vienna in December 1791.

Born in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven was a talented pianist who moved to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn and may also have met Mozart. He was in some ways an extension of this Viennese Classical world but he also introduced ideas that would define the ensuing Romantic era. He is especially remembered for his nine symphonies; the Third (“Eroica”), from 1803 marked a new period in his life, but the Fifth and Ninth symphonies are his most famous ones today. Beethoven is renowned for piano works, too, including sonatas such as Pathétique. His Moonlight Sonata from 1801 is surely one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created, in any nation or age. His body of work is not at large as Mozart’s, but “There is still no department of music that does not owe him its very soul,” in the words of historian Paul Lang.

Perhaps finding Wagner in fourth place, significantly ahead of Haydn, will surprise some readers. After all, Haydn was an older friend and contemporary of Mozart, a teacher of Beethoven and the “father of the modern symphony.” Yet Wagner’s influence on the future course of music and art was far greater, regardless of what one might think of him as a person.

Other major names in the European tradition of what is now often called “classical” music are Jean-Baptiste Lully, Gustav Mahler, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Maurice Ravel, Gioachino Rossini, Richard Strauss, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Paul Hindemith, Josquin des Prez, Henry Purcell, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Modest Mussorgsky, Dimitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alessandro Scarlatti, Anton Webern, Camille Saint-Saëns, Béla Bartók, César Franck, Antonio Vivaldi, Anton Bruckner, Heinrich Schütz, Giacomo Meyerbeer, François Couperin, Orlando Lassus, Olivier Messiaen, Guillaume Dufay, Antonin Dvorak, Arcangelo Corelli, Edvard Grieg, Bedrich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, Georg Telemann, Charles Gounod, Gabriel Fauré, Darius Milhaud, Alban Berg, William Byrd, Giovanni Gabrieli, Domenico Scarlatti, Giovanni Pergolesi, Giacomo Puccini, Luigi Cherubini, Hugo Wolf, Georges Bizet and Adriaan Willaert.

Some additional musical figures: Tomaso Albinoni, Johann Christian Bach, Vincenzo Bellini, Franz Berwald, Alexander Borodin, Dietrich Buxtehude, Ferruccio Busoni, Antonio de Cabezón, Francesco Cavalli, Frederick Delius, Gaetano Donizetti, John Dunstable, Edward Elgar, George Enescu, Manuel de Falla, Mikhail Glinka, Johann Adolph Hasse, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Vincent d’Indy, Heinrich Isaac, Charles Ives, Leoš Janácek, Zoltán Kodály, Francesco Landini, Léonin (Leoninus), Martin Luther, Jules Massenet, Thomas Morley, Leopold Mozart, Carl Nielsen, Jakob Obrecht, Johannes Ockeghem, Jacques Offenbach, Carl Orff, Pérotin (Perotinus), Francis Poulenc, Sergey Rachmaninoff, Max Reger, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexander Scriabin, Johann Stamitz, Johann Strauss Jr., Karol Szymanowski, Thomas Tallis, Edgard Varèse, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tomás de Victoria and Kurt Weill.

In the twentieth century we encounter a number of entirely new musical disciplines such as jazz or blues, many of them with strong North American influences. These are not generally listed in Human Accomplishment. Louis Armstrong, Édith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich are nowhere to be found although Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington are listed, which appears a bit arbitrary. Rock and roll music had a breakthrough in the USA in the 1950s with such performers as the African American guitarist and songwriter Chuck Berry, but since Murray’s work does not include anybody from after 1950 there is no Elvis Presley or The Beatles here, nor for that matter any Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd or Bruce Springsteen.

In the index for Western music we find an impressive number of composers, but not many individuals who developed musical instruments, for example Bartolomeo Cristofori who created the first recognizable pianos in northern Italy around the year 1700; the woodwind instrument maker Johann Christoph Denner who invented the clarinet at about the same time; the German flute maker Theobald Boehm who improved the key mechanism and fingering system on many flutes in the mid-1800s; or Adolphe Sax who created the saxophone in 1841.

In the twentieth century, electricity was increasingly used not just for recording and reproducing music but soon also for making it, either with newly invented musical instruments or with electric versions of older ones, for instance the guitar. Laurens Hammond in the USA invented an electric organ in 1934. He is absent. Brilliant makers of fine musical instruments like Antonio Stradivari, Nicolò Amati and Andrea Guarneri are excluded as well.

Dancing was not included by Murray, which left out personalities such as the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. He founded the Ballets Russes (“The Russian Ballets”) in Paris in 1909 and in Western exile “revitalized ballet by integrating the ideals of other art forms — music, painting, and drama — with those of the dance.” Dance was prominent in pagan rituals and largely ignored in medieval Christian Europe, but secular dance as an art form resurfaced in the Western world during the Italian Renaissance period. In the late 1600s at the court of Louis XIV, the French dancer Pierre Beauchamp, an associate of composer the Jean-Baptiste Lully, substantially influenced the development of ballet. His name is not mentioned, either.

Next to literature and music, the Russian contributions to European high culture have been particularly strong in ballet. As Norman Davies states: “From Italy, the baletto was exported in the time of Catherine de’ Medici to the French court, where, under Louis XIV, it became a major art form. Lully’s Triomphe l’Amour (1681) fixed the long-lasting genre of opera ballet. The modern theory and practice of ballet were largely developed in mid-eighteenth-century Paris, especially by the royal ballet master Jean Georges Noverre (1727-1810)… Russia first imported French and Italian ballet under Peter the Great, but in the nineteenth century moved rapidly from imitation to creative excellence. Tchaikovsky’s music for Swan Lake (1876), Sleeping Beauty (1890), and The Nutcracker (1892) laid the foundations for Russia’s supremacy. In the last years of peace, the Ballets Russes launched by Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) enjoyed a series of unsurpassed triumphs. The choreography of Fokine, the dancing of Nizinski and Karsavina, and, above all, the scores of Stravinsky, brought ballet to its zenith with The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). After the Revolutions of 1917, the Ballets Russes stayed abroad, whilst the Soviet Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets combined stunning technical mastery with rigid artistic conservatism.”

Notice that Communists didn’t totally ban ballet. Islamic sharia does. This demonstrates how Islam can be more totalitarian than even the most repressive elements of Western thought.

In Western literature, the top twenty are: the English writer William Shakespeare (1564-1616); the German poet, playwright and naturalist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832); the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321); the ancient Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil or Vergil (70-19 BC); Homer from ancient Greece, who may have lived around 700 BC; Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) from Geneva, an influential philosopher, author and composer; the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known as Voltaire; the French comedy playwright and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), or Molière; the English Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824); the Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910); the Russian novelist and short-story writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881); the Italian (Tuscan) scholar, poet and Renaissance humanist Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), or Petrarch; the French Romantic poet and dramatist Victor Hugo (1802-1885); the German dramatist, poet and literary theorist Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805); the Italian poet and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375); the ancient Roman lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), or Horace; the leading tragic dramatist Euripides (ca. 484-406 BC) from ancient Athens; the French dramatist Jean Racine (1639-1699); the Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet Walter Scott (1771-1832); and finally the socially radical Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906).

In this context we leave out the still-ongoing scholarly debate as to whether or not Homer was an historical person and whether he composed both epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey alone. Shakespeare was a fine poet in addition to being perhaps the greatest playwright the world has ever seen. His plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream are all so famous, and justly so, that they require no further comment. Neither do Goethe’s Faust or Dante’s Divine Comedy, acknowledged masterpieces of world literature.

Dostoyevsky left us with such works as Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and The Gambler; Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Molière, Petrarch, Hugo, Schiller and Euripides should not be too controversial to most lovers of literature, either, but a few of the other names mentioned here might be so. Murray predicts such a reaction:

“What is Rousseau doing in sixth place? Voltaire in seventh? Byron in ninth? Scott in nineteenth? In the cases of Rousseau and Voltaire, the ratings partly reflect their combined fiction and nonfiction. But even when I recomputed indexes based exclusively on fictional work, they ranked high, because of the difference between histories of literature and of the other arts. Historians of music and the visual arts discuss composers and artists almost exclusively in terms of their place in their artistic worlds. Histories of literature spend more space on the influence of authors, including authors of fiction, on social and political movements — the Enlightenment in the case of Rousseau and Voltaire, the Romantic movement in the case of Byron and Scott. This tendency contaminates the Western literature index as a representation of purely literary excellence, but it appropriately reflects the way in which Western literature has been intertwined with politics and society.”

Among the great many excellent names in this category — by far the largest in the book in terms of the number of individuals listed there — some other Western literary figures include Aeschylus, Aesop, H.C. Andersen, Ludovico Ariosto, Aristophanes, Jane Austen, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, William Blake, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Bertolt Brecht, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Luís de Camões, Miguel de Cervantes, Geoffrey Chaucer, Anton Chekhov, Cicero, Samuel Coleridge, Joseph Conrad, Pierre Corneille, Daniel Defoe, Demosthenes, Charles Dickens, Denis Diderot, John Donne, John Dryden, Alexandre Dumas, T. S. Eliot, Erasmus of Rotterdam, William Faulkner, Henry Fielding, Gustave Flaubert, Federico Lorca, André Gide, Nikolai Gogol, Luis de Góngora, Maxim Gorky, the Brothers Grimm, Thomas Hardy, Heinrich Heine, Ernest Hemingway, Herodotus, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ludvig Holberg, Friedrich Hölderlin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James, Ben Jonson, James Joyce, Julius Caesar, Franz Kafka, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, Friedrich G. Klopstock, Jean de La Fontaine, Selma Lagerlöf, Gotthold Lessing, Lope de Vega, Niccolò Machiavelli, Stéphane Mallarmé, Thomas Mann, Christopher Marlowe, Herman Melville, Adam Mickiewicz, John Milton, Michel de Montaigne, Montesquieu, Novalis, Ovid, Boris Pasternak, Luigi Pirandello, Plautus, Plutarch, Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander Pope, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Alexander Pushkin, François Rabelais, Samuel Richardson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean Arthur Rimbaud, Pierre de Ronsard, Sappho of Lesbos, Seneca, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Shelley, Sophocles, Edmund Spenser, Stendhal, August Strindberg, Jonathan Swift, Tacitus, Torquato Tasso, Alfred Tennyson, Terence, William Thackeray, Thucydides, Ivan Turgenev, Mark Twain, Paul Valéry, Paul Verlaine, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats and Émile Zola.

Since everybody who reads has his or her favorite authors, it should be possible to find names that were left out of this index. Personally, I noticed that there is no Oswald Spengler or Arnold Toynbee here to track alleged signs of Western decline. I also cannot see José Ortega y Gasset from Madrid, Spain mentioned in Western philosophy or literature. He deserves at least a brief mention for his The Revolt of the Masses (“La rebelión de las masas”) from 1929.

Jules Verne, the prolific French author who laid much of the foundation of modern science fiction in the late 1800s with A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, is not listed under Western literature. The English sci-fi author H. G. Wells is, though. I find this strange. Verne was a widely read writer who fired the imagination of countless people, a few of whom were later to become serious scientists. Arthur C. Clarke, an English science fiction author, proposed a global satellite communication system already in 1945, years before the Space Age had begun.

Another literary genre not widely represented is fantasy, with elaborate stories set in imaginary worlds. George MacDonald’s allegorical fairy tales from the late 1800s inspired such twentieth century authors as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Of course, popularity at the moment is not necessarily synonymous with enduring literary qualities. Yet Tolkien in particular was also a serious philologist. The Lord of the Rings, one of best-selling novels of all time and made into a film trilogy by New Zealand director Peter Jackson (2001-2003), was published in 1954-1955, but Tolkien’s first book came out in 1937. He might have been mentioned, compared to some rather obscure names found elsewhere in the literature index.

There is a big debate regarding what constitutes the “first novel.” Murray claims that nothing quite like it existed in Asia until the late 1800s when it was adopted from the West. China and Japan (but not India) had produced works that portrayed common people and gave detailed descriptions of social life. The Plum in the Golden Vase, which was printed in the early 1600s, was complex, but it still contained elements of the supernatural and the plots were more episodic than in the Western form of the novel. Murray considers this to be true even of Cao Xueqin’s celebrated Dream of the Red Chamber from the mid-1700s. This work criticized the inhumanity Chinese feudal society. It portrayed many complex characters and also gave rich and detailed descriptions of their daily lives in the vernacular. The conversations were written in the Beijing Mandarin dialect, which has become the basis of modern spoken Chinese.

The Tale of Genji, attributed to the noblewoman Lady Murasaki (ca. 1010) is by some seen as the first novel, but Murray believes that this term should indicate something more than a long fictional prose narrative. Japanese literature could achieve great beauty, rivaling anything in the European tradition, but the energy was usually mainly directed toward poetry and drama:

“Perhaps the best evidence that the Western novel never really had a counterpart in China, Japan, and India before their contact with the West comes from the commentary of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian intellectuals after contact with the West. In each case, it was recognized that the Western novel was something unlike anything in their own tradition. The emergence of the novel is important for many reasons, but the most salient is the way in which the novel added a new dimension not just for creating beauty, but for seeking out truths. Writers since Homer had been trying to get at the truth of the human condition in it psychological dimensions, and the greatest writers succeeded spectacularly well even in ancient times. But there was hardly anything at all in the fictional literatures of the world about humans as social creatures. The novel made that inquiry possible, and in so doing made literature a partner with the social and behavioral sciences in understanding how humans and human societies work.”

Some of the great writers of European as well as world literature in the 1800s include Charles Dickens, one of the most popular English novelists of the Victorian era, the US-born British author Henry James and Leo Tolstoy of Russia. From the 1900s there are literally too many novelists to count, for instance Ernest Hemingway from the USA whose characteristic style is seen in The Old Man and the Sea. The term “novel” is used about many texts that differ from each other quite substantially apart from the fact that they are extended works of fiction written in prose. M. H. Abrams elaborates in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Sixth Edition:

“As an extended narrative, the novel is distinguished from the short story and from the work of middle length called the novelette; its magnitude permits a greater variety of characters, greater complication of plot (or plots), ampler development of milieu, and more sustained exploration of character than do the shorter, more concentrated modes. As a narrative written in prose, the novel is distinguished from the long narratives in verse of Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton which, beginning with the eighteenth century, the novel has increasingly supplanted. Within these limits the novel includes such diverse works as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove; Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Franz Kafka’s The Trial; Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; C. P. Snow’s Strangers and Brothers and Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor. The term for the novel in most European languages is roman, which is derived from the medieval term, the romance. The English name for the form, on the other hand, is derived from the Italian novella (literally, ‘a little new thing’), which was a short tale in prose.”

Long narrative romances in prose were written by Greek writers as early as the second and third centuries AD. Typically, they dealt with separated lovers who are reunited at the end of the story. Another influential predecessor of the modern novel was the picaresque narrative, which emerged in sixteenth-century Spain. Many observers consider Don Quixote from 1605 by the great Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes to be the first European novel, but Charles Murray finds it to be a “transitional work.” He believes that the novel had not reached its modern form until Samuel Richardson’s Pamela from 1740 or Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones from 1749, which led to many similar works in Europe in the 1800s. M. H. Abrams again:

“Cervantes’ great quasi-picaresque narrative Don Quixote (1605) was the single most important progenitor of the modern novel; in it, an engaging madman who tries to live by the ideals of chivalric romance in the everyday world is used to explore the general relations of illusion and reality in human life. After these precedents and many others — including the seventeenth-century character (a brief sketch of a typical personality or way of life) and French courtly romances such as Madame de La Fayette’s La Princesse de Clèves (1678) — what is recognizably the novel as we now think of it appeared in England in the early eighteenth century. In 1719 Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe and in 1722 Moll Flanders.…Robinson Crusoe is given an enforced unity of action by its focus on the problem of surviving on an uninhabited island, while both stories present so convincing a central character, set in so solid and detailedly realized a world, that Defoe is often credited with writing the first ‘novel of incident.’ The credit for having written the first English ‘novel of character,’ or ‘psychological novel,’ is almost unanimously given to Samuel Richardson for his Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740).”

Western art has the second-most extensive index. The highest-ranking person here by far is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) of Tuscany in northwestern Italy, with no close competitor. After him we find Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) of Spain; Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), or Raphael, of Italy; Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519); Tiziano Vecellio (ca. 1490-1576), or Titian, of Italy; Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) of Germany; Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) of the Netherlands; Giotto di Bondone (ca. 1267-1337) of Italy; Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) of Italy; Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) of France; the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640); Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) of Italy; Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) of Spain; Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (ca. 1386-1466), or Donatello, of Florence, Italy; the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (ca. 1395-1441); Francisco Goya (1746-1828) of Spain; Claude Monet (1840-1926) of France; Tommaso di Giovanni di Simone Cassai (1401-1428), better known as Masaccio, of Italy; Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) of the Netherlands; and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) of France.

Michelangelo was a painter, architect and poet, but first and foremost a brilliant sculptor who created timeless statues such as his Pietà and David while still in his twenties. Yet the Biblical motifs he painted at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome between 1508 and 1512, including the Creation of Adam, are among the most impressive works created by any single human being in the entire world history of art. He did this feat almost completely by himself, rarely able to get far enough away from the ceiling to see what he was doing. His confidence grew as he proceeded, and the later scenes evince greater complexity than the early ones. His massive work at the Sistine Chapel contributed to the great fame he enjoyed in his lifetime.

Art historian Ernst Gombrich is normally a man of measured words, but as he says, it is hard for any ordinary mortal to imagine how it could be possible for one human being to achieve what Michelangelo did in four years of lonely work on scaffolding. The mere physical exertion of painting this huge fresco is fantastic enough, “But the physical performance of one man covering this vast space is as nothing compared to the intellectual and artistic achievement. The wealth of ever-new inventions, the unfailing mastery of execution in every detail, and, above all, the grandeur of the visions which Michelangelo revealed to those who came after him, have given mankind a quite new idea of the power of genius.”

Other Western artists of great talent include Giovanni Bellini, Hieronymus Bosch, Sandro Botticelli, Georges Braque, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Annibale Carracci, John Constable, Correggio, Gustave Courbet, Jacques-Louis David, Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Anthony van Dyck, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco), Matthias Grünewald, Frans Hals, William Hogarth, Hans Holbein the Younger, Jean Ingres, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Édouard Manet, Andrea Mantegna, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Edvard Munch, Piero della Francesca, Nicolas Poussin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Joshua Reynolds, Auguste Rodin, Georges Seurat, Tintoretto, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Johannes Vermeer, Jean-Antoine Watteau and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Some further names: Robert Adam, Albrecht Altdorfer, Fra Angelico, William Blake, Umberto Boccioni, François Boucher, Constantin Brancusi, Il Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini, Marc Chagall, Giorgio de Chirico, Cimabue, Claude Lorrain, John Singleton Copley, Camille Corot, Lucas Cranach, Salvador Dalí, Honoré Daumier, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Max Ernst, Hubert van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Caspar Friedrich, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Gainsborough, Gentile da Fabriano, Théodore Géricault, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Giorgio da Castelfranco, Giovanni da Bologna, Hugo van der Goes, Francesco Guardi, Jean Houdon, Ernst L. Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Georges de La Tour, Charles Le Brun, Fernand Léger, the Limburg Brothers, Fra Filippo Lippi, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Pietro Lorenzetti, René Magritte, Kazimir Malevich, Franz Marc, Hans Memling, Jean-François Millet, Joan Miró, László Moholy-Nagy, Henry Moore, William Morris, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Emil Nolde, Michael Pacher, Parmigianino, Perugino, Andrea Pisano, Giovanni Pisano, Nicola Pisano, Camille Pissarro, Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Jacopo da Pontormo, Jacopo della Quercia, Guido Reni, José de Ribera, Tilman Riemenschneider, Luca della Robbia, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rosso Fiorentino, Mark Rothko, Georges Rouault, Henri Rousseau, Jacob van Ruisdael, Martin Schongauer, Simone Martini, Claus Sluter, Jan Steen, Vladimir Tatlin, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Paolo Uccello, Giorgio Vasari, Paolo Veronese, Andrea del Verrocchio, Rogier van der Weyden and Francisco de Zurbarán.

It is perfectly possible to take issue with some of the details of these rankings. Personally, I like Picasso, but I’m not at all convinced that he should be listed before giants such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Giotto, Velázquez, Donatello, Caravaggio, Rubens and Jan van Eyck, not to mention Raphael, Leonardo and Titian. Charles Murray nevertheless explains his statistical methods in great — almost too great — detail and states categorically that the rankings in his book do not reflect his personal tastes, only what the scholarly source material tells him.

Yet his methodology could confuse historical influence with aesthetic achievement in the arts. The Austrian Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg experimented with atonality — music without tonality — in the early 1900s. This was ideologically influential, yes, but the music resulting from this was and remains controversial and is far from enjoyed by everybody. At the turn of the twentieth century, an increasing number of artists put themselves and their personal whims on the loftiest of pedestals. Schoenberg, “who announced the death of tonality and then did all he could to make his prediction come true,” also wrote that “…those who compose because they want to please others, and have audiences in mind, are not real artists.”

Author Charles Murray himself comments that “Contempt for the audience could not be plainer, nor the godlike role in which Schoenberg placed the artist.” In the early twentieth century, “The idea of the artist as a Bohemian outsider came out of this revolution, as did the contempt that artists would develop for the public, an obsession with self-expression and iconoclasm, and the rejection of classical standards of beauty as an objective of art.”

Marcel Duchamp was a French artist associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. He receives an index score of 24 of 100 in Human Accomplishment. By comparison, this is exactly the same as such brilliant painters as Giovanni Bellini, Pieter Bruegel the Elder or Piero della Francesca, and higher than John Constable, Correggio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, El Greco, Matthias Grünewald, Jean Ingres, Tintoretto, J. M. W. Turner and Jan Vermeer.

Mr. Duchamp in 1917 took an already existing object — a standard white porcelain urinal laid flat on its back — and put on display in New York City in the USA. In 2004, hundreds of art experts named his Fountain the most influential modern art work, with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) second and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) third.

An article in British newspaper The Independent stated in 2008, largely approvingly, that “While almost every artist since the beginning of time has adapted, refined and developed art as it was handed down to him, it is not given to very many artists, without resource to the changing means of technology, to invent an entirely new art. In fact, it might be that, in the long centuries since the invention of easel painting, only Duchamp has carried out the sort of revolution represented by that urinal. Such is the importance of Fountain that, in December 2004, it was voted the most influential work of modern art by 500 art-world professionals. In contemplation, that seems something of an understatement: with this single ‘readymade’ work, Duchamp invented conceptual art and severed forever the traditional link between the artist’s labour and the merit of the work. It couldn’t have happened anywhere but America.”

According to “experts,” the most important work of Western art in the sixteenth century was Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The most important work of art in the twentieth century was a urinal. Many comments about the state of Western civilization can be made from this insight.

Murray focused primarily on the visual arts, excluding jewelry and decoration (in other words, no Peter Carl Fabergé, René Lalique or Georg Jensen). Architects are largely ignored in favor of painters and sculptors. These definitions unfortunately leave out many fine names entirely, for instance some of those associated with Art Nouveau at the turn of the twentieth century, among them Alphonse Mucha, Victor Horta, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Émile Gallé, Louis Comfort Tiffany and above all Antoni Gaudí, but Gustav Klimt is mentioned.

Prominent and important architects from Filippo Brunelleschi, Donato Bramante, Andrea Palladio and Francesco Borromini via Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera to Jules Hardouin Mansart, Jacob van Campen, Christopher Wren, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, Johann Balthasar Neumann, Charles Barry, Thomas Telford, Joseph Paxton and Robert Maillart are all missing from the lists, as are William Le Baron Jenney, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright from North America, Alvar Aalto from Finland, Walter Gropius from Germany and finally the controversial, but influential Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier.

The magnificent octagonal dome of the Florence Cathedral was designed by the architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi. Before this, only two large domes had been used before in Europe — the Pantheon from ancient Rome and the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was the first such octagonal (eight-sided) dome ever to be built without a wooden supporting frame; the Pantheon had been constructed with the aid of support structures. A key to the success was his innovative use of large and capable lifting machinery.

The isorhythmic motet Nuper Rosarum Flores (“The Rose Blossoms”) made by the Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay was performed during the consecration service in 1436. Just as Gothic architecture was brought to Italy from France during this period, so, too musical genres were imported from the north. The Cathedral’s 44 windows depict Catholic saints and scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The list of artists includes the greatest Florentines of the time such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, famous for his beautiful pair of gilded bronze doors, dubbed Gates of Paradise, at the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral.

Brunelleschi was first and foremost a brilliant and extremely influential architect, but he is also generally credited as the inventor of the principles of linear perspective, the way to mathematically describe how objects diminish with distance to create a “mirror image” of the real world. This development was of such tremendous importance for the subsequent evolution of European art that Brunelleschi’s name should in my personal view have been included in the list even if we totally ignore his substantial architectural contributions. Once again, Charles Murray reminds us that whatever flaws he might have, he is not “Eurocentric.”

The increase in European artistic accomplishment after 1420, especially in painting, is notable. Two major changes occurred at this time. Brunelleschi had unveiled his mastery of linear perspective about a decade before the trendline shifts upward. Masaccio’s Trinity at the church of Santa Maria Novella was painted in the mid-1420s, and Alberti published Della Pittura in 1436. “The less obvious event was the invention that suddenly expanded the effects a painter could achieve: the use of oil in paints, developed by Jan van Eyck in the 1420s.”

The Flemish painter Jan van Eyck is strongly associated with the development of oil painting, yet he did not invent the medium. The Islamic Taliban regime destroyed two ancient Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan in 2001. Recent discoveries indicate that Buddhists made oil paintings in this region already in the seventh century AD. Nevertheless, the perfection of oil by van Eyck and others allowed depth and richness of color, and Dutch and Flemish painters in the fifteenth century were the first to make oil the preferred medium.

Apollodorus, an Athenian painter working in the decades after 500 BC, is thought to have been the first to gradate light and color and shade his paintings to give figures the appearance of reality. Zeuxis carried this trend to an unprecedented level. According to legend, his contemporary Parrhasius staged an artistic contest. When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so luscious and inviting that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them. Zeuxis then asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting. When it was discovered that the curtain itself was his painting, Zeuxis was forced to concede defeat.

The next development leading to artistic realism took place in Europe two thousand years later. Still life painting of objects from everyday life such as flowers, fruits and all types of food and drink flourished in the Netherlands of the seventeenth century alongside rising standards of living. Many oil paintings from this era of impressive realism that almost make you hungry just by looking at them can be admired today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

As was the case with ancient Greece in Europe and elsewhere in Eurasia, a peak in Chinese philosophy came during what the German philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, from the eighth to the third centuries BC. The most important people in Asia were Gautama Buddha in India around 500 BC plus Confucius and Laozi in China at about the same time. The philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism were then consolidated by later exegetes, prominent among them Mencius and Zhuangzi in the 300s BC. A smaller secondary cluster in China occurred in the late Song Dynasty, especially with Neo-Confucians such as Zhu Xi.

In Western philosophy, the single greatest peak is in ancient Greece of the Hellenic era, with Thales, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus and Epicurus being a few of the best-known figures. What is more unusual with Europe is the new phase of political thought from the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment onwards, with Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Diderot, Voltaire, Condorcet, Herder, Hegel, Bentham and finally Kant. Philosophy in the Western world is, admittedly, a mixed bag, from the positive contributions of Montesquieu to the most repressive and disruptive ideas of some Marxist theorists, but for better or worse, modern thought was largely created in the West.

Although works of literature were produced in many Indian languages apart from Sanskrit, a high point of civilization in India before the extremely bloody Islamic conquests there can be seen in the Gupta period and just after it, from the 400s to the 700s AD. This time frame would encompass Kalidasa in literature, Shankara in philosophy, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta in mathematics as well as the early development of the Indian numeral system with the zero.

Japan produced a steady stream of fine artists and writers for over a thousand years and was the first Asian nation to respond creatively to the European challenge. “Japanese literature, far from being disrupted by Westernization, was instead rejuvenated, producing major new novelists, poets, and literary critics.” Japanese society reached maturity later than India and China because an urban, literate culture was established later there, and accomplishment as tracked here takes place primarily within the confines of literate societies with real cities. In this respect, their historical example corresponds to that of the peoples of northern Europe.

While a number of fine poets have lived in the Islamic-ruled world, arguably the highest peak came in the eleventh century AD with such writers as al-Ma’arri, al-Hariri, al-Hamadani and above all al-Mutanabbi. If we take into account the work on optics and natural philosophy by Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), too, a case could be made that the rate of accomplishment peaked within the Arabic-speaking world shortly after the year 1000. In the Islamic-ruled world as a whole, accomplishments peaked last in astronomy with Ulugh Beg’s Samarkand observatory in the 1430s, but this happened in Central Asia and more within the Persian cultural sphere.

Paintings were made very early in Chinese history, but the surviving evidence is unfortunately fragmentary, just as it is with ancient Greek painters such as Apelles or Apollodorus. A great age of Chinese art occurred during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). It was a highly creative period overall with a flourishing of music, Chinese opera and the lives of such prominent figures as the poet, musician, painter and statesman Wang Wei, who died in around AD 760 in Xi’an. The highest peak, arguably unsurpassed in China to this day, was in poetry.

The poets Du Fu and Li Bai made their appearance as traveling and drinking companions (the “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup”). The dynamic Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) is often considered the apex of traditional Chinese civilization, with printed paper money, magnetic compasses for navigation and the use of gunpowder, but innovations like woodblock printing or the social drinking of tea from cups made of fine ceramics existed already by Tang times.

Coincidental or not, this was an age when the country was unusually open to outside cultural influences by Chinese standards. Journey to the West, a beloved Chinese comic novel written many centuries later, was inspired by the actual pilgrimage of the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang in the seventh century AD to India in search of sacred texts. In the same time period, nations from nearly every corner of the Asian continent sent musicians to China.

The history of stringed instruments in Eurasia is highly complex, with various ideas spreading east and west for millennia and developing in many different directions. Certain types such as harps have extremely ancient roots in Mesopotamia, and possibly elsewhere. The largest of all string instruments employed by the ancient Greeks was the kithara, a big lyre normally with seven strings and usually played with a plectrum. The word “guitar” for the somewhat different modern instrument is derived from kithara. The lute, a pear-shaped plucked string instrument, has long been popular. It has roots quite far back in the pre-Islamic Middle East.

Bowed string instruments were apparently not common until the Early Middle Ages. Their origin is uncertain, although some historians suspect it to be found among the horse-riding nomads of Central Asia. The Byzantine lyra probably influenced instruments in medieval Europe. It is the rough equivalent of relatively simple bowed string instruments such as the rabab in the Islamic world, but just as many scientific ideas reached a vastly higher level of complexity in Europe than they did in the Middle East, so did music and musical instruments.

In Spain, two new fretted string instruments related to the lute emerged in late medieval times and spread around Western Europe. These were the vihuela (Spanish guitar) and the viol. Our classical guitar is a direct descendant of the vihuela. Because it was plucked it was called vihuela de mano (hand guitar). Related to it was a Spanish type called the vihuela de arco (bowed guitar), better known as the viol. The viol was developed in Spain in the late 1400s. It had six strings and was fretted and tuned like the lute and vihuela but it was bowed, not plucked. It came in different sizes and was played with the instrument resting on the lap and legs. Having entered Italy, it is often called by its Italian name viola da gamba (leg viol).

The violin is slightly younger than the viol and emerged in Renaissance Italy. It was portable, and was held off the shoulder. Its small size caused it to produce higher pitches, and because of its brighter sound it was often preferred for dance music. Throughout the sixteenth century, the viol was considered the aristocrat of string instruments whereas the violin was more low-class, appropriate for semi-professional musicians to play for dancing in taverns. Not until the seventeenth century did it emerge as the dominant bowed string instrument. The violin family today consists of the violin plus viola and cello, along with the double bass. Italian instrument builders developed the art of violin-making to a peak that has never been surpassed.

Violins appeared roughly during the period 1520-1550 in northern Italian towns such as Mantua, Ferrara and above all Cremona. Antonio Stradivari was the most prominent member of a renowned family of instrument-makers. He is often known under the Latinized version of his name, Stradivarius, or the colloquial “Strad.” He was possibly a pupil of Nicolò Amati, who came from another Italian dynasty of violin-makers. During his long life, Stradivari made or supervised the production of more than 1,100 instruments, including harps, guitars, violas and cellos. More than half of these survive and are still being used today by some of the world’s leading string players. Many prominent violinists, such as Isaac Stern, have been Jews.

As early as the eleventh century, the spoken vernaculars began to be set down in writings that at first appealed chiefly to the European nobility. A leading work was the epic La Chanson de Roland (“The Song of Roland”) in Old French, probably composed at some point after 1100 by an unknown author in the dialect of northern France. Like the Iliad and the Odyssey from ancient times, The Song of Roland grew out of traditional songs memorized and continually altered by generations of illiterate minstrels. Like the epics of Homer, too, this epic poem about Roland, a nephew of Charlemagne, expresses the values of the medieval knights: bravery, loyalty and military prowess combined with a Christian faith in God and salvation:

“Other national epics were written at about the same time in neighboring countries: the Nibelungenlied (“Song of the Nibelungs”) in Germany and the Poema del Cid (“Poem of the Cid”) in Spain. But the troubadours (professional singers) of the Middle Ages did not confine themselves to epic tales. They also sang of ‘courtly’ manners and romantic love (from romance, which originally meant a tale, as opposed to a learned work in Latin). For the first time since the days of the pagan authors, a poetry of passion appeared in Europe. But it was for the most part passion on an ‘elevated’ plane. The romantic knight placed his ideal woman on a pedestal and adored her from afar — with thoughts of physical fulfillment repressed or postponed. This ‘cult of love’ also brought forth elaborate manuals of behavior for lovers. Courtly love, it should be noted, was a pastime for nobility only; commoners were considered unsuited to the delicate art of romance. Even so, the code of conduct that held love as a noble ideal made a distinguishing mark upon the whole of Western culture.”

In Western literature, Dante was among the first major European authors to write in the vernacular, that is, in the common tongue, not in the traditional Latin of the learned elite; his Divine Comedy was written in the local Tuscan dialect which, thanks to the great prestige of himself and such writers as Petrarch, Boccaccio and Machiavelli, eventually became the written language for all of Italy. Dante’s example was followed in the fourteenth century by Chaucer. In the sixteenth century, the printing press and the Protestant Reformation marked the definitive literary breakthrough for the vernacular languages, represented in the late 1500s by Edmund Spenser and Shakespeare in English or Cervantes and Lope de Vega in Spanish. Latin nevertheless continued to be employed as a scholarly language for a while after this.

Another burst of creativity in European literature came in the 1800s and partly reflected the birth of the novel in the preceding century, with names like Dickens, Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Scott and Zola. Along with the novelists were many important playwrights and poets like Pushkin, Ibsen, Whitman, Heine, Mallarmé, Wordsworth, Hölderlin, Shelley and Keats.

The timeline for Western music shows a slow, steady increase throughout the High Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period. This was caused by the medieval invention of polyphonic music plus the development of Western musical notation. A steeper rise in accomplishment began in fifteenth century Europe. This was primarily associated with the introduction of new tools. “In the middle of the 1400s, the main instruments a composer had to work with were the organ and the human voice. Stringed instruments were still limited in their range and power. The trumpet was a long, clumsy instrument with a narrow range and indifferent sound quality. The clavichord and harpsichord were still in primitive forms. The last half of the 1400s saw major improvements in the organ and the harpsichord.”

Novel methods of metalworking transformed the trumpet and other musical instruments, a trend that accelerated in modern Europe with rapid advances in metallurgy and industry. The printing press was as important for disseminating written music as it was for prose and poetry.

In the 1500s and 1600s we see continued developments in tonal harmony and new ideas on how to combine the various instruments into ensembles. The invention of musical scales was important, too, as the introduction of musical notation enabled European musicians to build upon the work of the past. It may have been a necessary condition for the expansion of musical expression, but not alone a sufficient cause to explain later advances. Just as linear perspective had added depth to paintings, polyphony added another dimension to melody:

“The process that had begun with the invention of polyphony would continue for centuries. If one were looking for the most dazzling immediate effects of a musical invention, the most promising candidate would not be the original invention of polyphony, but the development of modern tonal (major-minor) harmony that began in the Renaissance and reached its full expression in the Baroque. It is tonal harmony that made possible the music from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras, and that fills most of today’s concert programs. But tonal harmony falls in the category of a great invention that builds on a more fundamental expansion of the human cognitive repertoire — in this instance, the idea that music has a vertical dimension as well as a horizontal one. Notes can be stacked. Melodies can be stacked. Once that idea was in the air, all else became possible.”

In music as in science and other fields, the seeds of many later European accomplishments were planted during the much-maligned Middle Ages before the Italian Renaissance began. It was in the High Middle Ages that the development of modern musical notation started. There were also many fine composers in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, but few of their works are commonly played today because their forms often sound unfamiliar to us now.

With certain exceptions such as Monteverdi’s pioneering opera L’Orfeo from 1607, most of the earliest works that still form a part of the regularly performed repertory date back to the immensely productive eighteenth century, with such names as the Scarlattis, Couperin, Telemann, Rameau, Handel and above all Bach, Haydn and Mozart. If we start off with Vivaldi’s violin concertos The Four Seasons from 1723 and continue until Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” from the 1820s, this period would also cover Beethoven’s entire magnificent career, making this arguably the most densely packed one hundred years of musical accomplishment in world history. And that was before Wagner, Debussy, Liszt, Schumann, Berlioz, Brahms, Chopin, Smetana, Grieg or Mendelssohn had reached maturity.

In Western art from medieval times until today (many works of art from ancient times either haven’t been preserved or lack named creators), by far the greatest peak is represented by the immensely impressive output of the Italian Renaissance period from the 1300s until the late 1500s, which included not only Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Titian but also Fra Angelico, Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Correggio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Giorgione, Andrea Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Tintoretto, Verrocchio and Paolo Veronese.

A secondary peak, high in both quality and quantity, came in the 1600s. Italians were still represented, but Spain and other parts of Western Europe were prominent contributors, too, above all with the Northern Renaissance and such names as Rubens, Rembrandt, Hals, Van Dyck and Vermeer from the Low Countries. This century also saw all or part of the careers of Caravaggio, Ribera, La Tour, Poussin, Bernini, Zurbarán and Velázquez. The rates of accomplishment in European art were steady after this, but with somewhat fewer works of similar importance. A smaller peak evolved in nineteenth century France with such eminent painters as Delacroix, plus Monet and the Impressionists, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne and Degas.

Murray did not make any listings for the art of pre-colonial Africa, America or the Pacific, regions which usually lacked named artists, and also left out some Asian ones. For example, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constituted a creative period in Korean art, with talented artists and calligraphers like Kim Chong-hui, Chong Son and Kim Hong-do. Vietnamese silk paintings and woodblock prints were affected by Chinese domination.

Cultural influences spread from India to Southeast Asia during the early centuries of our era. Angkor Wat of Cambodia is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Borobudur, a massive Mahayana Buddhist monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Java and Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction, was influenced by Indian art. It was constructed around AD 800 but was neglected after the spread of Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was ensured in 1814 by Stamford Raffles, a British administrator who also founded the city of Singapore in 1819. Efforts to restore it properly were continued afterwards under Dutch rule.

The Ramakian, Thailand’s national epic, is a Thai version of the great Hindu epic Ramayana. A painted representation of it is displayed at Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, within the grounds of the beautiful Grand Palace in Bangkok, built in the late 1700s. Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet theater found in Java and Bali in present-day Indonesia, often contains stories drawn from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Shadow puppetry is also known as wayang kulit in Malaysia, and the shadow play is popular in Cambodia as well.

As we have seen, Charles Murray’s artistic definitions did not encompass fabric arts, embroidery, clothing and weaving. This probably gave women a slightly smaller share of the artistic achievements than they might otherwise have received, but not overwhelmingly so, and the rules apply equally to Europeans and non-Europeans. These criteria also left out certain admirable figures such as the Japanese artist Akira Yoshizawa, who in the twentieth century inspired renewed international interest in the craft of origami, the art of paper folding.

The author nevertheless reminds us that the plots for the non-European inventories, for instance Chinese or Japanese art, are based on much smaller numbers of significant figures than the plots for the Western inventories. Moreover, whereas those listed under Japanese literature only had to compete against other individuals writing in Japanese, those listed under Western literature had to compete against people writing in all of the many different European languages. The total number of significant figures mentioned under Western literature exceeds that of all of those listed in all of the various Asian languages combined. The same goes for philosophy, with a particularly strong European lead encountered in the visual arts.

Is there a non-Western bias in his categories? As Murray says it is no fair “using the naked eye to search for European accomplishments and a microscope to search for non-European ones.” If you relax the definitions of “significant events,” this will qualify many more Europeans than non-Europeans. The overall balance will not be affected because the reservoir of non-trivial European accomplishment that did not get into the inventories is quite large.

Most Greek works of sculpture and especially painting that are mentioned in ancient sources are now lost. Phidias was the most Greek famous sculptor. We have copies of a few of his statues plus originals in the form of the Elgin Marbles, controversially brought from the Acropolis of Athens and put on display at the British Museum in London, but nothing at all of what contemporaries considered to be his masterpiece, the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

The Greek statues we enjoy today consist largely of what the ancient world considered its second-tier work. The Medici Venus, a life-size marble sculpture depicting Aphrodite/Venus currently seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, is merely the best Roman copy that we possess. A few paintings were preserved when buried under volcanic ash in Pompeii, but it was only a provincial town. We know the names of great painters who were active in the 400s BC, among them Polygnotus, Zeuxis and Parrhasius, yet their work has not been preserved. The early Hellenistic painter Apelles, who flourished just before 300 BC, was regarded by Pliny four centuries later as the best painter of Antiquity. Nothing of his work still survives.

It is true that many non-European societies have traditions of authorless folklore — but so does Europe, from the Greek myths and Norse sagas to beloved Central European fairytales, the stories of Camelot and King Arthur, the poetry of anonymous French medieval troubadours etc. One can also expand the arts category to include architecture, decoration and dance as well, but once again this step will immediately expand the European contributions, too:

“Whatever gems of fine artisanship are introduced from Asia, Africa, and the Americas are going to be matched in quality and overwhelmed in number by the flood that will enter the inventory from Europe. Putting aside everything else, consider just the volume of fine artisanship in stone masonry, stained glass, tapestry, and painted decoration from European churches and cathedrals. Shall we treat functional objects — gracefully designed eating utensils, baskets, warriors’ shields, fabrics — from non-European cultures as works of arts? We will have to include centuries of European production of beautiful things, from medieval armor and drinking goblets to Cellini’s golden saltcellar to Parisian haute-couture to Barcelona chairs — an endless variety of categories of beautifully designed practical objects, with distinctive traditions coming out of every European country. Shall we add popular music to the definition of accomplishment in music? Every European country has a rich tradition of popular music, often comprising separate folk traditions for vocal and instrumental music, and separate traditions for different regions, separate traditions for different eras. Hence the proposition: Whatever mechanism one uses to try to augment the non-European contribution in both the arts and sciences will backfire if the same selection rules are applied to Europe.”


cumpa_29 said...

....and be prepared to kiss it ALL goodbye.

matism said...

The ragheads and their suckers will shred you for this...

Profitsbeard said...

Stimulating and elegaic at the same time.

Kudos, Fjordman.

Here's something to listen to while reading this work.

Profitsbeard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Profitsbeard said...

philip.zhao said...

The essayist's concise and yet comprehensive exposition on human accomplishment took me a week's time to internalize. I like to add that of China's "Hundred Schools of Thought" in the Warring States Period, Mao was a great admirer of Gong Sunlong, the earliest logician,sophist and dialectician. His "Discourse on White Horse is Not a Horse" gave Mao the inspiration in devicing the Regime's political system with such a mind-twisting name as "the people's democratic distatorship".

Miki said...

Funny... kind of an evaluation of everything. Makes you want to know who the author is to judge the greatness of the best minds in history and rate them.