Devil Take the Hindmost

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I just finished reading Devil Take the Hindmost, a history of financial speculation (I was reading it largely to make sure my own history book was taking on new ground which, happily, it is). I was taken by the quote the author offers from Satyricon, which precedes his own first chapter:

As when dreams deceive our wandering eyes in the heavy slumber of night, and under the spade the earth yields gold to the light of day: our greedy hands finger the spoil and snatch at the treasure, sweat too runs down our face, and a deep fear grips our heart that maybe some one will shake out our laden bosom, where he knows the gold is hid: soon, when these pleasures flee from the brain they mocked, and the true shape of things comes back, our mind is eager for what is lost, and moves with all its force among the shadows of the past . .

You might have to read that two or three times as I did to let it sink in.

I have no way of knowing your reaction, but I know my own – – I was awestruck. First of all, this was written two thousand years ago. Living in the Silicon Valley, where anything more than a few weeks old is considered stone-age, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that humans from long ago (indeed, longer than 2000 years) were able to express themselves so superbly.

Second, I was humbled. I have been writing professionally since I was fifteen years old (at which time I was composing articles and reviews for nationally-distributed magazines). When I read a quotation like the one above, I feel absolutely puny. I doubt I’ve ever come anywhere close to conveying a sentiment so richly.

And so, before heading off to read my little girl her bedtime story, I thought I’d share a tiny morsel of art with you, as well as my thoughts about it. See you in the morning.