Bettany Hughes is one of my very favorite public intellectuals; from one talk to the next, one documentary series to another, I think, now this is the best ever. Perhaps you can tell from the manner in which I frequently share her work that I have more than a little crush on her: intelligent, wealthy in knowledge, endlessly curious, warm, beautifully spoken, lovely, funny, and always fascinating.
Anyway, as I was doing some filing and other such mindless tasks yesterday afternoon, I began re-listening to The Ideas That Make Us, a BBC 4 series about ‘the history of the most influential ideas in the story of civilisation.’ Hughes, a historian deeply trained in the classics, follows the history of ideas in the Western world, often beginning with the origins of the words we use to refer to them: Virtue, Justice, Peace, Agony, Charisma, and so on, many from the ancient Greek. I particularly love the story of the origin of Idea itself and the appearance of the term in a lyric poem by Pindar (another wonderful discovery); idea derives from the Greek idein, ‘to see.’ Hughes embarks on this story from within an MRI machine, bringing the Idea full circle: to see, in the original sense of the word, on the screen what we have long thought could only be manifested through language.
Follow this and many other fascinating stories of the history of great ideas with Hughes here…
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