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- Dracula is a metaphor for the evil that is so hard to undo in history.
- As quoted in "Raising the Undead" by Jessica Treadway, Chicago Tribune (12 June 2005)
The Historian (2005)
- As a historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it. And it is not only reaching back that endangers us; sometimes history itself reaches inexorably forward for us with its shadowy claw.
- A Note to the Reader
- Life’s better, sounder, when we don’t brood unnecessarily on horrors. As you know, human history is full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination.
- Ch. 4
- In the Year of Our Lord 1456 Drakula did many terrible and curious things. When he was appointed Lord in Wallachia, he had all the young boys burned who came to his land to learn the language, four hundred of them. He had a large family impaled and many of his people buried naked up to the navel and shot at. Some he had roasted and then flayed.
There was a footnote, too, at the bottom of the first page. The typeface of the note was so fine that I almost missed it. Looking more closely, I realized it was a commentary on the word impaled. Vlad Tepes, it claimed, had learned this form of torture from the Ottomans. Impalement of the sort he practiced involved the penetration of the body with a sharpened wooden stake, usually through the anus or genitals upward, so that the stake sometimes emerged through the mouth and sometimes through the head.
I tried for a minute not to see these words; then I tried for several minutes to forget them, with the book shut.
The thing that most haunted me that day, however, as I closed my notebook and put my coat on to go home, was not my ghostly image of Dracula, or the description of impalement, but the fact that these things had — apparently — actually occurred. If I listened too closely, I thought, I would hear the screams of the boys, of the “large family” dying together. For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history’s terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could never have told me. Only history itself can convince you of such a truth. And once you’ve seen that truth — really seen it — you can’t look away.
- Ch. 5
- My dear and unfortunate successor:
I shall conclude my account as rapidly as possible, since you must draw from it vital information if we are both to — ah, to survive, at least, and to survive in a state of goodness and mercy. There is survival and survival, the historian learns to his grief. The very worst impulses of humankind can survive generations, centuries, even millennia. And the best of our individual efforts can die with us at the end of a single lifetime.
- Ch. 9
- Never before had I known the sudden quiver of understanding that travels from word to brain to heart, the way a new language can move, coil, swim into life under the eyes, the almost savage leap of comprehension, the instantaneous, joyful release of meaning, the way the words shed their printed bodies in a flash of heat and light.
- Ch. 25
- It is a fact that we historians are interested in what is partly a reflection of ourselves, perhaps a part of ourselves we would rather not examine except through the medium of scholarship; it is also true that as we steep ourselves in our interests, they become more and more a part of us. Visiting an American university — not mine — several years after this, I was introduced to one of the first of the great American historians of Nazi Germany. He lived in a comfortable house at the edge of the campus, where he collected not only books on his topic but also the official china of the Third Reich. His dogs, two enormous German shepherds, patrolled the front yard day and night. Over drinks with other faculty members in his living room, he told me in no uncertain terms how he despised Hitler’s crimes and wanted to expose them in the greatest possible detail to the civilized world. I left the party early, walking carefully past those big dogs, unable to shake my revulsion.
- Ch. 32
- It was strange, I reflected, as we went out into the golden evening of the Byzantine streets, that even in the weirdest circumstances, the most troubling episodes of one’s life, the greatest divides from home and familiarity, there were these moments of undeniable joy.
- Ch. 37
- I’ve always been interested in foreign relations. It’s my belief that the study of history should be our preparation for understanding the present, rather than an escape from it.
- Ch. 39