Of public diversions they have but one sort, and in all their meetings the same is still exhibited. Young men, such as make it their pastime, fling themselves naked and dance amongst sharp swords and the deadly points of javelins. From habit they acquire their skill, and from their skill a graceful manner; yet from hence drawn no gain or hire: though this adventurous gaiety has its reward, namely, that of pleasing the spectators.
-from "Germany," by Tacitus
The preeminent American educator of the 19th century, CHARLES WILLIAM ELIOT (1834-1926) believed that a sound liberal education could be achieved not through textbooks but by exploring firsthand the great books and great ideas of Western civilization. (Eliot knew a good education when he saw one: during his time as president of Harvard University, from 1869 till 1909, he transformed the school from a regional college to the preeminent educational institution in the United States.)
In this 1909 collection-part of his 50-volume Harvard Classics, his dream library at the foundation of enlightened scholarship-Eliot gathers essential writings of ethnography and exploration. In their own voices, hear:
. Herodotus, "the father of story-tellers," on the gods of ancient Egypt
. Tacitus, in the "front rank" of ancient historians, on the Teutonic tribes of the Roman era
. Sir Francis Drake, "the greatest of the naval adventurers of England of the time of Elizabeth," relates his historic 16th-century journey around the Straits of Magellan
. Sir Walter Raleigh, "courtier and statesman, soldier and sailor, scientist and man of letters," tells of his 1594 discovery of Guiana
. and others.