One of the great books which helped me with Story of the Ancient World is A New System, or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology by Jacob Bryant. Jacob Bryant was a learned British scholar of the 18th century, the height of English and American classical education for men of this epoch. He was born in 1715, entered Eton in 1730, then King's College at Cambridge in 1736. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1740 and his Masters in 1744. His academic accomplishments were noted by the Duke of Marlborough when he sought a tutor for his son, and Byrant was engaged, given his own rooms at the Marlborough estate, and was made keeper of the famous Marlborough library, a masterpiece of ancient, classical, and medieval manuscripts in Greek, Latin, French, and other languages. When the son who had been tutored by Bryant became Duke of Marlborough in his turn, he made Bryant his private secretary. In this capacity he served until his death at 89 years of age, in 1804.
Of Bryant it was written, a few years after his death, that, “in point of classical erudition, he was, perhaps, without equal in the world.” His lifelong study was not only in literature, but in the investigation of truth. “By truth, we are to understand religious truth, his firm persuasion of the truth of Christianity, to the investigation and establishment of which he devoted his whole life. This was the central point, around which all his labors turned; the ulitmate object at which they aimed.”
He wrote extensively on the subjects of ancient history and mythology, of which A New System was the culmination of his life's study. This work was an attempt to “divest tradition of fable, and to reduce truth to its original purity.” In it, he begins with the history recorded in Scripture as true history, and traced the ancient mythologies and histories of the Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians to the true historical events which they attempted to record. Meticulously researched, cross referenced, and footnoted, the inescapable logic of this work cemented his reputation as the formost scholar of antiquity in Britain.
However, toward the end of his life, Bryant published a paper attempting to prove that Troy never existed, and the Greek expedition recorded by Homer was never undertaken. This conviction arose from an acquired distrust of the Greeks as historians, for he discovered so many errors in their accounts through the course of his studies, that he came to distrust anything Greek. It might be this famous paper which prompted Schliemann to search for the ruins of Troy, which he discovered in 1871.
Thus Bryant was discredited, and with the rise of the acceptance of Darwinism and long ages to civilization, his seminal work forgotten. But his error about Troy does not disprove his other valuable work. I knew of Bryant, as he appears in quotes and footnotes of other academic works of ancient history that I had, and was able to find a copy of A New System earlier this year, after a long search. I will quote excerpts in future posts.