One important key to understanding modern civilization is a familiarity with its ancient background. Many modern principles and practices — social, political, and even economic — have cleared parallels and antiquity. A careful study of these forerunners of our traditions, particularity as they contributed to the downfall of earlier civilizations, may help us avoid some of the mistakes of our predecessors.
The Ancient State, by Hugh Nibley, is a thought-provoking examination of aspects of ancient culture, from the use of marked arrows to the surprisingly universal conception of kinship, from argument from various schools of philosophy to the rise of rhetoric. Author Hugh Nibley brings his usual meticulous research and scholarship to bear in this enlightening collection of essays and lectures.
It has been said that only by learning the lessons of history can we hope to avoid repeating them. For scholar and novice alike, The Ancient State is a valuable source of such learning.
If for no other reason, you should buy--not just read, but BUY--this book so you can read and reread 'The Unsolved Loyalty Problem Our Western Heritage' and the rather smirkingly titled 'Victoriosa Loquacitas The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else.' The former examines the politically polarized atmosphere of the fourth century, with various parties and interest groups attempting to lump together similar loyalties so as to defeat the opposition. The latter essay examines how the practice of rhetoric, in its slavish devotion to business and law, ruined ancient education and culture. Also, if you are interested in the ancient origins of the temple, you may find that Nibley's essay on the Hierocentric State offers some intriguing parallels (without, however, so much as mentioning LDS temples). Why only four stars? Because I found the final chapter on mantic vs. sophic ways of thought to be rather uninteresting--mostly lecture notes. By the way, most of the chapters in the book were originally published in non-LDS academic journals, thus subjecting Nibley and his work to a more critical audience than he normally faced among the friendly LDS and BYU peers. This really is some of his best work--and a foundation for future research on the Book of Mormon and the temple.