One of the phrases that really moved me into becoming a student of history came from James Joyce where he said that: “History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.” It is a very powerful statement because how we look at history is in many ways how we look at ourselves. History is a mirror through which humanity can see itself but quite often we chose to see what isn’t there. A quick perusal of the headlines of the day will be enough to tell you that many of the conflicts of the past still influence the our present actions and way of seeing the world.
My question then is that if history is in fact such a nightmare as many of the people around the world can attest, how do we wake up from the dream and more importantly how do we wake up in such a way that we are able to capitalize on our new-found awakenness ? At the present moment there are many assumptions that shape our view of history one of which is this belief that there is an end goal to history, that cultures that came before us are more primitive and simple-minded than we are and that we are moving towards an even bigger and better things all the times. There is of course a hubris deeply associated with this idea. We are just as warlike to each other as we always have been. Distribution of wealth and class tension have been an issue from Ancient Rome and Egypt to present day, the rhetoric might change, no one is saying “let them eat cake” but the issue remains. Yes we have come from the bullock cart to the supersonic jet engine but what has really changed ? We still look for meaning, try to comes to term with our mortality and find joy wherever we can.
The Book Stupid Ancient History is an interesting book. It presents us with many snap shots of our own ancient history in easy to read digestible bits. The Author Leland Gregory lets the event speak for themselves and in doing so succeeds in making history more accessible and with greater accessibility comes a better dialogue with our past. While the anecdotes he presents are sometimes silly, shocking, strange, and quite funny; they are all true. It should be said again that often through the guise of comedy real truths can be pointed to. It should also be said that sometimes it’s good to take a step back and laugh at our pasts misdoings. I really loved reading this book and I am happy to recommend it. It made me laugh out loud on the train and it also made me reflect deeply on the current state of things like the 2012 Presidential Elections here in the USA. Take a look at this:
Quintus Tullius Cicero was the younger brother of the celebrated statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero. When Marcus decided to run for consul of the Roman republic in 64 BC, Quintus, was, well, basically his campaign manager. Quintus wrote a small book called Commentariolum petitionis (Little Book on Electioneering). The following passage sounds like it could apply to any contemporary political race
“Make sure that your election campaign is one long parade, magnificent and splendid, appealing to popular taste, presenting a grand and dignified spectacle. If at all possible, you should arrange for some scandal to be stirred up against your competitors, involving either criminal behavior of sex or bribery, depending on their character.”
Check the book out here on Amazon: