Esteemed thinker: Herodotus and the past

 

street sign

If you think you can escape the past, think again. We are reminded, though in a subliminal way, of those events or people who came before. In any town, hamlet, and city, one has only to look up at the street signs to be reminded of those who may have made a big or little mark in history. It is a way of honoring those who contributed to a community, a well-meaning intention to give recognition to a person. However, like landmarks, airports, and cities that were named after persons of notoriety, the past today has often little meaning and has become as commonplace as the billboards we drive by each day.

So, here’s to those who may have made a positive mark and those who remember the ones that came before.

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Today’s blog brings the esteemed thinker: Herodotus (c. 484 – 425/413 BCE) a writer who invented the field of study we know today as “history”. He is documented as being the world’s first historian, having authored of the first great narrative history written in the ancient world, the History of the Greco-Persian Wars. He was well traveled, going over the East, Egypt, North Africa and Greece. Acquainted with the Sophoclean circle, he joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in Southern part of Italy and died there before the end of the century. The information he gathered was derived mainly from oral sources, as he traveled through Asia Minor, down into Egypt, round the Black Sea, and into various parts of Greece and the neighboring countries.

Although there are some who claim that his narratives are all but fabrications of tales he designed, criticism of his work may have originated among Athenians who took exception to his account of the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE). While it is said that Herodotus makes some mistakes in his work, it is also believed that his Histories are moreover reliable and scholarly studies in all disciplines concerning his work continue to validate his most important observations.

And so we take time from our busy day to look back into antiquity, and read a snippet from his work, An Account of Egypt (440 BCE) Place yourself in this era, if you dare, and imagine how unbelievable his description must have sounded. I bring you the “father of history”, known only by one name, Herodotus.

“… Of the crocodile the nature is as follows: —during the four most wintry months this creature eats nothing: she has four feet and is an animal belonging to the land and the water both; for she produces and hatches eggs on the land, and the most part of the day she remains upon dry land, but the whole of the night in the river, for the water in truth is warmer than the unclouded open air and the dew. Of all the mortal creatures of which we have knowledge this grows to the greatest bulk from the smallest beginning; for the eggs which she produces are not much larger than those of geese and the newly-hatched young one is in proportion to the egg, but as he grows he becomes as much as seventeen cubits long and sometimes yet larger. He has eyes like those of a pig and teeth large and tusky, in proportion to the size of his body; but unlike all other beasts he grows no tongue, neither does he move his lower jaw, but brings the upper jaw towards the lower, being in this too unlike all other beasts…”

First Image: Street sign and houses, Yates Gardens 1920

 

Esteemed thinker: Marcus Aurelius

Marcus aurelius In our very hectic world many turn to self-help books that offer advice and counsel; and although in the 21st century we may feel that our lives are substantially more hectic than our predecessors, it appears that as early as the days of antiquity, folks were too in need of a bit of daily inspiration and direction.

It is with this consideration that I bring back…actually dig up from the archives of the past, the thoughts of the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius ( 121-180 CE). Known best for being a Stoic philosopher…he is especially noted for his book, Meditations, composed in the darker and later decades of his life.

Although the entries are not really what “we” contemporaries would call meditations, it also does not really characterize a diary. For some, we would affirm they are more like the notes of a philosopher, but written on papyrus roles. In its dialogue form, one can find an internal debate which voices from within question or rebuke.

Unlike today’s philosophy, which takes on an academic discipline, Ancient philosophy, though it clearly had an academic component, often was written and argued as provisioning a “design for living” as we see in his works, Meditations. So for today’s blog I dust off the esteemed thinker, Marcus Aurelius, and bring you a taste of his thoughts from Book Ten of Meditations.

* “ Use thyself; as often, as thou seest any man do anything, presently (if it be possible) to say unto thyself, What is this man’s end in this his action? But begin this course with thyself first of all, and diligently examine thyself concerning whatsoever thou doest. “
* (Modern translation: “ Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.”)