As an integral part of my studies on Ancient History, as well as reading modern scholars and recent discoveries, I’ve also been reading ancient texts: documents written by the people living in that time. Some are intended as histories, some are letters, some are other types of documents. But what continues to strike me is how so many of the texts deal with matters we still discuss and debate today, and how many comments are still relevant!
For your amusement, here are a couple of the more obvious examples:
Pliny the Younger, writing in around 100 CE (Common Era, also referred to as AD), excused his long and in-depth letter to a friend by adding, ‘Besides, hasn’t the time come to give up the commonplace “How are you? I hope you are well”?’
I don’t know about you, but that is how I learnt to write letters, almost 2000 years later!
Tacitus, also writing around 100 CE, wrote, ‘In the good old days, every man’s son, born in wedlock, was brought up not in the chamber of some hireling nurse, but in his mother’s lap, and at her knee.’ Tacitus went on to describe what he considered good parenting: a mother’s focus on her child, a mother’s presence and influence, not hiring staff to care for the child instead.
We still have these debates: Stay-at-home-mum versus working mum. The pros and cons of childcare. (If you’re not a parent, you might not have noticed these. But they are ongoing in the online mothering community, and occasionally in the news media!)
My last example is a little bit more complex: not a quote, but a scenario. A Roman tribune named Tiberius Gracchus, in 136 BCE, proposed a law intended to ensure fairer usage of public lands, a reduction in the number of slaves used to farm said land, and an increase in farming citizens – the pool from which soldiers could be drawn. In short, in Roman terms, it was a law intended for the benefit of the state, the greater good. But the law was strongly opposed by rich land-holders: the men who had been exploiting those very same public lands for their own gain, and who had used many slaves to do so. There was such debate and furore over this agrarian law that those rich, greedy men ended up killing Tiberius, or directly causing his brutal murder.
Short of the actual murder, it seems our way of doing politics and business is much the same. Unelected people still have power and influence via money, and sometimes brute force.
The more things change, the more they stay the same! My mother notes it for her lifetime; I am learning to note it for all of recorded history.