Sometimes I feel like I’ve got too many interests and activities to really carve out a meaningful online presence for myself. I mean obviously I want to bring attention to Eleven Geese Jewellery because that brings in money for me. But I also want to read and write about kids, history, animals, food, science, um just everything really.
It is human nature to look at the past through rose coloured glasses. Things were always better when you were younger, and morals are always deteriorating. Once upon a time, when somebody said something you knew it was a fact; people simply didn’t lie. People are so much more violent these days, too.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Take it from a history student. The more I study, the more I see that human nature really has not changed significantly in at least the last 3,000 years. Ancient Romans even used to make the same complaints about how much better things used to be!
In the year 41, Seneca the Younger was exiled. When the emperor Claudius’ wife wanted her sister-in-law out of the way, she accused her of adultery, implicating Seneca. The charge was completely false, and yet he was banished to Corsica for it. There’s some nice morality for you, from 1,972 years ago!
Going even further back, to 133 BCE, we can find the death of Tiberius Gracchus. He was a Roman politician who had proposed a new law concerning the use and distribution of agricultural lands for the benefit of the poor. The law threatened the land holdings of the very rich, including many other prominent politicians. It ended when members of the Roman Senate brutally murdered Tiberius and 300 of his followers and threw the bodies into the river.
As for sexual assaults and the subjugation of women, I find it hard to track down specific ancient cases. However I do know that in countless societies around the world, female inferiority arose alongside the advent of agriculture. That means that women have been looked down on for at least 10,000 years, and I see no reason to suppose that brutal rapes have not occurred with some regularity from that point onwards.
So no, things didn’t use to be better. People were not magically nicer. The world was not more peaceful or loving. The sun didn’t always shine, and the grass wasn’t always green. People have always been people, just like us, moved to act by essentially selfish motives – to gain something, or to get away with something.
If you want something different from the world, don’t look to the past. Work on it for the future.
Modern humans tend to consider their own destructiveness as being minimal up until around the time of the industrial revolution. And indeed, there is no doubt that our impact on the Earth increased. But that was far from the start of our planet-changing activities.
Archaic humans (Homo sapiens idaltu) were migrating from Africa around 70,000 years ago. (From here, I will use the abbreviation ‘kya’ for ‘thousand years ago’, so that would be 70 kya.) 100 kya, the world was dominated by at least three distinct great ape species, including our direct ancestors. By 30 kya, our ancestors were more or less alone; we’d overrun our cousins.
Migration from Africa seems to have been driven largely by population pressures and the need for food. We followed the big game west, out across Europe and Asia, over land and water and ice.
Around 65 kya we arrived in Australia. By 50 kya, many large mammal species here were extinct, hunted and eaten by our forebears. The same pattern can be seen in the Americas; extinctions followed the arrival of humans.
It wasn’t just animals we did as we wished with. It’s estimated that about 10% of the Amazon is in its current form due to the intervention of early humans. We encouraged the plants that were more beneficial to us: the plants we could eat from, or those which would suit the animals we wanted to eat. We discouraged or killed off plants that didn’t suit us. Burning the undergrowth left more space for large game herds.
For about 10,000 years we’ve been domesticating food plants, cultivating what we want to eat and clearing out the plants we can’t use. This in turn lead to an expansion of population, as our deliberately chosen and cultivated crops could support more people than foraging for naturally occurring plants.
So basically what I’m trying to say is that humans and our ancestors have been transforming Earth for our own benefit for a very very very long time, and that’s on top of natural events and constant climate fluctuations. There’s some food for thought when you consider trying to reverse it all. Good luck trying to figure out what’s ‘normal’, ‘natural’, or ‘pristine’; is it a hundred years ago, or a hundred thousand? I’m not saying don’t try. Just be aware of what you’re trying to save the planet from.
Last week was exam week for the Fall of the Roman Republic. With Open Universities, a non-invigilated exam will be open, the questions available, for several days or a week, and you submit your answers in a Word document by the due date.
Last week was also the week that Aidan returned to work after a five week break.
Despite needing to work, being sick, and wanting to do his own study (Aidan’s just starting with Open Uni too), he was willing and able to take the kids out a few times and give me plenty of time to get my exam done, distraction-free. I am so grateful; I would never have gotten the thing done if I’d had the kids underfoot the whole time. Aidan’s help and support is, as always, invaluable.
So it’s all done, submitted, and now I move on to my next subject: Human Evolution and Diversity.
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.
Firstly, my apologies for not blogging for a little while. The rest of this post pretty much details why!
I’ve been flat out with uni, finishing off an essay on the ethnic origins of early Israel. I still have one more essay (the language of the Lachish letters) and then I’m done with Ancient Israel.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be starting a unit on the early modern history of Europe – 1400 to 1800. That should be quite interesting! Looking forward to it.
I’ve also been staying with my parents for a few days, just for the lulz. The kids are loving it; doting grandparents are doting. (You may remember that I’m just learning to drive? Well, I drove here all the way myself! Yay, go me.)
FitzRoy Somerset, the fourth Baron Raglan, was a man of many interests and talents. One of his accomplishments was the publication, oft cited amongst historians and others, of a list of characteristics typical of a hero. The list is most often applied to figures of Greek mythology, but can as easily apply to many, or even most, modern literary characters. Raglan’s theory was that the higher a person scores, the less likely it is that the person was historical or that their exploits really happened.
Here it is:
1. Hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
2. His father is a king, and
3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but
7. he is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country.
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. And becomes king.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favour with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death,
19. Often at the top of a hill,
20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.
My challenge for today is to apply that list to the main character of your favourite book or movie, and let me know how they go!