Thucydides Was Right: History Is a Possession for All Time

Is it a terrible error in logic to see a correlation between the decline of the study of history and the ugly reemergence of some of the 20th century’s most hateful creations? Can we separate this from the last decade’s focus on STEM education and NCLB’s industry and late-capitalism friendly goals?

As an educator and a classicist it is obvious to me that not studying history, philosophy, and literature is a good way to end up pretty ignorant. But that may just may be a product of my own confirmation bias. Learning from the past can just be too hard. (And where’s the profit motive?) During another great rupture in another chaotic, contradictory and dynamic culture, Thucydides put it best:

 1.22

“Perhaps the non-mythical nature of these accounts will seem less pleasurable to audiences—but it will be pleasing enough if whoever desires to examine past events clearly and the types of similar events that will happen again in the future because of human nature judges these writings helpful. This is a possession for all time rather than some competition entry offered for immediate consumption.”

ἔλεγον, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἑκατέρων τις εὐνοίας ἢ μνήμης ἔχοι. καὶ ἐς μὲν ἀκρόασιν ἴσως τὸ μὴ μυθῶδες αὐτῶν ἀτερπέστερον φανεῖται· ὅσοι δὲ βουλήσονται τῶν τε γενομένων τὸ σαφὲς  σκοπεῖν καὶ τῶν μελλόντων ποτὲ αὖθις κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον τοιούτων καὶ παραπλησίων ἔσεσθαι, ὠφέλιμα κρίνειν αὐτὰ ἀρκούντως ἕξει. κτῆμά τε ἐς αἰεὶ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀγώνισμα ἐς τὸ παραχρῆμα ἀκούειν ξύγκειται.

 

thucydides

 

2 thoughts on “Thucydides Was Right: History Is a Possession for All Time

  1. I have thought about this topic a lot lately, and it occurs to me that we, the students of history, have not learned its most important lesson: that is, that people never do actually learn from history. No matter how much intellectuals and scholars may devote to it, humanity as a whole is more likely to shrug off its importance. The broad outlines of almost every major historical catastrophe can be glimpsed in ancient history, yet it is commonly disregarded as a potential tool for prognostication. Only after a modern disaster occurs do we retroactively apply the historical pattern to the current evidence.

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