“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain is reputed to have said. This nifty aphorism neatly explains why there’s often a compelling urge to compare whatever we are going through with ancient examples…. For better or for worse.
Wait a minute, I hear you cry… isn’t this Classical Wisdom? Your whole schtick is to illustrate just how relevant the ancient world is, how much it can teach us about our today.
Well, yes, you are right, dear reader. But that doesn’t mean that at times making historical comparisons, attempting to overlay past actions on current events, is not only not helpful, but possibly even harmful.
This was something I discussed with Professor Barry Strauss on the end of the Roman empire and its parallels to the United States. It also came up in my interview with novelist Stephen Dando-Collins, who is regularly asked if Trump is the new Caligula. Johanna Hanink, Brown University Classics Professor, also referenced this issue with regards to the Thucydides’ trap in yet another of our podcasts…
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It’s a hard thing for a history lover to ask… but that probably means that it’s even more necessary:
Can we make comparisons from History? How relevant/helpful are ancient analogies?
As always, you can write to me directly at [email protected] or comment below. Please make the subject line HISTORY so I can catch it in my overzealous spam filter.