Sunday, August 30, 2009

Accumulated Wisdom

History as Existential Despair, or, What Fools These Mortals Be

She that once appeared the mistress of the world, we have seen what has become of her, shattered by everything that she has suffered from immense and manifold misfortures - the desolation of her inhabitants and the menace of her enemies. Ruins on ruins...where is the Senate? Where the people? All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed...and we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are menaced by scourges and innumberable trial...No more Senate, no more people, but for that which still survives, sorrows and groanings, multiplied every day. Rome is deserted and in flames, and as for her buildings we see them fall down of their own accord.

Gregory the Great (540-604)

The entire human race, both present and future, is condemned to death. All the cities that have ever held dominion or have been the splendid jewels of empires belonging to other - some day men will ask where they were. And they will be swept away by various kinds of destruction: some will be ruined by wars, otheres will be destroyed by idleness and a peace that ends in sloth, or by luxury, the bane of those of great wealth. All these fertile plains will be blotted out of sight by a sudden overflowing of the sea, or the subsiding of the land will sweep them away suddenly into the abyss.

Moral Epistles lxxi. 15

The future belongs to future men. No Sibyl uveils to our view the roads which mankind will travel after us. As it advances in the mass, we will recede into the background. Today we look back upon the past's social and political culture forms as upon obsolete stages of spiritual development. In exactly the same way, subsequent generations will glance backwards upon the constitution which society, state and church have achieved in our present. We know only this: that the synthetic spirit of man forms the world's panorama more splendidly and more uniformly with every day, and that every miracle of its inventive power opens an inconceivable series of miracles yet to come.

Ferdinand Gregorovius (1821-1891)
Historian of the City of Rome and Incurable Optimist