Reading is fun. It expands our lives, putting us into the mind of the writer, seeing her world, thinking her thoughts.
Reading is time travel. The technology of writing and translation allows us to inhabit the mind of someone who lived long ago. The people and events she describes are long gone, the actors dead. Yet they live as inked thoughts, springing to life as our eyes light upon the page. My favorites are the works of Homer (any translation is good, but Fagels has done a brilliant job) and many of the translated fragments we have from ancient Egypt. I’m skipping through Miriam Lichtheim’s “Ancient Egyptian Literature” at the moment.
One of the fun things about time traveling like this is that we realize there are so many behaviors that are similar to what we do today. Is this so strange? Are we not the same people? Men chasing women, thinking of them as property to be mounted. People in power looking for even greater glory, or being bested by an underling using intrigue and guile. The excitement and gore of war, and the joy of feasts.
There is also a dark side to time travel; we can see how people are not quite the same. For instance, women were treated more roughly than today. Captured people became slaves. Life was cheap, so that murder was considered acceptable. And the darkest side of all is the treatment of children, for they were considered something less valuable than even a slave.
We don’t time travel as much as we used to, there is so much other fantasy and fiction to keep us occupied. Even entertainment having the trappings of history is mostly concerned with sex and gore, sure to get great ratings. But the true beauty of visiting a long-dead soul are learning to see the world through their eyes.
I’m going to talk time-travel over the next few weeks, but this trip is going to be on the dark side. Be ready to look at people who committed atrocities thousands of years ago, yet were considered good people. Through them, we will see that there are people even today that we consider good, who will someday be known to be committing atrocities.
Time travel. Not for the weak of heart.
See you next week.