Dorks existed 2,000 years ago, too

A question that has intrigued me for some time now is “Why does a given person write about what they write?” Within this question one may look at all places and genres, including modern works writing reviews of other authors and on down through the ages. For me this interested primarily manifests itself in the purposes behind ancient historians, which is significantly aided by the admittance as to purpose in the author’s own introduction.

The task of writing a history of our nation from Rome’s earliest days fills me, I confess, with some misgivings, and even were I confident in the value of my work, I should hesitate to say so. I am aware that for historians to make extravagant claims is, and always has been, all too common: every writer on history tends to look down his nose at his less cultivated predecessors, happily persuaded that he will better them in point of style, or bring new facts to life…

…I am aware, too, that most readers will take less pleasure in my account of how Rome began and her early history; they will wish to hurry on to more modern times…My own feeling is different; I shall find antiquity a rewarding study, if only because, while I am absorbed in it, I shall be able to turn my eyes from the troubles which for so long have tormented the modern world…
~Livy, The Early History of Rome
Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt

As a student of Ancient History and in particular one whose desire is to study in a history department, this passage is incredibly warming to me. Even today there is more enthusiasm for ‘modern’ history than there is for antiquity. Granted, this means there are fewer people job hunting in the field, but it also leads to less recognition.

Livy is admitting he is a dork in this passage. Despite what is trendy and popular, Livy is writing about something he is interested in and love. If there is a better reason to study something, I have not yet heard of it and it is the same reason I am intending to stay in school for years to come.

3 thoughts on “Dorks existed 2,000 years ago, too

  1. He makes an interesting point about the study of the past as an escape from the present here. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with that (I’d definitely classify it as one of the healthier flavors of escapism), but it’s interesting nonetheless.

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  2. There have always been people who study a topic simply for the joy it brings them.And I think that even before history as a field of study existed, some segment of the population has been fascinated by the questions of ‘How did we get to be here?’, and ‘Why are things the way they are?’. Almost every culture develops origin myths, and many encode history in fable form. I suppose once writing was invented to keep records, it was a natural progression to begin recording the people, places, and events that we call history.

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  3. Lightgamer: Yes, that is one of the lines that I fully agree with and yet am not sure how to really take. He was living in a very tumultuous time, true, but there is also a reading that makes it more personal in that he could be trying to escape from how life was in general, rather than the endemic political upheaval. Either way it is a glimpse into life at the time, the author himself and the human side of such a work. Sometimes that element is forgotten in the modern quest for objectivity, but one of my reasons for loving the introductions is that they give a more or less direct window.Laurion: Yes, I agree in principle that there are those who study or learn *something* because they are interested in it. There are three reasons for studying that I have seen people recite: External pressures of family (i.e. because my dad/mom/grandfather/etc told me to), Because they had to (i.e. school curriculum) , and because it was important to them and they enjoy it. Of these, I think the third is the best option.I guess what I was trying to say is that it is interesting that some of the trends really haven’t changed all that much in terms of what people care about. 2,000 years ago, there were more people interested in contemporary (Modern is certainly the utterly wrong word), while it was the inquisitive few who seek to look beyond what is currently at hand. I am not saying that ancient history is better than contemporary history (though it is), just that some of the evidence people are forced to go on in the field would make most contemporary historians cringe simply because of what is available.As for the myths, another interesting topic that comes up in works covering the very old times because there is a blending of Myths and facts.

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