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Ancient Words

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea with fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan

I have just finished the Art of War by Sun Tzu written circa 550 BC. Prior to that, there was The Iliad and The Odyssey both accredited to Homer and written circa 725 BC. Sun Tzu penned his book in Chinese, Homer in Greek. Dwelling upon these works, it occurred to me that I had just learned from books scribed in a language I did not understand, that I had communed with the ancients through books written in BC*, Before Christ times.

When reading the history of the works on Wikipedia, it dawned upon me that language, in particular written language, is very powerful, so powerful that it is a defining aspect of Man and a key factor in the growth of our knowledge and development of our society, a factor, without which, our ability to pass knowledge down to future generations would be via the spoken word, a medium that frequently morphs the data instead of accurately capturing information for future study and gift wrapping the wisdom for our children.

The ideas were thought by the only being known to write and those ideas, written on paper and bound between two covers, are extremely powerful. That the term bound seems a misnomer for the passing down of books because, by the virtue of being recorded in books, the ideas are now unbound by space or time. Books have the ability to persuade an individual, to unite the masses, to topple a government, to change a heart, to transform a life, to connect both disparate and like-minded people around the world. Books are so powerful that governments have been known to ban them, burn them in a misguided attempt to control the people, to hide the atrocities of those in power.

I find it truly amazing that, because we have learned to record our thoughts in writing, I have the opportunity more than two thousand years after the fact, to drink in the thoughts of Homer, to savor the wisdom of Sun Tzu, to masticate on the ideas of minds both ancient and modern, to learn from people I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise encounter. I am much richer a person, we are a wealthier society for having such limitless opportunity.

With this great capital at our fingertips, it’s sad that many in society don’t have access to this invaluable resource and are forced to live a life devoid of ancient secrets. It is sadder still that there are people on this earth that cannot read. The real travesty, though, is that amongst this bounty so many choose a life of intellectual poverty because they will not read books, that in this era of unrivaled access to written media people refuse to commit any time to seek out and dwell upon the wisdom of the ancient words.

* I forego the politically correct use of Before Common era as the expression of BC because much of what is called political correctness is feeble minded at best and in the case of ‘before common era’ to be downright idiotic. If you ask the politically correct people when the common era began, they will, at some point, have to admit it began at the birth of Christ. The Before Christ annotation is to denote a point in history. That it happens to also be tied to a religious date does not change history. Ignoring the phrase Before Christ is to ignore some of the rich multi-cultural heritage passed down to us by our ancestors. In the quest for a truly enlightened society, why not just call it what it truly represents?


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