Pop Quiz

Aug. 24 - We're trying to get Molli Malou to eat on her own. Dinner has never been so interesting.

It was 410 years ago today that Rome was sacked—that's 1595 years ago, if math isn't your strong point.

Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the Imperial city, which had subdued and civilised so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia. (Decline & Fall..., Gibbon)

I haven't really surfed the web for news yet today, but I could easily imagine this anniversary being commemorated by angry leftists craving a collapse of the American Empire and by angry rightists as a cautionary note against the licentious fury of the tribes of Mohammed. I could just as easily imagine the anniversary passing unnoticed.

People generally have a lot to say about history. There is, after all, an awful lot of it, and it's easy to make just about any point you want by citing historical precedent.

From my own amateur reading of history, the only thing I've been able to conclude is that there's pretty solid agreement by historians, and writers interested in history, that history doesn't teach much beyond the fact that we tend not to learn from it.

I'll make a game of it. Here are a bunch of quotes on the subject of history that more or less support my point. See if you can match them to who said them. (The answers can be found at the bottom of this page.)


1. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that long dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

2. So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history, when, on the one hand, those who afterwards write it find long periods of time obscuring their view, and, on the other hand, the contemporary records of any actions and lives, partly through envy and ill will, partly through favor and flattery, pervert and distort truth.

3. We must extend to them [past generations] the same justice which we shall have occassion to ask Posterity, when, by the light of a higher civilization, it surveys the dark or doubtful passages in our own history, which hardly arrest the eye of the contemporary.

4. ...They are just so much refuse which will be swept into the garbage-heap of history!

5. . . .in all things, time, like a draughtsman with an eraser, rubs out every weak line in the drawing of life.

6. To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude, that the fiery and destructive passions of war, reign in the human breast, with much more peaceful sway, than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and, that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.

7. You can create a [superior] third world now, or so everyone thinks, but the third world will have the same people in it as the first world or the second world or whatever names you like to call things. And when you have the same human beings running things, they'll run them the same way. You've only got to look at history.

8. Political genius consists of hearing the distant hoofbeat of the horse of history and then leaping to catch the passing horseman by the coattails. The difficulty is that one may hear the wrong horse, or lunge for the wrong horseman.

9. "What is it," she said very slowly, in the manner of a sibylla, "which is bought dearly, offered for nothing, and then most often refused? — Experience, old people's experience."

10. "Do you think that men always slaughtered one another, as the do nowadays? Were there always liars, cheats, traitors, brigands, weaklings, deceivers, cowards, enviers, gluttons, drunkards, misers, sycophants, butchers, slanderers, debauchers, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?"

"Do you think that hawks have always devoured pigeons at every opportunity?"


"Well, then, if hawks have remained the same, why should men have been altered?"


A. Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
B. Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), The Monkey
C. Winston Churchell, addressing Parliament in May 1936
D. Plutarch, Life of Pericles
E. Leon Trotsky (via John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World)
F. Otto von Bismarck (via William Manchester's The Last Lion)
G. Agatha Christie, Passenger to Frankfurt
H. Voltaire, Candide
I. W.H. Prescott, The History of the Conquest of Mexico
J. The Federalist, #34

That'll have to wrap it up for today... I need to get Molli Malou out the door before she renovates the apartment (again).

Answers: 1C, 2D, 3I, 4E, 5A, 6J, 7G, 8F, 9B, 10H

2005, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]