To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian’s dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.
Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant’s matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,—
“Ah, my dear lord, untrain’d in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!“
What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death’s darts e’en flying feet o’ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake.
First, I would like to say, that History it is a modern branch of Human knowledge, relatively speaking, some debate that it was born when Humans were able to write, and keep a record, other may include oral traditions, and now days with our technological, and methodological knowledge, we can derive historical information by deduction on archaeological discoveries, on simple things, like what sort of debris, (food) waste, garbage, tools, geographical, geological data, etc. This is valuable information that would indicate the time period, degree of knowledge, sophistication, and culture, however when we talk of History as a record of events based on the descriptions of specific events were we only have knowledge because there is a graphic depiction of it, like a picture, or some sort of writing we could decipher, and therefore we can name it a record.
However, this doesn’t mean that whatever we find necessarily mean it is an historical fact, after all, so named facts need interpretation, and there is where the problem lays.
Neither we can trust ancient writings, just because they exist, let’s take for example Gilgamesh the great Sumerian king of Uruk, whose cuneiform Akkadian record it is one of the oldest in existence (2,500 BC) no doubt a Historical figure of the likes of Gilgamesh existed, however it would be ridiculous to take his epic adventures as History in the modern sense…
Herodotus has been named: “The Father of History” and it is the name most of us know it for, as the first known person who somewhat systematically presented History to us, however it is well known for the serious student of History, that Herodotus other name is: “Herodotus the father of lies!”
Even a little after his time, in ancient Greece he had his critics, like Thucydides who dismissed him as a “teller of stories” . Accused by many of inaccuracy, bias, and plagiarism, Lucian of Samosata call him a liar, and goes as far as denying him a place in the Elysian fields! The equivalent of Dante’s placing an historical figure in Hell in his Divine Comedy.
In all fairness Herodotus belonged to an age more Mythical, than Historic, were what we call facts, were not a priority when yarning a story, rendering lots of stories as mere fanciful folk tales, to many modern historians Herodotus is a source of information of the ancient world, but with no reliability as to it’s veracity due to the many lapses in to fanciful tales, Mythological themes, and well known biases.
Now the point I want to make is that even in our times, were we boast of a better methodology, when regard to history, it doesn’t mean that what we read in a book regarding a specific period in history, located by time, Geography, and people connected to the events in question, this mean what we read is actually a Historical fact…History has no facts, what we have it is a series of events, oral, or written accounts, views, and analysis by individuals, who either participated, or were witness to such events, or historians who combed through such records, and gave us their particular views of them.
This views are not facts, this are molded by the particular individual bias, and background that influence the interpretations of such events, and since no body can be said to be exempt of a particular social, ethnic, race, education, cultural, etc. Background it can’t be expected to be totally neutral, and therefore just, and accurate. To demonstrate this read any Historical event, like a battle, but pick two writers in the opposite sides of the Battle, or talk to people in Easter Europe, and the Balkans about whose land belongs to who, or search the meaning of the word Balkanization, now defined a protracted social conflict!
However the Myths of History persist in our Imagination, did Marie Antoinette really ever said: “Let them eat cake?” Did Emperor Nero played the Lire meanwhile Rome was burning? Does the wild West was rife with lawless men, and gunfights were a common occurrence? Did Bruce Lee got murdered? It is cattle ranching, and the cowboy an American invention? Did Christopher Columbus discovered America?
Maybe we could argue Man to be partial. and venial, and therefore to choose sides on issues regarding History preferring this version, over the other one, but in any case there is this factor of acceptance of belief choosing one view over others, not unlike Mythology, a narrative that explains, and give sense to a particular view of the world, (Weltanschauung) be this primary causes, like the Origin of the World, and Men, to Epic stories about our forefathers and their heroic exploits, in other words a search for a Rationale.
History it is no different, it pretends to give a more objective, and accurate Rationale than Mythology, and it can be very good at researching minutia, like what was the number of men in the Hernando Cortes expedition to conquer Mexico in 1519, how many ships, the name of his Captains, the number of horses, and guns, etc. They brought with them, but as to the motives, thoughts, actions and subjective analysis of the whole adventure all we can say is that we posses a narrative of those events, and a rationale to explain their behavior given by the sources of the story, as for the fairness of it, and the fallacies, that no doubt are in the story, since the voice of the conquered is more, or less silent for the most, in order to have a fair assessment to some resemblance of truth…
But what is not explained is why men needs a Rationale? And therefore History as a discipline, and Mythology as it’s result?
This may seem Obvious, but in fact most human beings never question their Rationale, and it is taken for granted, since our motivations form part of who we are, given previously to us by the context, and our roots that compose our own Mythos, our own legend.
And in our own legend we can’t be the bad guy, or our motives can’t be questioned as the product of greed, pride, lies, naked ambition, stupidity, ignorance, etc. In other words the sum of our failures, and wickedness as foible individuals susceptible to corruption, it is what form our rationale, our myth. This Myth of course goes beyond the individuals, to the story of families, clans, towns, states, nations. Who form their own interpretation of events, not only to explain motives, but to sustain the existential rationale of Being.
Of course by this I do not imply that there is not a higher motives, and in some cases altruistic motives here, and a little bit there, to our Rationale, however if we are honest we may recognize that our myths are not totally pure, and therefor exempt from folly, and hubris.
Being our young, fertile ground to exploit their Imaginations in to the service of an ideal we have instituted History in our classrooms, to serve the purpose of the State, giving us a sense of coherence and National unity as a society, to be exploited as a virtue, but in most cases to serve obscure, an philistine groups, for material gains and private interests in our society and nothing to do with the welfare of the majority, since Roman times the well known phrase by the lyrical poet Horace:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
It is used time, and time again in every generation to arouse excitable, young and inexperience minds in to action, and in this way we build a Mythology around National heroes that is despicable in it’s mendacity.
History, maybe..? Mythology you bet!
As Human beings we are creatures of meaning, as much as our rational understanding pretends to ignore that things, events, History lack any objective meaning, just it is, and meaning is what we add, well yes, that is what we do, that is how we function, in order to maintain our Rational of Being we draw the Objective, from the Subjective, this may be so named History, or Mythology it is necessary to fulfill our learning process, and to confirm, or assert our place in our Universe to justify who we are, and provide us with meaning to our existence, and our actions. We hold History, and Mythology as a repository of Wisdom from which we nourish our souls, and take further insight to guide our lives, as individuals, families, clans, cities, states and nations.
But as shapers, and makers of our own interpretation of Rationale, the makers of History and our Myth, no longer we can look at History as what happens like if is a given, we can’t abdicate our responsibility, is up to us to choose carefully, justly, and with wisdom, to transform the Subjective, in to the Objective, after all, our own future, and the future of the World would depend on it. In my view we no longer can afford to follow in the steps of misguided Mythologies that have plagued Mankind since the beginning of History, mainly the history of conflict, warfare, and conquest, we need a new Myth, a Myth that would praise Virtue, Peace, and Human understanding, rather than conflict, so our History will be a brilliant example of Wisdom in living, a Golden Age of Men, let’s all work for it.