To most people, the term “Ancient History” brings certain things to mind – Toga parties, cool Greek ruins, and that film with scantily-clad men with big wells. But ask them for clarification beyond that, and you’ll often be at the receiving end of a blank look. In fact, the most common question that gets raised is quite simply, “Why does it matter?”
More often than not, the part of Ancient history that gets satirized and thus publicized is the most academic part of it. Sure, it would be right to say no one would be too interested in the way the Greeks lived their lives, or see the value of learning about the different cults and their gods and goddess. These are, at best, interesting facts to throw about at one of these aforementioned Toga parties.
However, if you took the time to stop and look around, then you will realize that the Ancient world is very much around us. The Architecture of your local library might have certain columns holding it aloft that was based off Greek designs. English, along with the Alphabet, and words like Hydro, Hippo, Equestrian, Virtue, all come from either Greek or Latin derivatives. Rhetoric, the form of speech often used by politicians, comes from the Greek Sophists. Looking even beyond that, at the very structure of our system, of abstract ideas like Democracy or the freedom of speech, all derive from the Ancient world; just a few of the things that we have taken from the Ancient world.
Admittedly, while the value of the above concepts are noted, some might go further to argue that while the Ancient world undoubtedly contributed to our world, the relevance of studying it has not been ascertained. I would agree that learning these things won’t necessarily affect how day to day living is concerned. To understand where Democracy comes from does not mean you can change it today. However, by understanding the motivation of its creation in the first place allows us a deeper understanding of the system, and consequently, of human nature. The relevance of Ancient History does not necessarily lie in knowledge of past events, in and of itself. Rather, by learning of the Ancient world, you’re acquiring a set of skills that are easily transferable to your life as a whole. Every successful student of Ancient History has to learn primarily to put themselves into a pair of well-worn shoes two millennium old. They have to learn to conceptualize key events and contextualize it with the happenings before and after the event, along with the socio-economic state of the day. They have to understand what were the motivations for certain actions and understand the consequences of them. Simply put, it’s essentially a case study of the past that gives you skills that lets you critically examine things in the present.
So, with the hope that the relevance of Ancient history has been established, I leave you with the famous words of George Santayana;” Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”