There were probably humans as wise as any of us, tens of thousands of years (at least) before our time.

Reading ancient works can be much like reading Science Fiction, it can remove one from the culture he happens to inhabit.

Something linguists frequently note is that here is no such thing as a primitive language, only primitive people. Often these primitive people have cultural traits or oral history indicating that their ancestors once enjoyed a more advanced culture.

People today often imagine that we live at the apogee of human civilization. Would not the most advanced civilization be that which enabled humans to realize their natures most fully. Would not the most advanced civilization be that which resulted in people experiencing the deepest peace, bliss, and self-knowledge.

Any medium to deep study of ancient writings will quickly convince the reader that the current notion of progress may be just temporal provincialism. Much of what has survived is as deep, poignant, and indicative of real knowledge as anything in our era (by our era, I mean the last 2000 years: Roman/European Civilization). Not only does wisdom seem to be very ancient, but there are other interesting things in these works.

There are certain common denominators in ancient writings, from diverse cultures and times. These common denominators include a cyclic view of human history (risings and fallings of civilizations and knowledge systems), a belief that men once communed with the gods (whatever these gods were), and a belief that man once possessed knowledge or things that he now lacks. There's a lot of food for thought here!

A major problem with studying ancient history, is that almost any Pre-Greek, Pre-Indus culture we study (like Sumer), is so far removed from us that the images and words cannot really be translated well. People today often fail to understand the extent to which allegory was sometimes used to communicate ideas. Another problem is that the scholars studying these cultures may have bought the modern notion that these were primitive people, who believed in gods because they couldn't otherwise explain their world, etc. Another problem is that people differed in ancient times as much as they do today, and that you sometimes have to read between the lines to deduce what led to a particular individual writing or recording something.

Note that bardic (oral) transmission, along with the initiate system (a system where you are taught the lessons of a school only after you've proven yourself to be capable of understanding them) may have transmitted knowledge semi-accurately over very long periods of time. We live in a culture where words can be accurately recorded, but where people mistakenly believe that understanding the word definitions of a text is equivalent to understanding the text's "meaning" (you have to think about this one).

Finally, you can even study ancient history by examining certain things that we've inherited from those days. For example, why do we have a seven day week?

This is definitely a food for thought essay. I don't claim to fully understand everything these ancients were into. It is the pondering of some of these mysteries that I'm encouraging here. Why does there seem to have been a world-wide paleolithic culture enamored of astronomical monuments? How had this culture spread across oceans? Remember that to study ONLY the popular or widely disseminated ideas of your time is like assuming that the evening news on television REALLY informs you about the key events in the world (read universe).

Back to Philosophy Home