Tuesday, April 5, 2011

History IV

My apologies for not returning to this subject earlier (I have a habit of losing my concentration. I blame the time period I'm in). But it is time to turn our attention back to history, by way of legends.

I first wish to clarify something that came up in discussions with others. The challenge to my thesis was that in today's world people are not interested in "History." In particular our young seem dreadfully incurious. I would answer the challenge twofold.

First, it is not all apparent that there is a lack of curiosity of history. What I perceive is a lack of curiosity of "History." The difference lies in the presentation. "History," as presented in classrooms across America, is a shadow of what it could be. Robbed of any rational perspective and lacking in any meaningful depth, "History" is taught and thought of today as a study in trivia. Facts of the past that for some reason are important to learn but when asked why the only reply teachers can muster are empty phrases such as "History repeats" and "Those who don't know their History are doomed to repeat it." With the parallels between modern America and ancient Rome quite apparent to anyone who has studied both, it appears that those who know their history are just as doomed to repeat as those who don't.

With that in mind it is no wonder that today's youth are apathetic toward history. If those who teach history are powerless to stop the repeat of history, why bother to learn it? It seems to have not done the previous generation any good. And why would one want to see the oncoming bus of history if one can do nothing about it? It would be akin to standing in the middle of the street and seeing the bus that is about to hit you. I for one would rather be looking the wrong way down the street, and my end to be swift.

But it is this lifeless form of "History" that serves quite well to contrast to the purpose of legends. Legends (I would argue) just one of the means used to communicate those elusive eternal truths that one generation would pass on to the next. What I mean by legends is rather loose in the definition. Legends, such as the journey of Odysseus or Gilgamesh, the heroics of King Aurthur, the stories of the Crusades, or the modern tales of Tolkien.

Legends, properly understood, have been used since man first could talk to communicate deeper truths that could not be expressed through mere dialogue. The journey of Gilgamesh taught of the inability to escape death. The journey of Odysseus teaches the arbitrary will of the gods and the fate of the dead. The story of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein warns of trying to play God. Such stories and legends throughout human imagination convey ideas and truths that cannot simply be expressed in their depth and magnitude through simple dialogue.

The legend of St. Francis and St. Claire, whose love for God burned so bright that the local town thought the forest was on fire, teaches with word imagery that which dry "facts" cannot convey. The love of God that was in them was so powerful that this legend is but one of many that surround the two saints. And like all legends that surround real people, the details factual quality is not important, but what the details are attempting to convey, the deeper truth of the light of the love of God.

This concept of legends lacking in "historical truth" but driving at deeper truths is one that must be explored a little more deeply if we are to understand history's true importance, and why

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