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In Praise of Past Times

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

For several months now, I have been lifting quotes from a website called Laudator Temporis Acti, a blog site where I go to get inspired. And it never fails to do so. The Latin means, roughly, “One who praises past times.” About half of my long quotations are lifted bodily from the site, with the only acknowledgment being a tag at the end that reads laudator-temporis-acti.

Run by a scholar in Conyers, Georgia, by the name of Michael Gilleland, the website pays homage to the thinking of times past, from ancient Greece and Rome through the nineteenth century. Each quotation is well documented. When translation is necessary, an honest attempt is made to get to the gist accurately and, sometimes, elegantly.

Some people—my own brother included—think that I live in the past. If that were so, why would I be blogging here? Why would I own a cellphone? Why would I drive to work in an automobile? No, I like to investigate the past because nothing serves to help me understand the present than to see what is both constant and meritorious in the human condition. That’s why I am concurrently reading Marcus Tullius Cicero and William H. Prescott (History of the Conquest of Peru). Oh, I could be reading something contemporary about philosophy, but I probably wouldn’t understand it as easily as I could understand the Roman. And I can (and will) be reading contemporary books about Peru, but it was Prescott who originally got the ball rolling. Everything since published about the Inca owes a debt to the Harvard-educated historian of the 1800s. And no one has written on the subject more eloquently.

I don’t frequently recommend websites, and none do I recommend so whole-heartedly as Laudator Temporis Acti. I visit it several times a week and urge you to do so as well. Among other things, you will discover what William Faulkner did, that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past” (from his Requiem for a Nun).

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