Learn from history – or remain forever a child

While writing a context for a Biznews article yesterday, I found myself quoting Cicero, the long dead Roman orator and philosopher whose beliefs live on through the blueprint of democracy, the American Constitution.

Indeed, the discovery in 1345 of a collection of letters from Cicero to his friend Atticus sparked a cultural revolution that developed into Europe’s Renaissance – and the modernity we take for granted today.

Over the weekend, the London Sunday Times published a lengthy treatise on Cicero by English author Robert Harris, who has just finished the last in a trilogy of novels on the man. Harris writes that he invested 12 years researching Cicero, a journey which began when he acquired 29 volumes of Cicero’s speeches and letters from a bookshop in Oxford.

A fierce defender of democratic ideals, Cicero was unable to prevent the capitulation of his beloved Republic into dictatorship, and was executed for his beliefs. He also left us with a philosophical grounding that’s as apt today as it was 2 000 years ago.

Among the lessons is that for democracy to flourish, citizens must attack tyranny and corruption at every opportunity. And he urged us to retain a reverence for history and learning, because “to be ignorant of what has occurred before you were born, is to remain always a child.” We can sure learn a lot from dead guys.

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