The muse of history
What wonderful thing is the present! It is all we own, for the past belongs to our fathers, and the future to our sons. The present, bittersweet as it is, is more sublime and more comprehensive than any historic account or speculation. There is no escape however from the view of history. The eyes of the world are upon us. Let us ponder how we look. Egypt today is the nerve-centre of the world. It is the duty of every good citizen to remember that we are being watched by the world and by history, which will evaluate our actions and reactions.
Like the scribe of the ancients. The Muse of History sits straight with pen in hand and eyes wide open, seeking a link with the past and the future. It will be the task of the historian to find relevance in today's events to yesterday and tomorrow. Will we prove worthy of our glorious legacy? We look with abundant pride on our past history. Will future generations view us with the same pride?
History is not the daily news. It is a science to be written scientifically, pursuing practical facts and evaluating them. Simultaneously, it is a narrative of biographical, moral and political exercise. The Muse registers the crimes and follies of mankind. Time affords the necessary perspective to absorb, understand, analyse and finally moralise. Yet with all the lessons it can teach, History is neither professor nor philosopher. It is a mere pageant of people, of events. It is a gallery of pictures where there are few originals. A series of biographies, of wars, or crimes and criminals has taught us not a word, nor prevented any crime. Edward Gibbon, author of one of the most popular historic narratives: "the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", described it thus: " Historỷê¦̉ê¦is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind". How can it be a great teacher, when it is doomed to repeat itself? Where does the fault lie, in history or in us?
Let the Muse observe and record, let it smile, let it frown, it cannot change the nature of man. Man must commit his own errors, suffer his own misfortunes, not once, but repeatedly, which leads us to wonder about the use of History. Is it totally useless? Can we then dismiss the Muse and discard History? Without History's records who can we trust? How can we even be sure that certain events ever happened? Whether it guides or enlightens, or not, it is our right to know our history. Every child cries for the right to know his roots, his past, his origins. In his infinitely romantic style, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley expressed his passion for History when he wrote:---" History is the cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of men. The past, like an inspired rhapsodist, fills the theatre of everlasting generations with her harmony." Where would England be without her history? Where would Egypt be?
Egypt is at a perilous crossroads and cannot lean on History's lessons, for History imparts none. What is Egypt's destiny? With a fork in the road do we go left, do we veer right, or do we hit the wall? Should History dear Muse, have not taught dictators to avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors? The most tragic aspect of the present predicament is that it could have all been prevented, if only we had heeded the lessons of History. Dear Muse, I forget, History teaches no lessons, or at least, renders us dumb, deaf and blind.
Written in gloomy blue, bloody red and deadly black, History chronicles reports the same crimes and the same punishments of grim and cruel events, revealing the rotten state men's souls can reach. Crime recurs regardless of the cruel punishment that follows. Heaven knows we have tortured and tormented, we have maimed and mangled every criminal for every crime. Yet it has all come to naught. Do we enjoy the suffering? How much pain can a human heart bear? Is it indestructible, or do we simply have a penchant for sell destruction?
Society must take blame for the criminals, just as a nation must take blame for its oppressors. The hangings and shootings and the mighty prison walls have never prevented the criminal from committing his crime. Prisons have never rehabilitated a criminal, who finds his way back to its gates, again and again. We grant them the opportunity and they execute it. Should we have checked our leaders when they first falter and saved ourselves and them much agony and grief? Hind sight is always 20/20, but History assures us that thieves will be thieves and tyrants will tyranise, and mankind is weak and helpless. Is there no redemption?
How will Tomorrow view today, in Egypt, dear Muse? Will it look upon us as a downtrodden, persecuted people who, when they could no longer bear their pain, rose in unison to overthrow an autocratic government and its leader? Or will it look upon us as a nation of sheep who allowed a wolf to hold them hostage, at the mercy of every howl?
Tell us dear Muse, was this the "spring of hope", or " the winter of despair"? Our hearts have been seared and scarred, can you teach us nothing? The answer came faint but clear: The game of politics has no rules, and its players, no morals!
We learn from history that we do not learn from history
-- Georg Wilhelm Frederick Hegel (1770-1831)