The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is a proverb I’ve found to be true in a great many cases.  The basic principle is one that I try to instill in my students.  I teach ancient history, which is often very remote for 21st century undergraduates until they are able to see that regardless of time, hairstyles or a centuries long “oddity” of men wearing skirts, human beings are more or less the same.  Placed in similar circumstances, humans are rather predictable in their attitudes and decision making.  A piece of ancient news (how’s that for a fabulous oxymoron?!)  came across my Facebook feed today courtesy of a pal (Hi Pal!) that illustrates this beautifully.

I have been complaining pretty much non stop the past few days about being sick.  I had great plans for my Spring Break which have been more or less been canned by a rotten stomach flu.  Yesterday afternoon, still feeling crummy, I had just shipped my daughter off to a Lenten service with my parents and was preparing to lay down for a while when my sister called needing help in a transferring her two cats between the vet and home with only one carrier.  I ended up sitting in the car for thirty minutes with the post surgical cat sans carrier while she was inside with the other one.

My internal whine-alogue was in high gear wondering why no one seemed to realize that I am unwell…sitting in a car babysitting a cat who won’t come out from under the seat…why didn’t she just buy another stupid carrier…and so on.  When she came to reclaim her cat, I went on my gloomy way, planning to stop at the market.  I needed more ginger ale to settle my stomach, and while I was there, I would grab something for my husband to eat for dinner since both kids were covered, and heaven knows an adult male who once worked as a chef won’t be able to manage by himself if I’m physically in the house.  I was almost through the store when I got a text from my oldest looking for a ride home from play rehersal…I could have cried.  NOW?!! I texted back….no answer…typical.   My mind had already settled on the comforting reality of going home to grab a short nap while the house as still quiet, but that was not to be.  My martyred sensibilities were griping all the way to the school and then back as I crabbed aloud about how nobody cared that I didn’t feel well…that I would need to be actually dead before somebody wasn’t calling me to do something for them…and on and on and on.

I’m sure it was a pretty good show…my son certainly seemed to enjoy it based on all of the eye rolling and sighing he was doing.  I was gratified to see that my put upon attitude is not unique to me…it’s not even unique to my millenium.  Humans have always had a tendency toward passive aggressive melodrama, as a recently translated letter, written on papyrus in the 3rd century AD illustrates handily.

The fragmentary state of this papyrus illustrates nicely why so much of our knowledge of the ancient world is bracketed by ??

The fragmentary state of this papyrus illustrates nicely why so much of our knowledge of the ancient world is bracketed by ??

From what the translator, a Rice University graduated student can make out, this is a letter written by a Roman soldier of Egyptian heritage (Egypt had been annexed by Rome in 31 BC) writing home from his post in Pannonia in south eastern Europe.  A long way from home and missing communication from his family, he wrote,

Translated by Grant Adamson, Rice University

Translated by Grant Adamson, Rice University

Ah, that vaguely bitchy, passive aggressive, aggrieved tone.  Yes, I know it well.  This isn’t a particularly ancient sentiment, or a modern one either.  I’d say it’s more of a universally human response.  In a world that sometimes seems to change faster than I can keep up with, it’s somewhat comforting to know that some things, like good old pissiness, are essentially immutable  🙂

It did make me think though,

...and I can't, for the life of me, see Porter or Thorin being quite so whiny.  (but it might make a great fan fic!)

…and I can’t, for the life of me, see Porter or Thorin being quite so whiny. (but it might make a great fan fic!)

15 comments on “The more things change, the more they stay the same…

  1. Servetus says:

    And parents wonder why their kids don’t write home — because “out of sight, out of mind” works both ways … I loved the Roman letter, and I hope you feel better soon.

    • obscura says:

      No kidding…I suppose it’s easier to bear when you’re not alone. Even now in the age of video chat, I have a difficult time connecting with my family when I’m abroad…life reall does go on when I’m not there 🙂

      I wonder what kind of mundane guard duty this legion was on that he had time to send six letters and the possibilty for leave…

  2. Perry says:

    I was fooled. I was certain the letter was going to be complaints about life in the army, stupid commanders, bad food and the rest. But no,”How come you never call?” Feel better soon.

    • obscura says:

      Thanks…I think I’m on the mend.

      I love these “slice of life” personal documents from the past. Makes me wonder whay kind of “subtle” family arm twisting was in the lost portions! (I can totally relate…if my sister had not done me a solid very recently, I would have been unavailable for catsitting duty.)

  3. katie70 says:

    You know we mom’s could be died and we still have to have the meals on the table, clean clothes and a clean house. I also say that mom’s can’t get sick but we do.

    When Mr. 70 goes to training for a few days we are never in the picture, yes forgotten while he is gone, no calls nothing.

    Hope you are feeling better.

  4. Joanna says:

    It’s hard to be a “solid ground”. Hope you are feeling better , Obascura 🙂

  5. Leigh says:

    A g.i. bug, especially when you could have otherwise enjoyed time off, is enough to make anyone pissy-minded. I hope you are feeling a lot better. For what it’s worth, I agree that both cats should have had their own carriers. I love the letter. So true that humans haven’t really changed and aren’t likely to, either. As for Thorin and Porter, they are too busy staying alive, too focused on their missions, to have a good whinge.

    • obscura says:

      It was supposed to have gone, pick up kitty one at vet, bring her home and unload, then reload with kitty two and back to the vet…all managed with the one carrier, but I guess my sister’s day at work went haywire.

      I think the worst part about it was the frustration that my anticipated break was leeching away while I was in bed…I kind of set myself up for that.

      Re: whining…yes, I rather think that the author of this letter had quite of bit of down time on his hands.

  6. guylty says:

    Oh no – is that bug still bugging you? Hope it’ll be out of your system soon – especially as it is break time now!!! You don’t want to be wasting that with sickness.
    As for the whiney passive-aggressive letter: Were there female soldiers in the Roman Army? Rhetorical question – I know there weren’t. But that letter really looked rather female to me in its sentiment. The “you NEVER” and “noone BUT ME” arguments are soooo typically female. Despicable 😀 Having said that – I have that kind of inner monologue going on quite often. But at least I don’t say it out loud…

    • obscura says:

      I think we all have those moments, and they are not usually our proudest 🙂 I swear, I all but laid on the ground and kicked my feet the other day. I was laughing as I read the part of the letter where he says that he will take leave and come home so the can see that the do still have a brother (read: to whom they don’t bother to write!). Oh the drama!!

  7. Leigh says:

    A boyfriend once went on a diplomatic mission in a dangerous location for a year. No card, no phone call, no e-mail, nothing. Then he reappears, like he’d just gone round the corner for bread and milk. No explanation, not even “sorry.” He wondered why I was pissed, why “I love you” didn’t make it all better. There’s passive-aggressive whining, and then there’s being unambiguously furious.

  8. […] Scenes associated with the Trojan War are extremely common in Greek art, and although Homer’s Iliad is the most well known source of Trojan War lore, it actually only covers a very small portion of the whole story arc.  There are a whole slew of other bits and pieces of the Trojan Cycle that survive in fragments from a variety of different sources.  Here’s the catch though – this particular episode is not to be found in any of the extant stories that discuss the Trojan War, yet it became extremely popular as an art motif in the wake of Exekias (there are over 150 known vases decorated with this scene in the 50 years following Exekias’ career).  John Boardman, a heavy hitter in the world of Greek vase painting, suggested that perhaps Exekias was pulling a vignette from local “bardic traditions”  that had never become part of the mainstream story.   In the absence of any strong evidence pointing in another direction, I’d argue that it’s equally possible that an artist like Exekias was tapping into his own imagination…developing a headcanon for what might have gone on in the considerable downtime that the Greek heroes would have had during the ten year siege of Troy.  What was I saying about things changing and staying the same? […]

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