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!)