Turning Over New Leaf

Monday, January 23, 2012

What the Ancients Knew


The beginnings of written history, approximately 3000 BC, saw some commonalities among people, such as the Egyptians, Aztecs, and Incas who had become the custodians of our planet.These people knew much more than their ancestors knew. They had learned to use animal skins for clothing. They learned to hunt and fish efficiently. The people of the ancient world built houses for themselves from the materials available to them, and learned to mine ore from the earth and smelt it into metal tools. They grew things.

Egypt was relatively free. It was an isolated land, built along a mighty river, surrounded by deserts. The Egyptians understood and adhered to the principle of hierarchy, with their gods on top, the populace on the bottom, and the pharaohs as liaisons between the human and spirit worlds. One of their secrets was tradition. They did not change for the sake of change. That is why their civilization endured.

In India, there was also a hierarchical caste system developed. Today, the modern world looks upon that system as primitive, without an understanding of the development of ancient cultures. In the Western world, we view class differentiation as social inequality. How many of us have researched the pride felt by the members of the lowest caste in that ancient civilization?

Similarly, the Chinese adhered to ancient hierarchical principles. Their dynasties lasted several millennia largely by focusing on three enduring concepts: merit-based bureaucracy, control over the economy, and the belief that all knowledge, while necessary for meritorious advancement, was dangerous.

I derived much of the information for this post from A History of Knowledge by Charles Van Doren. I found this book to be fascinating and very clearly written, with many examples in support of theory.
Upon completion of the book, I did ponder for quite some time whether twenty-first century people could understand and accept the reality of the ancients. We appear to be more focused on judgments.


  1. Dear JJ,
    We have always to learn from the ancient. They had the experience, although in different settings and times. Our opportunity is to know and act upon the knowledge of the ancients, but adapting that knowledge to what we live in our times.

  2. We can learn a lot from history. Too many people don't realize this fact. I love reading about ancient civilizations around the world.

  3. JJ, there certainly is a lot of abject poverty in those countries you mentioned. I'm just sayin'...

  4. Very interesting post, JJ. I went on a brief, mental journey to another time while reading it. Thanks for the much needed break and the new information!

  5. Hi JJ .. wonderful succinct post - thanks ... puts some perspectives into place.

    I had a quick look at the History of Knowledge book - interesting chap van Doren ..

    What you've written here makes so much sense .. I read somewhere - that the Indian (today) has more knowledge than we have in the western world .. as we've lost that connection to the earth and skies .. I hope I come across it again.

    Cheers - Hilary

  6. FanaticoUm: I agree. Adapting that knowledge is the key.

    Miranda: Absolutely. It is a shame when we make mistakes we could have avoided if we only listened to those who came before us.

    Judy: I don't think anyone could deny that. The only thing we can do is read about the past in the context of the eras in which these people lived. Then, perhaps, we can derive great benefits from what they learned.

    Hilary: I was most impressed that van Doren was able to condense so much information into one relatively small text. That book required a ton of research.

  7. Roxy: I did much the same while I was writing it. The past is thought-provoking.

  8. Hello JJ,
    I found your blog thanks to Roxy over at A Woman's Write. So very glad I did!

    This is a very interesting post. Our Western mindset is that caste systems and absolute rule by a powerful upper class is wrong and harmful. And while I'm not a fan of stifling people simply because they were born into a specific social strata, it is interesting to think that these civilizations endured for so many centuries because of how they were structured.

    Thanks for the enlightenment! Nice to meet you,

  9. Interesting. Once upon a time I considered majoring in history in college, I love it so. I did several reports on Egypt and ancient writings, I was riveted by those subjects - so much to learn. Enjoyed the post :),
    Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  10. Jen: Nice to meet you. I agree. We often think everyone thinks as we do, and it simply is not true. We must at least appreciate other cultures, even if we disagree with aspects of them. Thanks for stopping by!

    Miriam: I also started out as a History major, but switched to English. Later on, I did graduate work in History because I loved it so much.


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