Sunday, October 28, 2012

We are the exception

I've been reading about the Byzantine Empire in this excellent book, and since my mind tends towards disaster and ruin, I was realizing how much we have taken our security and safety for granted.

Do you know how long it's been since we've had a drafting war? Fifty years.

Do you know how long it's been since we've experienced a pandemic? A hundred.

The last time battles were fought around the homes of our civilians? A hundred and fifty.

That's pretty remarkable. It used to be that massive government overthrow, ruinous droughts and breakdown of order were pretty regular occurrences, but we haven't had to worry much about any Hun or Bulgar or Mongol swooping in and raping and pillaging. I, as a scholar, don't have to sit at my perch, listening, praying for really terrible weather. In the margins of a 9th century manuscript, one scribe, maybe studying, maybe transcribing, wrote out this poem:

The wind is rough tonight
tossing the white combed ocean.
I need not dread fierce Vikings
crossing the Irish Sea.

Hurrah! It's terrible weather! No one gets burned alive and dismembered tonight!

We like ghost stories, I love ghost stories, and old places seem to have them hip-deep. Maybe that's because they've built up, but maybe that's because we forget how terrible life has been, how many people routinely died in farming and mining and childbirth. It's a wonder there aren't more ghosts, really. We are a singularly unhaunting generation.


Makayla said...

Would you mind if I linked this post to my facebook page?

mlh said...

Not in the least