the more they stay the same”:

who said it, and when? Officially Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist from a couple of centuries ago, though I strongly suspect that the notion per se is way older, maybe as old as the world itself: things apparently change dizzily around us, but upon a closer look the substance stays always the same.

Don’t believe it? Then take a closer look

…at the picture above: what is the ancient Greek boy in the middle holding on his knees? Who wouldn’t bet he’s googling for something on his laptop?

Yet the notion of a laptop from 3000 years ago is somewhat puzzling: for instance where did he plug the battery charger in? Ancient Greeks knew copper pretty well and still no archeologist ever found traces of ancient power distribution lines there… was then power wireless too?

Let’s be serious for a moment: in those times elektron (ἤλεκτρον) was just the name of amber, a fossilized resin that for some reason attracted hairs and other light objects if rubbed with a woolen sheet, and things would stay that way for several thousand years before the word began meaning something else.

The probable truth

What gives away the probable truth is the stylus the boy is holding in his right hand: most likely just a sharpened piece of reed he used to write (perhaps scratch would be a better word) on a wooden tablet coated with a thin layer of wax, the way also Latins used to. Or maybe the tablet was coated with wet clay, a more precise dating of the vase the picture was taken from might tell more accurately.

One thing is clear though: he is writing.
You may wonder why that is so peculiar: kids do write, don’t they? “Wash me” on dirty cars, homework, x-rated words on the walls, brief notes to a schoolmate… but since when?

Until a few centuries ago reading and writing were prerogatives of cultivated people and merchants, commoners didn’t need it at all – besides neither the Church nor the Monarch were particularly pleased with the notion of new dangerous ideas circulating uncontrollably among a reading populace.

Nor were things much different when the vase was made: even in highly civilized ancient Egypt commoners didn’t care to read or write: to take note of relevant facts (mostly who owned what and what taxes were due) there was the scribe, a sort of official notary who knew how to do it.

But the ancient Greeks were different: to them the notion of universal literacy was a matter of course, even kids and most slaves mastered the art of reading and writing, which made them a really great people.

But alas, due to the liability of not having an internet they were forced to learn things the hard way rather than just googling for them, and to think with their own heads rather than in the cloud…


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