Historia est testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoria, magistra
vitae, nuntia vetustatis.
(M. Tullius Cicero, De Oratore 2.36)

History is the witness of the times, the light of truth, the life of
memory, the teacher of life, and the messenger of antiquity.

Comment: Last week I made an egregious error in my comments on
American slavery. Cicero gives me an opportunity to admit it and own
it. I wrongly assumed that the invention of the cotton gin would have
had a negative effect on the institution of slavery, but that the
injustice of human slavery stood in the way of the imagination for how
a machine might function. A couple of members of this list emailed
me, very kindly, to point out that, in fact, the cotton gin enabled
slave holders to increase their produce of cotton, and only entrenched
the use of human slaves more deeply.

I consulted with a friend and American historian who noted that the
injustice of human slavery did not hinder imagination, but
demonstrated how perverted imagination can become. How true!

History, if we listen to it, is a witness of the times. It is a
light, if we pay attention to it, of the truth. It can be the life of
memory if it has been known to remember in the first place. It can be a
teacher of life and a messenger of antiquity if we have ears for it.

And, as my error has demonstrated, history's message and light and
instruction can be easily distorted by our assumptions! I apologize
to those who read my comments for this misuse of historical information.

Bob Patrick
(Used with permission)
Latin Proverb of the Day Archive