Roma Day 1: Espresso, per favore?!

I have a tendency to weep over beautiful things. If I happen to witness a tender moment between two people who love each other–be it family or partners–I’ll get choked up. The same thing happens to me when that Warner Brother’s logo zooms in among fog and John William’s Hedwig theme starts playing. Crying over things that deserve our appreciation is nothing new to me it would seem, so it should have come at no surprise to anyone that I began tearing up the moment our plane from JFK finally touched down in Rome. Or that when I first got to stand in the open air outside, a beautifully sunny 65+ degrees with the smell of Spring in the air, I wanted to hold my mother and cry tears of joy. And, of course, the moment our taxi driver took us through and under the first walls of Rome my eyes started brimming–because I knew I was back again.

Everything here is Art

Two years ago, I barely got to see Rome and it broke my heart ever since. I remedied a similar circumstance with Paris just this last year with my mother in tow and wanted to do the same this time around as well. My father overheard our plans to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice, however, and decided that he wanted to be apart of it as well–to see the things of the Roman Empire and to stand at the Colosseum where gladiators once stood. I’ve been versed in the history of Rome since I was a child thanks to my father’s general interest while growing up, so a part of me thought it only right that he should get to see these things with me too.

Our hotel in Rome is pretty darn swanky

First things first, after finding our way to our hotel courtesy of our lovely taxi driver Luca (my mother made sure to loudly proclaim how cute she thought he was. Don’t worry, we’re sending her to Francis on Friday to atone for her brazenness), we decided to check out a restaurant he recommended to us as having the best pasta in all of Rome–Brazilai Bistrot. Now, we were running on precisely two hours of sleep and had been awake for more than 24+ hours at this point so we were also determined to cram in as much as we could along the way to help stay awake. Before we got ourselves all full and fed, we took a quick stop to say hello to my old friend the Trevi Fountain. I tossed a coin in last time I was in Rome, so I wanted to make sure to let it know that I held up my end of the bargaining fortune.

Afterwards, we started the long walk to our food coma destination. Since our hotel is located in such a prime location here in Rome, I thought we should try to walk everywhere as much as we could. I’m an idiot though and I resented myself pretty quickly into the walk when I was reminded of how exhausted I was from traveling, but we trekked on somehow. Stumbling into the restaurant after a good half hour of shuffling our way around cobbled streets and trying not to pass out, we took a seat and were immediately recognized for the tourists we are! I was determined to practice the Italian I’ve been learning these past few months though and asked if I could try in Italian when our server spoke to us in English. We proceeded to have the rest of our ordering conversation in Italian, so I hope I made my favorite Roman and teacher Ileana proud!

Amatriciana sauce in Rome!

Good and wined, it was hard to miss the lure of the Colosseum poking out and waving at us from down the street after existing our restaurant, so we decided to go pay the Flavian Amphitheater a visit too. We learned from our family in Italy that this whole week is Cultural Week–which means every museum is free except The Vatican. We figured the Colosseum would be insanely busy, especially considering the timing when we decided to stroll up (2 hours before close? Nah maaaan). But even though we weren’t intending on going in for a tour today, we ended up running into a guide who was able to help us skip the line (which was disgustingly long and stuck at over capacity). We figured we had all that pasta to walk off anyway so we went along with his group and decided to do the Colosseum, despite how sleep deprived we were feeling.

I ended up not taking many pictures inside because it was so busy in there with people and I was too distracted listening to our tour guide, but a lot of it was under renovation anyway (which is awesome!). I’ll have to do a proper write-up of the Colosseum some day, but suffice it to say–I thought our guide did a fantastic job bad mouthing the inaccuracies of the movie Gladiator. And I wasn’t about to pick a fight with him when he said the Roman Empire collapsed with the sacking of Rome (though the Eastern half was just fine with Constantinople kicking, k thanks) All in all, it was a good nerdy time.

Lastly, I stuffed my face with pizza and more wine which helped a little bit but now I really need to sleep for like 10 hours so I’ll let you all know how tomorrow goes!

On the Agenda: Lots of Gelato!

A domani!

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All Roads Lead to Rome

 

The Appian Way, Rome’s ancient super highway

I’ve wanted to visit The Eternal City since I was old enough to think–when my days were filled with old Hollywood sandal-flicks and my first books consisted of illustrated Biblical scenes with bad guys wearing plume-y galea helmets. Growing up Italian-American, there is a sense of worship-fullness when it comes to Rome–it was the seat of the Roman Empire for centuries and, in generalized terms, my motherland. Rome was where the idea of an Italian was truly born (Quite literally with the Congress of Vienna and in 1871, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy) and it’s history my own. I wanted to be Roman and feel the experience of thousands of years of living in one place in time all around me. In 2016, due to a sudden change in travel plans, I had only enough time in Rome to stand and marvel in front of The Coliseum and to take a quick walk to the Trevi Fountain before hopping into our rental car and cruising to the airport to fly back home. I’m excited to say that I will soon find myself back in less than a week. For, as they say, all roads lead to Rome–including my own.

”Here was Rome indeed at last; and such a Rome as no one can image in its full and awful grandeur! We wandered out upon the Appian Way, and then went on, through miles of ruined tombs and broken walls, with here and there a desolate uninhabited house: past the Circus of Romulus, where the course of the chariots, the stations of the judges, competitors, and spectators, are yet as plainly to be seen as in old time: past the tomb of Cecilia Metella: past all inclosure, hedge, or stake, wall or fence: away upon the open Campagna, where on that side of Rome, nothing is to be beheld but Ruin. Except where the distant Apennines bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque and beautiful clusters of arches; broken temples; broken tombs. A desert of decay, somber and desolate beyond all expression; and with a history in every stone that strews the ground.”Charles Dickens [1]

So where does the idea that ‘All Roads Lead to Rome‘ come from, anyway? It’s an idiom that’s been passed down from generation to generation essentially meaning–doesn’t really matter how you do it, everything will arrive to the same conclusion. How inspired was this phrase and is there any truth to it?

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Giovanni Paolo Pannini The Roman Forum (1755)

If we go back far enough, we find the idea appearing in Medieval writings from Chaucer to theologians. Appearing nothing more than a stray observation by French theologian/poet Alain deLille in the 12th century: “Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam” or for those not fluent in dead languages, “A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.” [2] And, of course, Chaucer being a poet of renown was sure to take inspiration in his work as well to include a mention of the Roman city–

And god wot, that in alle thise langages,

and in many mo, han thise conclusiouns ben suffisantly lerned and

taught, and yit by diverse rewles, right as diverse pathes leden

diverse folk the righte wey to Rome

-Geoffrey Chaucer, Treatise on the Astrolabe [3]

But even here, it seems the idea of roads leading to Rome is similar, in a sense, to my own experience that there is simply a calling to the city–one that many of us–as lovers of History, or food, or vibrant culture, or awe-inspiring art–cannot resist. And even through its long life–from kingdoms to republics, to empires and upheavals, from religious institutions to repeating the order of things all over again in tandem–as history has shown us, there has always been a sense of desire to reclaim the city as one’s own.

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The Milliarium Aureum or Golden Milestone

However, there may be some truth to the phrase as from Cassius Dio [4], Plutarch [5], Seutonius, and Tacitus–we do learn of a column that was commissioned by Augustus Caesar to serve as the convergence point of the Roman Empire. A point where all roads began from and all distances there-in were measured by it, linking the network of the Empire together like a spiderweb. So, in a sense, all roads in the Roman Empire certainly did lead back to Rome.

All roads pointed towards the Imperial City, and started from its Milliarium Aureum. [6]

Either way, I’m pleased to share that my journey once again leads me back to the beating heart of Italy. As with my other travels, I’ll be updating my blog daily with pictures and tidbits so stick around and hit that follow button if you want to keep up with my quick romp through Rome, Florence, and Venice–typically posted at unreasonable hours, of course.

And as the saying goes, I hope that one day, dear reader, your road leads you to Rome as well.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Cosmo, L. (2017). Rome: Poetic Guide to the Love City of Romulus. Lulu Press.

[2] Alain de Lille, Liber parabolarum (c. 1202AD)

[3] Geoffrey Chaucer: A Treatise on the Astrolabe (c. 1391 AD)

[4] “Now all this was done later in commemoration of the event; but at the time of which we are speaking he was chosen commissioner of all the highways in the neighbourhood of Rome, and in this capacity set up the golden mile-stone, as it was called, and appointed men from the number of the ex-praetors, each with two lictors, to attend to the actual construction of the roads.” – Cassius Dio, Book 54, paragraph 8, line 4

[5] “With the remark, then, that he had bought an old house and wished to show its defects to the vendors, he went away, and passing through what was called the house of Tiberius, went down into the forum, to where a gilded column stood, at which all the roads that intersect Italy terminate.” – Plutarch

[6] Schaff, P. The Ante-nicene fathers / the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. (1993). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

In Defense of Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

 

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Bitches get stitches

In 2016, when Civilization 6 was announcing leaders that would be present in the game, there was a vocal uproar from the video game community over the selection of Gorgo as a leader of Sparta/the Greek civilization. And though she was accompanied with other Greek historical darling Pericles, her announcement was met with anger for being chosen over her husband Leoniades and for, well, being a woman. While that particular complaint has arisen, transparently, along with any female leader announced for the game (I see you, haters), I’d like to offer a polite reminder that though a large portion of boys suffering from an inferiority complex (and who’ve been collectively creaming themselves over Leoniades’ painted abdomen since the release of 300 in 2006) might be remiss in knowing, Queen Gorgo of Sparta was a badass in her own right too, k thx.

Gorgo Hate

YouTube being YouTube

It’s no surprise that the Spartans have a particular sheen of cultural mythos surrounding them, holding a torch of fascination since pretty much the inception of obsessive interest. Laconophilia, love/admiration of Sparta, began as a cultural phenomenon as far back as the Persian Wars–when Spartans were still readily punting dignitaries–and carried on through much of history, re-surging along with other movements of Classical reclamation as during the Renaissance (or through the assholery of Heinrich Schliemann). And much of that famous Spartan toughness comes from their culture of Exemplum, a concept I do have plans to cover while on my Greek kick. (Yes, I do actually have an outline/plan for posts, don’t quote me on this). Keeping all this in mind, Gorgo of Sparta emerged in the annals of western history (one in which, at this time primarily written by Greek scholars, tended to exclude women) as a legendary figure who exemplified the sassy rough-edges of the perfect Spartan and fostered intrigue amongst their frenemy Athens.

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A Touch of Classical Wisdom XII

“Always be the Best, my boy, the bravest,

and hold your head high above the others.”

Homer II VI 247, Glaucus tells Diomedes his father’s words of advice.

These words inspired Cicero and, were said, to have motivated Alexander the Great. An ancient lofty quote such as this would have probably been tattooed on calves, penciled on to school notebooks, or stickered on the bumper of a car if it were to remain as popular today. #BringBackGlaucus

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, Anthony Everitt.

[2] Harries, Byron. “’Strange Meeting’: Diomedes and Glaucus in ‘Iliad’ 6.” Greece & Rome, vol. 40, no. 2, 1993, pp. 133–146. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/643154.

Midas Touch – When Archaeology and Myth Craft a Delicious Beer

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Liquid gold

History being a life long passion of mine, I often inform people of this fact when dancing through the usual small-talk ‘get to know you’ questions. This is something that usually doesn’t inspire much interest and most of the responses I receive are something along the lines of, “Ah, that’s cool–always found it boring in school though.” History is more than just memorizing dates, I’d exclaim! It’s insanely dramatic and fun, filled with stories so crazy half the thrill of it is knowing it happened for real–and sometimes, it even uncovers ancient recipes for booze that can be reproduced for us modern day plebeians to try! How are you not entertained?!

Almost 50 years ago, Penn University excavated a tomb found at the ancient site of Gordion, Turkey. Gordion was famous for being where the impossibly legendary Gordian Knot was tied and prophesied to be undone only by someone destined to rule all of Asia. That someone turned out to be Alexander the Great because if there was ever a prophecy, it certainly applied to him most conveniently. Geez, Alexander, leave some table scraps for the rest of us! Gordion was also famous for being the seat of the kingdom of Phrygia which was home to a famous ruler you may have also heard tales of. That being King Midas of poorly chosen wishes. Though the tomb hasn’t been definitively proven to be that of Midas [1] (the other assumption is that it may instead belong to his father Gordius), Archaeologists are sure that the tomb certainly belonged to a beloved Phyrgian king from the Iron Age because they discovered the body of a 60-65 year old male adjourned in purple and surrounded by over 150+ bronze drinking vessels left over from a celebratory farewell feast held outside of his tomb.  The collection was whisked away and sent off to the Penn Museum for safe keeping and forgotten about until Dr. Patrick McGovern, basically the Indiana Jones of ancient alcohols & beverages became bored one day and decided to take a closer look at the contents. [2]

Phrygian jug

Sexy drinking vessel

Using an array of micro-chemical analysis including, but not limited to, infrared spectrometry, gas and liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry (I don’t know what any of this means but I wanted to include it so I could make any of the science nerds in the audience warm and fuzzy), he was able to isolate the marker compounds of specific natural products that were contained in these vessels by studying the sticky residue found in the remains. And what he found was shocking–besides the completely normal consumption of spicy, barbecued lamb and lentil stew, he found evidence to suggest that the drink of choice among these funeral revelries was a booze concoction hinting of grape wine, honey mead, and barley beer together. A mixture that made him blanch at the thought!

That doesn’t even sound good, right? Ever curious, however, Dr. Patrick McGovern issued a challenge to micro-brewers while speaking at a convention, and invited any one of them to join him in the labs the next morning to see if they could reverse engineer the drink found in Midas’ tomb. At least 20 micro-brewers took him up on the offer, but only one came out the victor–Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery. Together, they created Midas Touch–a craft brew you can actually purchase and drink today! It’s completely based off of the components found in the drinking vessels making it the oldest ancient ale recipe. It’s made with white muscat grapes, honey, and barley–actually a pretty delicious combination having tried it. It falls more on the line of mead in my opinion. It also contains the addition of saffron–it’s a bit of conjecture, but since the bittering agent hops wasn’t introduced to Europe until around 700 AD, they went with this extremely valuable spice which was found prominently in Turkey during antiquity and which is possible to have been the component responsible for the yellowish color found in the residue in the drinking vessel remains. The beer isn’t the cheapest in the world, thanks to the saffron, but it’s an insanely yummy drink and I personally love it not being much of a beer drinker myself. Makes for a fun immersive history experience too, now you have a taste for what ancient peoples drank! [3]

Now, if you’re a bit hazy on the details of Midas and why you remember his name, I got you–there are a few mythological traditions that his story comes from thanks in part to Aristotle and the diligent re-tellings of Ovid in his Metamorphoses XI. 

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What Gordian Knot?

There are a few variations, but one of the more well known ones has Dionysus, the god of wine and other wild pleasures making him the favorite of Dude-Bros everywhere, hanging out with his gang of satyrs and the like. One of the satyrs, Silenos, gets super drunk and finds himself kidnapped by a bunch of filthy peasants and brought to King Midas. One variation has Midas actually lacing a drinking fountain with wine because apparently Silenos, when drunk, spouts all kinds of useful wisdom and quips and lashed out a positively delightful one upon being abducted to court:

The best thing for man is not to be born at all, and the second best thing is to die as soon as possible. [4]

Yikes. Either way, King Midas recognizes Silenos and pays extra attention to his comforts, lavishing him with entertainments for 10 days before returning him to Dionysus who is surprised and exceedingly grateful. Dionysus tells Midas that he’ll grant him one wish in thanks for not raping or murdering the hell out of Silenos which most ancient men are want to do in these days and Midas takes next to no time in deliberating on what his true desires are. Clearly lacking in the gift of hindsight, which he should have wished for instead if you ask me, he requested that everything he touched be turned instantly to gold.

Wish granted, Midas was pleased to see that he could turn all matter into glittering gold, most likely singing the line from Smash Mouth’s All Star as he did so. He was delighted when twigs and leaves shifted to aurum with the slightest touch and skipped on back to his court excited for a future filled with endless wealth. He began to regret his wish pretty quick, however, when he realized his new golden touch also applied to anything he tried to drink or eat–apparently not being a dickish enough king to demand being hand-fed to by his servants. He soon became so inconsolably hungry and thirsty, that he went crying back to Dionysus asking for the wish to be taken back. Dionysus told him to stop being such a whiny baby and go wash off the wish in the river Paktolos which could be found near Sardis. Doing as he was told, Midas washed away his golden touch in the river which is said to be why the sands of the river are forever golden. [4]

That’s the most famous story of King Midas but there were others. Another one has Midas’s bad judgment continuing when he foolishly insists Pan to be a better musician than Apollo, which results in the god furiously cursing him with donkey ears for being such an ass. Then there is the supposed bastard son of Midas, Lityerses, who is some kind of proto-Dexter serial killer who tricks travelers into competing against him in an unwinnable contest and then ceremoniously whipping, beheading them, and then stuffing up his victims into a corn stack while singing a playful tune (probably also All Star by Smash Mouth). Herakles came across him and was like nah brah and gave him a piece of his own medicine. [4]

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In a much later version, Midas’ daughter becomes the victim of his golden touch.

 

But whether or not you believe in Greek Mythology being in any way factual (no judgments from me), there really was a King Midas of Phrygia which is why Archaeologists assume he could be the occupant of the tomb they found and the owner of the vast amount of residue-y drinking vessels. The Midas most likely featuring in these tales reigned around the 8th century BC during the time of Sargon II. He showed up a few times in correspondences and was known as an aggressive and powerful ruler who allied himself with Hittite kings (basically Troy, ya’ll) against the Assyrians. He also cooperated in coordinated military campaigns with the Greeks, which might explain why they adored him enough to feature him in stories (whether or not they were much for flattery). Sources also suggest that he had dedicated his throne to Apollo in Delphi (perhaps as an apology in hopes of getting his old human ears back, no?) and that he had married a Greek princess and daughter of King Agememnon of Kyme (Not that Agememnon). Her name was Hermodike II and she’s credited with inventing Greek coinage which might explain the whole gold thing, who knows. [5]

Oh and also, this was secretly a Kingslayers post all along (Hah! Got you!) According to sources, which include Herodotus, this King Midas committed suicide by drinking bull’s blood. [5]

Because why in the gods names would you do such a thing.

 

Cause of Death: Drinking the blood of bovines when he should have been drinking Dogfish Craft Beer, clearly.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

 

[1] Krill, Richard M. “Midas: Fact and Fiction.” International Social Science Review, vol. 59, no. 1, 1984, pp. 31–34. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41881501.

[2] McGovern, Patrick. Midas Touch, www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=143.

[3] Johnson, Marilyn. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Harper, 2014. Ch. Extreme Beverages

[4] March, Jennifer R. The Penguin Book of Classical Myths. Penguin, 2010. Pgs. 532-534

[5] Berndt-Ersöz, Susanne. “The Chronology and Historical Context of Midas.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, vol. 57, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–37. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25598415.

 

 

It’s All Greek to Me!

 

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Physical representation of my writing discipline.

 

Gather around the hearth, my friends. I have a story to tell!

There was once a proud blogger who panicked when she realized that she was about to reach 100 published posts. This was a crowning achievement, she thought, and so she wanted to do something special to celebrate this momentous occasion. Perhaps I should do an extensive essay on my blog’s tagline and prove it do-able — 

Because even monkeys can write a paper on Misogyny, Aristotle, and Middle Age Europe.

Oops, yeah. That blogger is me.

I have a tendency to buckle under pressure, especially when it is self-imposed. I envisioned this research being something akin to an amateur thesis, the scope of it so grand! I was ramping up to it with my posts such as Illuminating the Dark Ages, and had another planned to cover the contentious Great Man Theory, and then to round out with a state of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages before I hit you with my epic take.

But, alas, I have failed to do so. Not because I can’t write it–but because I can’t commit to doing it. I don’t feel like it. History for me is a muse and he takes me through various phases of interest and right now, I must admit, my headspace is about nearly 2,000 years in the past from where I need to be in order to successfully pull off this ‘golden post’.

Yeah, I’m talking about Classical Greece.

assassins-creed-odyssey-fps-fix

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey came out and if you’ve been following my blog all these years (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!) you know already that I’m versed primarily in Classical Antiquity. So for a role-playing video game with an open world concept functioning like a sandbox where the developers researched every painstaking detail to fill their map with as close to accurate representations of historical locations as it is possible for any of us to know–I’m all over that in a heartbeat.

The consequence being, however, that this is pretty much all I feel like writing about right now. Which brings me to the problem with this ‘Golden 100 Post’. I haven’t updated my blog in the past month, despite an interest in doing so (just not on the purposed topic I had planned!) because I’m literally 2 posts away from hitting 100. Well, now 1 away with this one. With my proposed celebratory essay, this didn’t leave room for me to dabble and post about anything else! So, to allow myself the freedom to again write about anything in History that I find fascinating (or humorous) enough to share with you–I’m going to let myself off the hook on the celebration post. I’ll get to it when I’m good and ready! I can certainly still clap for myself on reaching 100 with or without the sweating over a research essay I’m not earning a letter grade for!

So in the meantime, you can expect some Ancient/Classical Greek inspired posts from me as I continue to gallivant around in a video game and am reminded of things I’ve always wanted to touch on our look into deeper for myself. And the good news is, I’ll get to introduce you to Aristotle a bit more too before I start retroactively blaming him for a bunch of bullshit.

Thanks for sticking around with my general assholery and lack of a coherent update schedule–I’m about to get a little Greeky with it.

 

 

Illuminating the Dark Ages

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Depiction of King Valdemar IV of Denmark in 1361. Painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist 1851-1890.

There are two ways people generally look upon the past, either with fondness and nostalgia or with scrutiny and disdain. That’s why we can never all quite agree on whether or not high school is the worst or best years of your life or if the 90’s really were all that and a bag of chips. Historically, it’s no different–was the Classical era a time of heightened scholarship and monuments or was it a barbaric time lacking of spiritual sense and with an inclination towards bloodshed? Many scholars during the Renaissance would certainly argue that point. So it was then, during The Enlightenment era of the 18th century in particular, that it seemed only fitting to look upon the time between history bookended by the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas as a period of considerable dimness. Both metaphorically and intellectually. A time in between two eras commonly thought of as periods of prosperity and culture. We know it as The Dark Ages and I’m calling bullshit on that conception.

What do you think of when your brain mulls over The Dark Ages? I’m sure squalor and peasantry comes immediately to mind, probably with a healthy dose of Bubonic plague coupled with high infant mortality rates for the helluva it. Not to mention self-flagellation, the burning of suspected practitioners of devil worship and witchcraft, and The Crusades. You’re probably picturing monks with tube-ring hairdos, Norsemen with burly beards and a fondness for pillaging monasteries, and a whole lot of chainmail. It’s easy to imagine this time being one of darkness since all of that does sound pretty bleak, I know, but is it a fair assessment to have? Is it not incorrect to view history through the lens of progress? After all, what will future civilizations think of us when they look back at our historical era?

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