Ancients, Moderns, and Posterity
"The Present is the Child of the Past; the Future, the begotten of the Present. And yet, 0 present moment! Knowest thou not that thou hast no parent, nor canst thou have a child; that thou art ever begetting but thyself? Before thou hast even begun to say "I am the progeny of the departed moment, the child of the past," thou hast become that past itself. Before thou utterest the last syllable, behold! thou art no more the Present but verily that Future. Thus, are the Past, the Present, and the Future, the ever-living trinity in one — the Mahamaya [Great Illusion] of the Absolute IS." — The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 446
Could we by putting on Carlyle's Time-annihilating hat transport ourselves to ancient Greece, we should find the citizens believing themselves to be modern. If we informed the first man we met that he was an "ancient" (provided that he understood our execrable Greek) he would stare at us with incredulous disdain. The Greeks of ancient times believed themselves to be upon the plow-point of advancing time and every bit as modern as we feel ourselves to be today. And it is just as hard for us to realize that we shall be regarded as "the ancients" by our remote posterity, who also will one day be "ancients."
The population of the world in the year 3000 is just as unsubstantial to ourselves as we should be to the contemporaries of Pericles; and yet — here we are. And here posterity will be, and each succeeding generation feels itself to be existing in the Living Present with a shadowy retrospect of "ancients" in its rear, and a still more vague and unsubstantial posterity in prospect.
Could we induce our ancient friend to consider our existence at all, he would certainly relegate us to the dim, unlighted vistas of far-off futurity, as ghostly nonentities destined some day to be born; and yet — here we are.
The story of Marathon, to us an incident of ancient history, was to the citizen of that epoch, "news."
The relics of antiquity, the blackened loaves from bakers' shops in Pompeii, the amphorae, the tattered fragments of cloth from the mummy cases, were all as commonplace and modern to the men of ancient times as our utensils and fabrics are to us.
In a recent excavation of a Roman villa in England, some shelves were found on which were stored antique curios collected by the Roman occupant as relics of his ancients. Little did he dream that he who was so full of life, so eager in his quest for remnants of the past, was really an "ancient" himself, and that his familiar villa would be studied by us moderns as an interesting ruin of a past civilization.
As surely as we excavate the site of Troy, so future students of antiquity will search the buried ruins of Chicago, Paris, Rome, and New York, and speculate upon these modern times with all the interest we reserve for ancient Greece. "One generation passeth away and another cometh; but the earth abideth forever."
The days of old, these modern times and our remote posterity may seem to the Omniscient Eye as an eternal Now.
Could we emancipate ourselves from our absorbing interest in the transient trifles that concern our present, petty personalities, we too might share the calm of that eternal consciousness and sit as gods and watch the flitting pictures on the Screen of Time.