The arrowhead of history

Each culture has its own way of thinking about the past, of making sense of where it’s coming from.

For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the past was glorious, a mythological golden age cyclically moving through decadence and renewal. For the medievals, history was an arrow shooting through time and aiming for the kingdom of God. The past was divine eruption in time, the matrix for the present and blueprint for the future. The medievals didn’t think of themselves as medieval, but modern, the term modernity, modernitas, itself being a medieval Latin coinage.

In its conception of the past, the modern age is a hybrid, assimilating elements of ancient and medieval temporality, cyclity and teleology, the secular feeding into the theological and viceversa. The Renaissance sought to recapture the golden age of the ancient Greco-Roman world without giving up on the arrowhead, thus giving birth to the idea of progress as a constant reiteration of the present graduating into a forever-improved variant of itself. Progress begets utopia, which is, in a fundamental way, the secularisation of the kingdom of God, Heaven landing on earth and staying there. We are the heirs of this understanding of history. Ancient time is as unacceptable to 21st century culture as medieval time is. In that, we are truly original. Yet, we aren’t free, for the arrow of time still needs to aim for the age of fulfillment. The modern anxiety over the future of future, self-renewal and self-redefinition is rooted in the idea that the world is running out of time, that the end, whether climate disaster or political dissolution is just around the corner, and that the arrow might just about miss its target.

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