Iron window sculpture and graffiti, Barcelona, Spain.
As much of today's news is too awful to contemplate, let's not go there. Here's an excerpt about recording history from the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski's fascinating book Travels with Herodotus:
"...Sometimes, when the offices emptied in the evening and the hallways grew quiet and I wanted a respite from telegrams about the strikes and armed conflicts, the coups and explosions convulsing countries I did not know, I reached for The Histories of Herodotus..."
"Herodotus begins his book with a statement explaining why he set out to write it...: 'Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular,the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks."
"This passage is the key to the entire book. ...Herodotus informs us that he carried out some sort of 'enquiry.' ...Today we know that he devoted his entire life to this - and it was, for its time, a long life indeed. Why did he do it? Why, still in his youth, did he make such a decision? Did someone encourage him to conduct these investigations?
"...Or maybe he did everything on his own initiative, possessed by a passion for knowledge, driven by a restless and unfocused compulsion? Perhaps he had a naturally inquiring mind, a mind that continuously generated a thousand questions giving him no peace, keeping him up at nights?...
"Herodotus admits that he was obsessed with memory, fearful on its behalf. He felt that memory is something defective, fragile, impermanent - illusory, even. That whatever it contains, whatever it is storing can evaporate, simply vanish without a trace. His whole generation, everyone living on earth at the time, was possessed by that same fear.
"Without memory one cannot live, for it is what elevates man above beasts, determines the contours of the human soul and yet it is at the same time so unreliable, elusive, treacherous. It is precisely what makes man so unsure of himself... We do not know and stretching beyond that 'we do not know' is the vast realm of ignorance... of nonexistence.
"Man does not obsess about memory today as he once did because he lives surrounded by stockpiles of it. Everything is at his fingertips - encyclopedias, textbooks, dictionaries, compendia, search engines. Libraries and museums, antiquarian bookshops and archives. Audio and video recordings. Infinite supplies of preserved words, sounds, images...
"Of course, none of these techniques existed in Herodotus's time. Man knew as much and only as much as his mind managed to preserve. A few privileged individuals started to learn to write on rolls of papyrus and on clay tablets. But the rest? Culture was always an aristocratic enterprise...
"In the world of Herodotus, the only real repository of memory is the individual. In order to find out that which has been remembered, one must reach this person. If he lives far away, one has to go to him; to set out on a journey. And after finally encountering him, one must sit down and listen to what he has to say - to listen, remember; perhaps write it down. That is how reportage begins; of such circumstances it is born.
"So Herodotus wanders the world, meets people, listens to what they tell him. They speak of who they are; they recount their history. But how do they know who they are and where they came from? Ah, they answer, they have it on the word of others - first and foremost, from their ancestors. It is they who transmitted their knowledge to this generation, just as this one is now transmitting it to others. The knowledge takes the form of various tales. People sit around the fire and tell stories. Later these will be called legends and myths, but in the instant when they are first being related and heard, the tellers and the listeners believe in them as the holiest of truths, absolute reality."
Photo of graffiti on a doorway in Barcelona.