History and Odysseus


Everything we learn about the past and especially the causes of events involving humans has to be challenged with fresh eyes. Even the recent history it appears it gets warped with retelling. I guess the reasons for this are multiple, not least that every event is filtered through our brains which are themselves programmed to see patterns or have prejudices. When we tell something we are also looking at our audience and this might be its age or indeed what reaction us telling such a story might have on them or their perception of the teller.

If we think of the Aeneid by Virgil which was written at the time of emperor Augustus. If your employer’s boss is an all-powerful emperor are you going to tell things as you personally think they should be told? Even if you are a part of history like Thomas Moore you can see that sticking to your version of events might lead to an untimely death. In either case and circumstance, I was not with Virgil or Thomas Moore and I did not learn first hand what they were thinking at the time.

We find that Richard the Third was buried in a car park in Leicestershire which does bear out the story that Richards body was despoiled on the back of a horse before what was left of him was taken by monks who gave him a Christian burial. Richard 3rd whose memory has been vilified by Shakespeare picturing him as an evil hunchbacked monster who killed the young princes in the tower. But we hear that Richard 3rd was betrayed by Stanley and fought bravely at Bosworth. Even the site of the battle of 1485 has had to be moved many miles from the visitor’s centre after archaeologists unearthed evidence that put the site somewhere else.

So how does history affect our business of marketing? Sending out statues to far-flung parts of the Roman empire was Augustus’ version of keeping control of his image. The emperor set in stone could not be standing in Chester at the same time as beaming out in Palmyra in Syria. Today Trump can be beamed out around the world with the smallest of time lag. A polyresin cheaply painted model of Trump we never know may be displayed next to a Roman emperor in the future. Both will have been a product of their time. As we view the irrationality of events unfolding and how they affect the individual human living in a society. Will the individual voice be heard? Only in exceptional circumstances, we find.

We know Phryne a Greek courtesan from a story which has survived. Athenaeus tells us that she offered to pay to rebuild the city walls of Thebes, after they had been destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BCE. Her one stipulation was that the new walls must bear an inscription, declaring that they had been demolished by Alexander and rebuilt by Phryne the courtesan. Being different and wealthy helps in the marketing area. Of course, standing out might just help the business of prostitution in an age where it maybe had a different perception. Phryne is known much more for her looks, but undoubtedly as a businesswoman and outstanding brain history might need rewriting!

We have come to package up Time in eras. It makes it easier to understand because as powerful as the human brain is, it does have this tendency to channel thoughts down well-traversed paths. It also allows certain neural paths to become redundant. Accessing the data needed for everyday decision making I’m sure is the subject of much-learned research. We hear that self-reinforcing perception is a part of making it easier. So, we are the product of a survival instinct which meant we use tried and trusted methods for hunting animals. We might store food because we know that animals might be harder to kill in winter because of weather conditions or there been less young inexperienced animals who don’t know the human tricks. As humans, if we hear there may be a food shortage, we immediately rush to the supermarket to stock up.

History does have this tendency of seemingly repeating itself on familiar themes. Consequently, we find that human minds tend to come up with the same conclusions. By nudging humans to do certain things lawmakers can influence behaviour. By saying you need to ‘opt out’ of say organ donation you unlock a human trait that people will not get around to thinking about whether they want their body intact when it is buried or the like. Of course, the organ users as well are looking for those who happen to, unfortunately, die younger because the parts have less wear!

In conclusion, we live HISTORY. It is every day and it is 1 second ago and a Millenia ago. Even our reconstruction of Dinosaurs or our theories of the Big Bang is our best understanding of what happened at the time. Science itself is particularly unscientific when it comes to cosmology. You do get the inescapable fact that simple formulas explain quantum mechanics and allow prediction of particles like the Higgs Boson that glue the Universe together (we are told convincingly). We do have multi-cultural harmony at CERN as the academics build ever more complex atom smashers. No doubt Stephen Hawking wondered or maybe wondering depending on whether he is nothing or in heaven or hell or indeed somewhere else altogether. His humour displayed in his life I am sure would allow this dark thought.

As we make our HISTORY and we work in our business, I think that certain traits need to overwrite everything.

HUMANS need to think longer term about the environment.
HUMANS need to allocate resources better
HUMANS need to somehow keep the creative spark but agree on reasonable standards for all.
HUMANS need to promote great leaders, while at the same time keeping them democratic.

If the pace of development needs to slow, if individual human failings need to be put in check this needs to happen immediately. More THINKING needs to go on and more TEAMWORK.

HISTORY needs to be looked at with fresh eyes and the proviso ‘educated guess’ needs to be put in front of everything. HISTORY is the filtered ‘maybe’.

A recent visit to the Ithaca made me reflect greatly on the Odessey. Think about this and it tells you a lot about HISTORY and HUMANITY.

David Jackson
Group Creative Director