Tacitus, an Roman historian, writes these words in the Annals sometime around 117 CE:
“I wanted to dispel the fictions of hearsay, and to ask people into whose hands my book may come not to prefer widely circulated and eagerly accepted fantasies over truth uncorrupted by sensationalism.”Tacitus. The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero. Oxford World’s Classics. Translated by J.C. Yardley. Introduction and notes by Anthony A. Barrett. Oxford University Press Inc.: New York. 2008. (Book 4, 11., p 142.)
Yet both the quote and the worries expressed therein are entirely modern. Media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, though they are far from alone, provide many examples of sensationalism. And it’s worth paying attention to your inner life while watching your preferred station.
If you are surprised that Tacitus’ warning perdures across two millennia, you oughtn’t be.
“What has been will be again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)
A little study of ancient texts in order to gain some perspective about current situations and human behaviour is time well spent. And it’s worth wondering why certain patterns recur, e.g. what function they serve or which situations are liable to produce them as autonomous effects.
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