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June 22, 1984

XXIV. The Continuity of History

Author Affiliations

From the Morris Fishbein Center, University of Chicago.

JAMA. 1984;251(24):3233-3236. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340480023020

History has two basic aspects. It describes the events of the past and tries to explain them. The descriptive aspect is principally narration—it tells "what happened." Then, if we find out enough details and learn their relationship to each other as well as to abstract concepts, we may understand why the event happened. We then have an explanation.

Usually we think of narration as taking place through words and we may not appreciate a more direct pictorial representation. Many events in antiquity have been preserved for us in stone. Much ancient statuary, especially in bas relief, narrates the triumphs of ancient rulers. A successful military campaign, the capture and razing of an enemy city, the slaughter of an opposing army, and deeds of special heroism seemed most worthy of commemoration. Numerous monuments and artifacts from the ancient world—from Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome—preserve for us in stone the details