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Imagining the Future
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Last October a section of a 2,500 year-old marble frieze from the Parthenon was moved from the Acropolis to a newly constructed museum at the base of the ancient citadel. The frieze, and hundreds of other artifacts, were relayed via three enormous cranes.

Did the sculptor give any thought to the future of his creation as he labored with his mallets, chisels, rasps and emery stones? Surely he could never have envisioned it being swung about by a trio of metal Cyclops. Nor would he have imagined people writing about the project by causing words to appear on magical tablets let alone sending those words by sorcery to corners of the world he did not know existed. If he had been granted a vision of our times perhaps he would have felt honored that his work had been installed on Mount Olympus, for how else could he have explained the place he was seeing except as the abode of the Gods?

During the last few centuries people have tried to figure out what the world will be like in times to come. But the sort of literature we call science fiction has only been popular since the Victorian era. Did those who lived during the Classical age try to predict the distant future? I'm not aware of any such speculation, but then I'm not very well read. Either the ancient Greeks and Romans didn't give as much thought to the matter as we do, or else they figured life would go on pretty much unchanged.

Why would they think otherwise? Aren't most of our predictions concerning the "future of humanity" actually predictions about advances in technology? In Greek and Roman times technology wasn't so complex and omnipresent and it did not change so rapidly. There was no reason to imagine a future radically different, technologically, from the world they knew.

And, putting aside our inventions, how different are we? Despite our god-like abilities to fling mechanical devices to other worlds and transmit messages invisibly through the air, we are still mortal, our lives still brief. Human nature and human relations have not changed.

If the sculptor had considered the future at all as he carved the religious procession of figures and animals into the marble, he might simply have imagined that in thousands of years visitors to Athens -- people not much different than himself -- would still take an interest in his work. And he would have been right.

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