Imagine, for a moment, that you are inside your own head. The space is empty, not of thought, of course, but of anything else, it is the void of physicality. You stand, alone, at the center of this world, looking at something distant and magnificent. The physical takes shape in the most intimate of your memories. What do you see? This, the Ancient Greeks say, is your past, that which has happened and cannot change, it is the perfect. What you are seeing is not a figment of your imagination, but an accumulation of everything you have done up until now (πᾶν ἐστι ἄνθρωπος συμφρονη – man is an accumulation of choices). Facts that can be lied about but never changed.
You may see a previous time, person, even a city; this is where you came from, who you are now. As you look left and right, you also come closer to the horizontal line that represents the present; a line that divides the past, where you are looking, from the present where you stand, and the future to your back. Imagine, now, that you are standing on a compass and, as such, when you turn, the past is no longer the past, but something else, it is a past turning into present. You are then normalizing your past experiences in order to relate them to you, yourself, today; experiences that become entangled in time. Everything becomes imperfect, less certain, more malleable. If you are looking due East at thirty degrees, the imperfection of your actions is so tangled with your present you can think of these things you see as happening now, they can be changed. Imperfect action is part present, and present can be affected by it; it more than likely is.
In order to effect this change you need to see more, see better; try to understand another aspect of your compass, that what is behind you. However, you cannot turn, something holds you in place, restricting your movements solely to your neck muscles. You try, as much as possible, to look beyond the present; to see what lies across that line, but you cannot turn more than fifteen to thirty degrees from this present line, no more than sixty to eighty degrees from your past; you, everything you are, is fixated upon it. We can only focus on the future in limitations of time.
The future you can imagine is directly dependent upon the present you see and a small, predictable possibility. You may, blindly, speak of a perfect future, a time not visible in which you hope your present has become past, but nothing more. You are trapped, as it seems, by your present; a present that locks you, limited by your own physicality, gazing on the past. What is the future, after all, if not a prediction? What is ‘what is to come’ if not an estimation of present circumstances given frame by the actions we can clearly see from our past and the past of others? It is a gamble, an action of time which, inexorably, passes without our moving. We remain, helplessly, locked into our compass; north is the past, south is the future, a future south we cannot see, only make conjectures about.
The Ancient Greeks thought of time exactly in this way. A man was an accumulation of choices. An accumulation of perfect past actions that had come from behind you and moved with time to the present and the past. You can only see what has been done after it had left the future, transited the present, and become the past. This is how the Ancients Greeks broke down time, how they saw their day-to-day. They would say “count no man lucky, until he dies” and “look to the end” because it was impossible to make a decision on the life of someone whose future was still at their back; in the same light, it was impossible to see a man’s end until the ending itself had caught up with him. An ending determined by the Fates, who spin, determine time, and cut the threads of individuals that make the thread of life on this earth.
Thus, the Ancient Greeks would say ‘look to the past,’ see your choices, accept them, good or bad, and make changes to the present. The future is coming, it cannot be avoided, all you can do is live now, this very moment, the very best way possible. Socrates, when charged with corrupting the youth and impiety to the gods, and asked to make a defense for himself, replied: “I have lived a good life, isn’t that the best way to prepare my defense?” Socrates needed only to point to his past to demonstrate who he was; there was no need to make up a story about him; his history, that record which he and everyone else could clearly see, was the very argument that should save him from death. Socrates died, in the end, and once he had capped his life with sacrifice in obeisance to the polis, the Athenians whom he sought to protect from themselves realized he had indeed lived a good life, and regretted his death.
Of course, Romans would disagree with me and the Ancients Greeks almost in every way; but that, dear friends, is another story, for another time. In the mean time, look to your past, see the mountain you have become, and decide how to make it even more grandiose to those who, in awe, watch you move backwards into the future, building time now and moving on, constructing a personal empire that will last for generations.