Saecula Saeculorum

I’ve been rather intermittently reading The Fourth Turning over the past week or so, which someone kindly sent me (and which I must send back when I’ve read it). When I first opened it, I found it a bit too centred around the USA for my taste. But today I opened it somewhere else, and rapidly found myself rather engrossed in it.

The main idea of the book is that history proceeds in cycles, and the particular cycle with which the book is concerned is the old Roman saeculum, which seems to be the length of a lengthy human lifetime.

This was something I didn’t know. I’d heard of Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum, and knew that it meant something like  “for ever and ever”. But I suppose it actually means “for all the lifetimes of lifetimes.”

Nor am I entirely unfamiliar with cycles of about this duration. I first came across them in Robert Beckman’s Downwave in the form of Kondratieff economic cycles. There seems to have been a long tradition of cyclical economic thought.

Furthermore, there is something of a sense these days that the history of 80 or so years ago actually is repeating itself, with a global depression developing, and a new totalitarianism in the ascendant. The Nazis are back – only this time they’re antismoking Nazis rather than antisemitic ones.

I’m not entirely sure why I find such ideas attractive, but in large part it’s because the natural world demonstrates such cycles – day and night, the phases of the moon, the annual cycle of the seasons, and the 100,000 year cycle of ice ages -, all of which exert strong influences on human life.

I also see lots of cycles in the computer models I build of elastic frameworks. These continually vibrate and rock from side to side. And that is in fact what everything in the world is always doing.

And the saeculum is another sort of cycle. It’s the length of time it takes to completely replace one bunch of humans with another bunch, who will in their turn repeat the mistakes of the previous bunch – and so on ad infinitum, or rather Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum. So it makes a certain sense if each saeculum repeats the previous ones – much in the same way that each separate human life is, to a large extent, a repeat of all human life.

Nevertheless, if such a cyclicity in human affairs seems very plausible, it also smacks a bit of an astrology which sees human life enmeshed in planetary cycles. And in this sense the Fourth Turning, when it was first published 1997, was a book that set out to predict the future. And it predicted a period of crisis – the Fourth Turning – beginning in the first decade of the next century. And it doesn’t seem to have been wrong.

But I can’t help but think that, given that a saeculum doesn’t appear to be a fixed period of time, or that nobody really knows how long one is, there has to be an element of luck in getting predictions right. In these times when everyone is living longer than they used to do only a century ago, the saeculum must be getting longer. And it could plausibly range from about 60 years to over 100 years – which provides a very large window to fit events into, simply by adjusting the length of the saeculum.

For example, it was commonly believed in ancient Rome that Rome would last for 12 saecula after its founders, Romulus and Remus, circa 750 BC. And if it is taken that a saeculum is 97 years, that extends to the sack of Rome, and the fall of the Roman empire, in 410 AD.

But if a saeculum is only 60 years, it extends almost exactly from 750 AD to the end of the Roman republic at the accession of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, in 31 BC – perhaps the most significant historical event in Roman history. Furthermore, to confuse matters further, in the time of Augustus it was believed that a saeculum was 110 years long.

And so, as a measure of time, a saeculum is a bit like an elastic 12 inch ruler which can be extended or contracted to fit any length of time. And 12 saecula can be anything from 720 years to 1164 years. With such a margin of error, all prophecies are bound to be accurate.

While on the subject of time, I was reminded of an odd feature of playing cards which I noticed a while ago. And it is that the numbers of the cards seem to relate in multiple ways to the duration of a year.

In the first place, there are 52 cards in a standard pack, and there are 52 weeks in a year.

There are 13 different cards in each suit, and this corresponds to the 13 28-day sidereal lunar months in a year – each month being 4 weeks long. And if you happen to think that 13 is an unlucky number, you can always lop one off, and have just 12 months in a year.

There are also 4 suits, which correspond to the four seasons of the year.

But the most remarkable one seems to be that, if each of the cards is given a value of 1 to 13, then the sum total of all the cards is 364. And since most decks of cards come with 2 jokers, if these each have a value of 1, the total comes to either 365 if one is added, or 366 if both are added – the exact number of days in a year.

I can’t make up my mind whether this is accidental, and such numbers could be extracted under torture from any pack of cards – or whether it reflects some long lost use that cards may once have had – quite separate from gaming and fortune-telling -, such as their use as paper currency denominated in days of time.

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30 Responses to Saecula Saeculorum

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank a few Historians have commented that prohibition movements tend to strike about every 80 years or so. If I can find the story I will post it but it pretty much confirms these cyclic human events.

  2. Klaus K says:

    Great, Frank. We call it “the generation theory”. Four generations (each app. 20 years) go around in circles, just like the four seasons: You never know if the winter will be warm or cold, wet or dry, or how long the winter will be precisely … but you always know: The winter will come.

    Now – why don’t you investigate a little in the light of our knowledge about the pharmaceutical industry 80 years ago. Strange and worrying thoughts will emerge:

    Did you read the book Generations?

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    The Effects Of Prohibition Of Tobacco By Excessive Taxation

  4. XX The Nazis are back – only this time they’re antismoking Nazis rather than antisemitic ones. XX
    Seen how the Media are treating Israel?

    And it is NOT just anti smoking, that is only OUR problem with “them.”

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Hey Id rather be slinging slang at the nazis on the net than fighting them in the trenches,but at least im already combat trained.

  5. roobeedoo2oo says:

    One of my favourite quotes is Mark Twain’s ‘history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme’.

    I woke up this morning thinking about spirals and so was very happy to read this post with my coffee and rollie. What if the cycle of years is not exactly round, i.e. 100 or 80 years everytime but more spiral shaped? What if it’s more Fibonacci, but spiralling inward and not outward, so that the cycles are getting shorter in duration?

    • Klaus K says:

      That is what the winter does, right? Crumble, like an implosion. And we are in the winter wave of the generation cycle. I guess your are right about the numbers. The cycle does not necessarily fit perfectly in to the human way of quantizing time, like the calendar. It is Fibonacci playing out allright – in line with the cycles of the universe.

      • Frank Davis says:

        What’s Fibonacci got to do with it?

        • roobeedoo2 says:

          Spirals that occur in nature, like shells or sunflowers are based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, etc. What if generation cycles spiral inward based on a similar sequence of numbers, so they effectively get shorter but display the same attributes to the corresponding generation in the preceding cycle?

  6. Klaus K says:

    Frank – I wrote two short comments in Danish about the generation teory two years ago and never found the time to make an article of it. It is about the four generations that seems to go around in circles like the four seasons. They are corresponding to the four cycles in “The Forth Turning”. You may find it inspiring …. I regret the bad translation, though. As usual.

  7. margo says:

    I hadn’t thought of that before, about the cards. Surely they must have once been used as a calendar?
    Cycles in astrology equate with the orbits of the outer planets Jupiter (12 years), Saturn (30), Uranus (84), Neptune (146), Pluto (246) – all approx – and the nature of them has to do with the various ‘characteristics’ of the planets. Uranus in astrology is about powerful disruption, inventiveness, destruction and sudden change.
    So, there are several cycles going on. Maybe or maybe not relevant to this interesting discussion!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Calendar is a good idea. But how would they be used?

      Since there are 52 cards, each card represents a week in the year, I suppose.

      • roobeedoo2 says:

        I read a book years ago by Jostein Gaarder called the ‘the Solitaire Mystery’ where each chapter of the story, and the mystery contained within, relates to one of the 52 playing cards (He wrote ‘Sophie’s World’ which is a great introduction to philosophy). I’ll have to dig it out to see if anything syncs.

  8. garyk30 says:

    The term ‘four seasons’ is a cultural/location bias.

    Hot regions have only two or three seasons; the rainy (or wet, or monsoon) season and the dry season, and in some tropical areas, a cool or mild season.

    In the antartic, there are two seasons- very cold and not so very cold.

    Hisrory may repeat itself; but, the results can be very different.
    WW1 produced many more military deaths than civilian; but,WW2 produced millions more civilian deaths than military.

    • Klaus K says:

      But according to the generation theory WW2 was not a “repetition” of WW1, since they happened in two very different spots of the cycle. This could explain the various outcomes. WW1 was not really a world war, was it? Wasn’t it more of a European war?

      WW1 played out in the second “wawe” (the summer) while WW2 played out in the forth – the crisis (the winter) – which, according to the books started with the 1929 crash and ended ca. 1949 with the formation of Nato, EU – when everybody finally knew, that the peace was stable.

      It is very obvious that being raised as a child in the 30’ies (The Artists) must have been a quite different experience than being raised in the 50’ies (The Prophets). The Artists learned to survive in hard times, having to deal with poverty, shortages, war, disease and death – while The Prophets have been a somewhat spoiled generation. Or else they would not have started the 68-“revolution” ;) and later on: The smoking ban! The Prophets are the biggest generation, so they get their ways through their huge numbers.

      Everyone will agree, that “the times” model every generation’s way of thinking, living and acting. Maybe even as much as the genes? Maybe not – but interesting enough, I think.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Klaus I have one thing to point out, Wilson tried and failed with the league of nations after ww1. WW2’s end brought in Wilsons formerly named league as the united nations. The same scope and plan was invisioned much earlier during wilsons presidency and the progressive movement at that time. If we lift the skin Im sure we will see its been the progressives/liberal socialists plan all along to enslave the world thru the UN mandates and treaties we have now. They are so brazen get ready for the next up ours treaty or international convention thats supposedly non-binding but is!

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          ProhibitionMost progressives, especially in rural areas, adopted the cause of prohibition.

          [35] They saw the saloon as political corruption incarnate, and bewailed the damage done to women and children. They believed the consumption of alcohol limited mankind’s potential for advancement.[36] Progressives achieved success first with state laws then with the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919. The golden day did not dawn; enforcement was lax, especially in the cities where notorious criminal gangs, such as the Chicago gang of Al Capone made a crime spree based on illegal sales of liquor in speakeasies. The “experiment” (as President Hoover called it) also cost the treasury large sums of taxes and the 18th amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1933.[37]

          EugenicsSome progressives, especially among economists, sponsored eugenics as a collectivist solution to excessively large or underperforming families, hoping that birth control would enable parents to focus their resources on fewer, better children.[34] However, there were no major national, state or local programs that practiced or endorsed eugenics. Progressive leaders like Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann indicated their classically liberal concern over the danger posed to the individual by collectivism and statism.[35] The Catholics, although favoring collectivism, strongly opposed birth control proposals such as eugenics .[36]

        • roobeedoo2 says:

          Harley, perhaps WWII just interrupted the plans for World Government, but the generation that followed the war were more impressionable because they grew up in a more abundant time – they hadn’t experienced war or depression, they grew up in a good time. There are larger cycles to consider too – the architects of world governance could be working on a longer timeframe. A wheels within wheels sort of thing.

        • Klaus K says:

          Harleyrider: If 1978 is your year of birth, then you are a Nomad ;) while Frank and I are Prophets. Maybe I have not made myself clear. According to the generation theory, four different generations exist (like the 4 seasons), each app. 20 years long, and their characteristics apply to the time they live in (or vice versa). So the whole cycle is app. 80 years long, like an average human life. See the timetables here:

          1. Artists – (a small generation) grow up in the crisis that follows the crash (winter)
          2. Prophets – (a huge generation) grow up in the build-up phase after the crisis (spring)
          3. Nomads – grow up in the “young revolution” made by the Prophets (summer)
          4. Heroes – (a small generation) grow up in the roar leading up to the crash (autumn)

          And then back to “1. Artists” …
          Every generation has to go through one period of crisis, but of course at different times in their lives. The Prophets dominates the agenda in two “seaons”, their youth and adulthood at power, because of their huge numbers. The crash happens at the time when almost all Artists are pensioned (1929 & 2008), the Heroes are just starting to work, and the Nomads start settle for power. What a disappointment to the Nomads to see that economy crashes just as they settle for power! Their revenge on the Prophets may be tough – old-people in gas-chambers? Eugenics? Hitler was a Nomad – like the Marx Brothers ;) while Churchill and Roosevelt were Prophets … Very few leaders are Nomads, most leaders are Prophets or Heroes.

          Contrary to the Artists, the Heroes is spoiled and overprotected through their childhood by their Prophet & Nomad parents – however, this does not seem to have the planned effect: As soon as they are grown they break loose & start looking for adventure, insecurity, conflicts to solve with tough attitudes, and even war. When Heroes are grown many women tend to seek back to the home again, after 40 years of more work. Surprisingly they will start feeding more babies at the bottom of the economic cycle after 60 years of falling birthrates – while the men prepare to go to war.

          I found the books very interesting. The authors claim they have traced the cycle back to 1569. Maybe it is not all true – but on the other hand: Who will deny the existance of the seasons? Who will deny that people in every generation are affected by the times – i.e. by each other? Thank you for reading …

  9. Marie says:

    Those who refuse to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
    (read and digest harleyrider)

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      What do you mean Marie……….

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        A must read paper on todays smoking bans and the early 20th century bans that led up to alcohol prohibition.

        Little attention has been given to the cigarette bans that were enacted by many states in the
        late-19th and early-20th century. The recent study by Alston et al. [Explorations in Economic
        History 39 (2002) 425] represents the only empirical analysis of this issue. Alston et al., as typical
        for many other studies of historical regulatory movements, rely on legislative vote outcomes.
        In this article we examine the only occasion when a cigarette ban was put to a popular
        vote, in Oregon in 1930, and highlight the beneWts of studying direct-democratic votes to assess
        support for regulatory movements. To study the relationship between the anti-cigarette movement
        and other reform movements of the era, we compare the determinants of support for the
        cigarette ban with support for an Oregon alcohol prohibition referendum in 1933. Our results
        suggest that supporters of both reform movements were more likely to be found in counties
        with higher percentages of women, evangelical Protestants, and rural residents, which contrasts
        with Alston et al.’s study of state legislative behavior. In addition, greater support for
        alcohol prohibition in particular was found in counties with a larger percentage of immigrants
        and, to a lesser extent, more registered Republicans.
         2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

        The anti-tobacco movement in the Progressive
        Era: A case study of direct democracy in Oregon

        Click to access EEH2005.pdf

  10. Frank Davis says:

    Can anyone see an ad in the right margin of this blog post? Because I can. It’s for Dell computers.

  11. T1zzla says:

    I seem to remember a number of people having records out called “The Deck Of Cards”, maybe you could listen to it on youtube or the like,

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