Reading history can feel like reading fiction in that the historian depicts a world that does not exist for us beyond the page. From the modern world of aircraft carriers, skyscrapers, oil refineries, and the United Nations, the ancient world of Roman Emperors, Visigoths, chariot races, and polytheism seems separated not merely by chronological distance but by an ontological rupture. The past feels like an alternate universe, connected to the present only by the accident of a common setting, as fiction is linked to life by taking place in factual locations, though no path leads from our world to the novelist's.
Looking at my high school yearbook gives the lie to this conception. There I am as I was, living in another and now lost world, yet the fifteen years' journey from there to here did not require crossing any chasms nor tunneling through wormholes, but only the steady arrival of tomorrows. With this realization, I gain a line of sight back to the time of togas. The distant past became the present via the smooth, paved path of days. Epochal change is the work of the small, familiar quantities of time our clocks tick off. Knowing how minutes pass, we know how millennia pass.