What Can Ancient History Teach Us About Relationships?

Posted by in dating in midlife, love after 40 | 0 comments

Who knew that ancient history could teach us so many lessons about relationships? Author John Vespasian shared many fascinating stories on my radio show.

My radio guest, John Vespasian, is an expert on ancient history. He’s written eight books about rational living, including “When Everything Fails, Try This” (2009), “Rationality Is the Way to Happiness” (2009), “The Philosophy of Builders: How to Build a Great Future with the Pieces from Your Past” (2010), “The 10 Principles of Rational Living” (2012), “Rational Living, Rational Working: How to Make Winning Moves When Things Are Falling Apart” (2013), “Consistency: The Key to Permanent Stress Relief” (2014), “On Becoming Unbreakable: How Normal People Become Extraordinarily Self-Confident” (2015), and “Thriving in difficult times: Twelve lessons from Ancient Greece to improve your life today” (2016).

I interviewed him on episode #244: What Ancient History Can Teach Us About Relationships. Highlights of our interview can be found below.

What Can Ancient History Teach Us About Relationships?


What can ancient history can teach us about relationships?

Humans haven’t changed over the years in terms of relationships. In ancient Rome, Ovid wrote the The Art of Love, which discusses how to find a romantic partner. He observed life in ancient Rome and wrote this manual. His conclusion was that most people fail to have good relationships, because they give up too quickly. People go through depression or anxiety because they couldn’t connect with their partner.

He wrote that romantic success is a matter of numbers. If you fail, don’t give up. Supply and demand is wide. We get focused on our narrow environment and don’t look beyond the immediate. Go where there are more opportunities and new people until you can find someone you can connect to. [Great advice that still applies today, don’t you think?]

What about love stories and relationship wisdom from ancient Greece?

From ancient Greece, we learn that in any human interaction, you cannot try to change people. Cassandra was the mistress of Apollo. He fell in love with her beauty and offered her the gift of seeing the future if she gave him a kiss. After she received the gift, she spat in his face. So, he added to the gift with a curse. Whatever she said, no one would believe her. She foresaw that Tory would be destroyed,  and begged people to look out for the Trojan horse, no one believed her.

Lesson learned: Often in relationships, people tell the truth, but their partners don’t believe them. It’s important to believe your partner, especially if their truth will keep you safe. 

Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, starring Penelope, who was loyal, waiting for her husband who was at war for 30 years. At the end, he came back and they were happy together.

Lesson learned: Loyalty is crucial to a successful relationship, especially in hard times.  

Ask yourself, “Am I dating someone who will be loyal to me in difficult times?” Honesty and loyalty are fundamental.

Another example is the story of Medea. It’s a story of revenge and high emotionality. Her husband has an affair and she is out of control. He becomes a murderer. What this play is teaching is that you should stay away from emotionally unstable people.  

What role does resilience play in successful relationships throughout ancient history?

Resilience is critical in relationships. You will eventually go through bad times together. Adapt a philosophy that enables you to withstand adversity. The ancient Greeks developed a philosophy to maintain emotional balance. 

Lesson learned: In order to remain calm in the face of adversity, have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish in the long term, but have patience with your mistakes, and start every day with steps towards your goals. Make a long term plan and understand it will take months or years to accomplish your goals.

This creates peace of mind and self-confidence. It puts you at a huge advantage in dating. You know you’ll eventually reach your goal of having the relationship you want, no matter how difficult the journey may be. 

Can you share a story about lessons learned from history about self-confidence in all areas of your life?

One of my favorite stories is about a Belgian painter with a romantic story. Delvaux was born into a wealthy family who wanted him to become a lawyer. After a failed attempt at law and architecture, he went to an art academy in Brussels and became a painter. He fell in love there, but his parents said he couldn’t marry her because she’s poor.

He listened to his parents and broke off the relationship. A few years later, he married a wealthy woman. He eventually became successful, but he was never happy in his marriage. One day, he went out to buy cigarettes and saw his old girlfriend. Their love was immediately reignited, and he divorced his wife to marry his first love. 

Lesson learned: When you find the kind of person who is a good fit, go for it. Don’t listen to others. Listen to your heart. 

To listen to the entire interview, click here.

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