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Inspiring false story: The first sign of civilization in a culture

Inspiring false story: The first sign of civilization in a culture

By Ainars Pudans on Nov 19, 2023

"Se non è vero, è ben trovato" (even if it's not true, it's a good story) is a rather well-known phrase among those who have been exposed to some form of culture. Besides, this Italian expression is very central to understanding the country where truth is readily sacrificed on behalf of beauty.

The original aphorism belongs to Italian poet and philosopher Giordano Bruno (1582) and this phrase has been used by P. Tchaikovsky’s librettist and younger brother Modest Tchaikovsky for the opera “Queen of Spades” (Scene 2, No 7, Duet).

Nevertheless, this story is not about the phrase as such but an inspiring story that turned out was not completely true. Yet, it made an impact on so many. Let’s see why…

Here it is (an excerpt from an article in Forbes):

"Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks, clay pots, or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a femur (thigh bone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink, or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said."

So, the first sign of civilization – taking care of someone. Something that has never been witnessed among other species. What a story! Simple yet powerful.

As human beings, we have a rather vivid imagination which fills any gaps of actual knowledge. And we love a great, compelling story no matter what.

So, while this quote by Margaret Mead has been discussed and referenced in various academic and cultural contexts, there’s no reliable evidence that Mead said what has been attributed to her. And when Mead was asked directly in an interview: “When does a culture become a civilization?”, she gave a completely different answer: “Looking at the past, we have called societies civilizations when they have had great cities, elaborate division of labor, some form of keeping records. These are the things that have made civilization”. 

Nevertheless, we prefer a good, compelling story as opposed to dry facts.
The preference for stories over facts is deeply rooted in human psychology and has evolved over centuries. Stories have the power to evoke emotions and their structure helps us make sense of the world. Besides, stories simplify complex information, resonating with known patterns and meaning, helping pass on this story across generations.

That’s why we have started to collect stories about each composition for flute we can get. We loved the story about the “Danse de la chèvre” (Dance of the Goat) by A. Honegger, presented by Paul Edmund-Davies. Then we went even further, making video stories of PÄ“teris Vasks compositions for the flute as well, filling the gap with authentic and compelling stories that anyone can relate to. We hope that this will help anyone who is serious about learning music in general and mastering the flute in particular.

Let us know if you have a good story about some great piece of the flute repertoire, we’ll be glad to share!

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