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The past is a term used to indicate the totality of events which occurred before a given point in time. The past is contrasted with and defined by the present and the future. The concept of the past is derived from the linear fashion in which human observers experience time, and is accessed through memory and recollection.


The past speaks to us in a thousand voices, warning and comforting, animating and stirring to action. What its great thinkers have thought and written on the deepest problems of life, shall we not hear and enjoy? ~ Felix Adler
The past, too, is another country. Its ghosts may look strange and frightening and slightly misshapen in body and mind, but all the more reason then, to welcome them to our shores. ~ Martin Amis
The past is never dead. It's not even past. ~ William Faulkner
The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twilight of the dawn. ~ H. G. Wells
We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past. ~ Ken Kesey
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. ~ George Santayana
  • Is there any good reason why we cannot extend our multi-cultural generosity to include another dimension? That of time. The past, too, is another country. Its ghosts may look strange and frightening and slightly misshapen in body and mind, but all the more reason then, to welcome them to our shores.
    • Martin Amis, Lecture given at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (30 January 1997).
  • One thing alone not even God can do,
    To make undone whatever hath been done.
    • Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. Robert Williams (1879), book 6, chapter 2, p. 154. See also R. W. Browne's translation (1850), Book VI, Chapter II:
      Therefore Agathon rightly says: "Of this alone even God is deprived, the power of making things that are past never to have been".
      Same idea in John Milton, Paradise Lost, 9. 926. Pindar, Olympia. 2. 17. Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, 2. 5. 10. Aristotle attributed these words to Agathon, an Athenian tragic poet who lived in the latter half of the fifth century B.C. In his column, "Today and Tomorrow", Walter Lippmann attributed the same idea to George Santayana: "He might meditate on Santayana's saying that not even God can change the past". New York Herald Tribune (June 11, 1951), p. 17. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Whether God can make the past not to have been?
Objection 1: It seems that God can make the past not to have been. For what is impossible in itself is much more impossible than that which is only impossible accidentally. But God can do what is impossible in itself, as to give sight to the blind, or to raise the dead. Therefore, and much more can He do what is only impossible accidentally. Now for the past not to have been is impossible accidentally: thus for Socrates not to be running is accidentally impossible, from the fact that his running is a thing of the past. Therefore God can make the past not to have been.
Objection 2: Further, what God could do, He can do now, since His power is not lessened. But God could have effected, before Socrates ran, that he should not run. Therefore, when he has run, God could effect that he did not run.
Objection 3: Further, charity is a more excellent virtue than virginity. But God can supply charity that is lost; therefore also lost virginity. Therefore He can so effect that what was corrupt should not have been corrupt. On the contrary, Jerome says (Ep. 22 ad Eustoch.): "Although God can do all things, He cannot make a thing that is corrupt not to have been corrupted." Therefore, for the same reason, He cannot effect that anything else which is past should not have been.
I answer that, As was said above (Q[7], A[2]), there does not fall under the scope of God's omnipotence anything that implies a contradiction. Now that the past should not have been implies a contradiction. For as it implies a contradiction to say that Socrates is sitting, and is not sitting, so does it to say that he sat, and did not sit. But to say that he did sit is to say that it happened in the past. To say that he did not sit, is to say that it did not happen. Whence, that the past should not have been, does not come under the scope of divine power. This is what Augustine means when he says (Contra Faust. xxix, 5): "Whosoever says, If God is almighty, let Him make what is done as if it were not done, does not see that this is to say: If God is almighty let Him effect that what is true, by the very fact that it is true, be false": and the Philosopher says (Ethic. vi, 2): "Of this one thing alone is God deprived---namely, to make undone the things that have been done."
Reply to Objection 1: Although it is impossible accidentally for the past not to have been, if one considers the past thing itself, as, for instance, the running of Socrates; nevertheless, if the past thing is considered as past, that it should not have been is impossible, not only in itself, but absolutely since it implies a contradiction. Thus, it is more impossible than the raising of the dead; in which there is nothing contradictory, because this is reckoned impossible in reference to some power, that is to say, some natural power; for such impossible things do come beneath the scope of divine power.
Reply to Objection 2: As God, in accordance with the perfection of the divine power, can do all things, and yet some things are not subject to His power, because they fall short of being possible; so, also, if we regard the immutability of the divine power, whatever God could do, He can do now. Some things, however, at one time were in the nature of possibility, whilst they were yet to be done, which now fall short of the nature of possibility, when they have been done. So is God said not to be able to do them, because they themselves cannot be done.
Reply to Objection 3: God can remove all corruption of the mind and body from a woman who has fallen; but the fact that she had been corrupt cannot be removed from her; as also is it impossible that the fact of having sinned or having lost charity thereby can be removed from the sinner.
  • If you are living in the past or in the future, you will never find a meaning in the present.
    • Fausto Cercignani in: Brian Morris, Simply Transcribed. Quotations from Fausto Cercignani, 2013, p. 9.
  • Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.
  • It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time. You, too, are your past; often your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been; because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations; because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that has met you, every book that you have read, every experience that you have had; all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul. So with a city, a country, and a race; it is its past, and cannot be understood without it.
  • The past is never dead. It's not even past.
  • Not heaven itself upon the past has power;
    But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
    • John Dryden, ''Imitation of Horace (1685), Book III, Ode 29 line 69-72.
  • The past and future are veiled; but the past wears the widow's veil; the future, the virgin's.
    • Jean Paul, as quoted in Treasury of Thought (1872) by Maturin M. Ballou, p. 521.
  • Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience.
  • How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?
  • The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twilight of the dawn.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 581-83.
  • The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.
  • No traces left of all the busy scene,
    But that remembrances says: The things have been.
  • But how carve way i' the life that lies before,
    If bent on groaning ever for the past?
  • The light of other days is faded,
    And all their glories past.
  • The age of chivalry is gone.
  • John Anderson, my jo, John,
    When we were first acquent,
    Your locks were like the raven,
    Your bonny brow was brent.
  • The best of prophets of the future is the past.
  • The Present is the living sum-total of the whole Past.
  • O, to bring back the great Homeric time,
    The simple manners and the deeds sublime:
    When the wise Wanderer, often foiled by Fate,
    Through the long furrow drave the ploughshare straight.
    • Mortimer Collins, letter to the Rt. Hon. B. Disraeli, M. P. Pub. anon. 1869. "Ploughing his lonely furrow." Used by Lord Rosebery. July, 1901.
  • Listen to the Water-Mill:
    Through the live-long day
    How the clicking of its wheel
    Wears the hours away!
    Languidly the Autumn wind
    Stirs the forest leaves,
    From the field the reapers sing
    Binding up their sheaves:
    And a proverb haunts my mind
    As a spell is cast,
    "The mill cannot grind
    With the water that is past."
  • Not heaven itself upon the past has power;
    But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
    • John Dryden, Imitation of Horace, Book III. Ode XXIX, line 71.
  • Ils sont passés ces jours de fête.
  • Oh le bon temps où étions si malheureux.
    • Oh! the good times when we were so unhappy.
    • Alexandre Dumas, Le Chevalier d'Harmental, II. 318.
  • Un jeune homme d'un bien beau passé.
  • O Death! O Change! O Time!
    Without you, O! the insufferable eyes
    Of these poor Might-Have-Beens,
    These fatuous, ineffectual yesterdays.
  • Praise they that will times past, I joy to see
    My selfe now live: this age best pleaseth mee.
  • We are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past.
    • Ken Kesey, As quoted by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) Ch. 11.
  • Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.
  • Enjoy the spring of love and youth,
    To some good angel leave the rest;
    For time will teach thee soon the truth,
    There are no birds in last year's nest.
  • Prisca juvent alios; ego me nunc denique natum Gratulor.
    • The good of other times let people state;
      I think it lucky I was born so late.
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, III. 121. Translation by Sydney Smith.
  • Weep no more, lady, weep no more,
    Thy sorrowe is in vaine,
    For violets pluckt, the sweetest showers
    Will ne'er make grow againe.
  • O there are Voices of the Past,
    Links of a broken chain,
    Wings that can bear me back to Times
    Which cannot come again;
    Yet God forbid that I should lose
    The echoes that remain!
  • In tanta inconstantia turbaque rerum nihil nisi quod preteriit certum est.
    • In the great inconstancy and crowd of events, nothing is certain except the past.
    • Seneca the Younger, De Consolatione ad Marciam, XXII.
  • The past Hours weak and gray
    With the spoil which their toil
    Raked together
    From the conquest but One could foil.
  • I need not ask thee if that hand, now calmed,
    Has any Roman soldier mauled and knuckled,
    For thou wert dead, and buried and embalmed,
    Ere Romulus and Remus had been suckled:
    Antiquity appears to have begun
    Long after that primeval race was run.
    • Horace Smith, Address to the Mummy in Belzoni's Exhibition.
  • Oh, had I but Aladdin's lamp
    Tho' only for a day,
    I'd try to find a link to bind
    The joys that pass away.
  • Long ago in a distant land, I—Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness—unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish samurai warrior, wielding a magic sword, stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future: where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is Aku.
  • Oh seize the instant time; you never will
    With waters once passed by impel the mill.
  • Many a woman has a past; but I am told she has at least a dozen, and that they all fit.
    • Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, Act I. A Woman with a Past. Title of a Novel by Mrs. Berens. Pub. 1886.
  • Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.
  • For old, unhappy, far-off things,
    And battles long ago.
  • That awful independent on to-morrow!
    Whose work is done; who triumphs in the past;
    Whose yesterdays look backward with a smile
    Nor, like the Parthian, wound him as they fly.
    • Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742-1745), Night II, line 322.

See also[edit]


  • Klopsch, Louis, 1852-1910 (1896). Many Thoughts of Many Minds. 

External links[edit]