Image via WikipediaBased on my research, it was the Spanish Empire of Philip II (1527--1598). The phrase apparently first arose in the 16th century (El imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol). Here are some non-trivial lessons we can learn from this historical trivia:
1. A bright American child told me that she had never heard the phrase "Spanish Empire" in the course of her elementary schoolwork. An adult once scoffed when I mentioned in passing in a discussion that Spain was once a world power. The child's reaction was honest and excusable; the adult's reaction seems less salvageable, although certainly forgivable. As a friend of mine likes to point out, just because you have never heard of a certain fact has no bearing on its objective existence. Lesson: scoff less, listen more, ask more questions, read more. You may know much less than you assume. Suspend your prejudgments (otherwise known as prejudices).
|Philip II of Spain holding a rosary and wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece|
2. It is obvious that in the United States we live in an Anglo-Saxon and Protestant cultural framework, something for which we should all be thankful given that framework's strong (but not unique) democratic, economic, and scientific contributions. But as human beings sharing one human nature, there is obviously so much more that we are missing. Being rich and powerful does not automatically make a culture either educated or honorable or cultured or truly civilized. The mark of true culture lies in the famous saying of the Roman playwright Terence (195/185-159 B.C.): ""Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am a human being. I consider nothing human alien to me." Lesson: Be a human being and embrace everything worthwhile from any culture. Otherwise, you are a philistine, regardless of your trappings of power and success.