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An anachronism (from Greek ana, back, and chronos, time) is a neglect or falsification, whether deliberate or accidental, of chronological relation.

The most common use of the term restricts it to the ante-dating of events, circumstances or customs; in other words, to the introduction, especially in works of imagination that rest on a historical basis, of details borrowed from a later age.

Anachronisms may be committed in many ways, originating, for instance, in disregard of the different modes of life and thought that characterize different periods, or in ignorance of the progress of the arts and sciences and the other ascertained facts of history. They vary from glaring inconsistencies to scarcely perceptible misrepresentation. Much discussion of the past is so deficient in historical perspective as to be little better than a continuous anachronism. It is only since the close of the 18th century that this kind of untruthfulness has jarred on a general audience. Anachronisms abound in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare, as well as in those of less celebrated painters and playwrights of earlier times. In particular, the artists, on the stage and on the canvas, in story and in song, assimilated their characters to their own nationality and their own time. The Virgin Mary was represented here as an Italian contadina, and there as a Flemish frow; Alexander the Great appeared on the French stage in the full costume of Louis XIV of France down to the time of Voltaire; and in England the contemporaries of Addison[?] could behold, without any suspicion of burlesque,

"Cato's long wig, flower'd gown, and lacquer'd chair."
Shakespeare's audience did not ask whether the University of Wittenberg had existed in Hamlet's day. (Though they might have taken note of the bells which ring in Julius Ceasar's ancient Rome.)

Modern realism (especially in film), the progress of archaeological research, and the more scientific spirit of history have encouraged audiences and artists to view anachronism as an offense or mistake, where our ancestors may have been less likely to do so.

Dramatic productions sometimes use anachronism for effect. In particular, directors of Shakespeare's plays may use costumes and props, not only of Shakespeare's day or their own, but of any era in between, or of an imagined future: the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet crosses The Tempest with popular music to create a science fiction musical.

Even with careful research, science fiction writers risk anachronism as their works age, because of things they failed to predict: many books nominally set in the mid-21st century assume the continuing existence of the Soviet Union, for example.

The term is also often used (more metaphorically) to describe the experience of encountering things in general life which appear to be out of place in time, though on a literal level they are not. Monarchies and other overly lavish polticial traditions from past centuries are considered by many to be quite achachronistic, as are some old-fashioned languages and certain religous traditions. Moral values which were prevalent in another time period, which have now fallen out of favor, may also be referred to as achachronistic.

Some people suffer from a psychological condition called anachronistic displacement[?], refering to an obsessive or dysfunctional belief or claim that a person "belongs" or should properly exist in another time period, and are thus unable to deal with ordinary factors in the everyday world.

See also: Anachronism and time travel, time travel, Society for Creative Anachronism

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