The Spanish philosopher George Santayana is perhaps best known for his sometimes controversial statement “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While often quoted, it is also sometimes dismissed because history doesn’t quite “repeat” itself–the circumstances and details are rarely quite the same.
On the other hand, Santayana’s larger point, that the similarities between historical situations and current situations have value, is widely accepted and even used in education and elsewhere. In law similar historical cases are used as precedent. In business classes and medical school cases are used to teach, and some fields, like psychology, are built entirely on individual cases.
So what does this have to do with literature?