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Someone commented to me that there is an ancient text talking about how everything has been said before. There are of course more recents thoughts along this line, but to me it was very impressive to think that this was said thousands of years ago, so I would be very thankful if someone knew about old quotes like that

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    It's probably been said more than once, but Ecclesiastes is famous for this: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.". – called2voyage Sep 6 '16 at 14:30
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    I think @Sjuan76 has hit upon it with "cyclical time". Kudos for recognizing that any individual quotation is merely an expression of a concept that is common to multiple belief systems, and will have been expressed frequently in diverse contexts. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 6 '16 at 16:07
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    If we find a text that says it, does that mean there has to be an older one that also says it? – Schwern Sep 6 '16 at 18:12
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    Thanks for the comments and I do agree with @Schwern that it is a question with no clear final answer, I was just hoping for a response of the Kind "Yes, you are looking for that passage in the Epic of Gilgamesh". This is of course a long shot question to ask and I am very glad to discover other quotes like the one of Ecclesiastes – good_one Sep 6 '16 at 21:05
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After some searching, I cannot find an older succinct expression of the concept than that in the book Ecclesiastes from the Hebrew Tanakh, which has become the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Ecclesiastes (Koheleth in Hebrew) is a piece of wisdom literature on the topic of futility, which dates to somewhere between 450-180 BCE. In Ecclesiastes 1:9 it is expressed:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

(NIV)

This concept is repeated throughout the book to reinforce the theme of the futility of human effort. The philosophy is not original. As has been pointed out in the comments, it bears resemblance to the notion of eternal return: the idea that in an infinite universe there must be a cycle of time in which the same events repeat over and over. This idea has been discussed in ancient cultures around the world.

The book of Ecclesiastes does not go as far as declaring a concept of eternal return, which would have gone directly against the traditional Jewish belief in a linear timeline with a defined beginning and end. Perhaps the idea is expressed so succinctly because it was a somewhat novel idea in Jewish culture.

The phrase has taken on a life of its own, and is often quoted. It is so common that it has been used as the title of numerous papers across various disciplines.

There is, however, an iteration of this idea that more closely matches the wording of the question, from about the same depth of time. The Roman playwright Terence, in his 2nd century BC comedy Eunuchus, wrote:

[The author]...doesn't deny that in his Eunuch he has transported characters out of the Greek: but ... if the same characters will not be permitted, how is it more permissible to depict a servant on the run, or to make use of good old women, evil courtesans, a gluttonous parasite, a braggart soldier, a changeling, an old man duped by a servant, or even love, hate, and suspicion? In short, nothing is said that has not been said before.

emphasis added

Further reference:

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    As mentioned there are a lot of pop-culture references floating around to Ecclesiastes. My personal favorite is the last "third" of Extreme's III Sides to Every Story album. Youtube here - youtu.be/wWouiWxAMWs – T.E.D. Sep 9 '16 at 15:47
  • Updated today with the Terence quote from Eunuchus. Terence is estimated to have been born about 185 B.C. Since the Ecclesiastes quote is probably at least that old, I like to imagine that Ecclesiastes was written first and a few (hundred) years later Terence penned the bolded expression, appropriately unaware of the earlier iteration of his idea. – called2voyage Jan 7 at 19:22
  • Also, for those who complain about remade films, apparently that problem too is as old as dirt. – called2voyage Jan 7 at 19:25

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