Friday, March 28, 2008

Cornelius Nepos: Lives of Eminent Commanders

An English translation of the text of Cornelius Nepos' Excellentium Imperatorum Vitae is now online. The address is It includes biographies of Miltiades, Alcibiades, Timotheus, Hamilcar, Hannibal, and Cato as well as many more.

Of the author, Wikipedia notes, "Cornelius Nepos (c. 100-24 BC) was a Roman biographer. Supposedly he was born at Hostilia, a village in Cisalpine Gaul not far from Verona. His Gallic origin is attested by Ausonius, and Pliny the Elder calls him Padi accola ('a dweller on the River Po, Natural History III.22). He was a friend of Catullus, who dedicates his poems to him (I.3), Cicero and Titus Pomponius Atticus. Eusebius places him in the fourth year of the reign of Augustus, which is supposed to be when he began to attract critical acclaim by his writing. Pliny the Elder notes he died in the reign of Augustus (Natural History IX.39, X.23)."

From the site:

I do not doubt that there will be many,1 Atticus, who will think this kind of writing 2 trifling in its nature, and not sufficiently adapted to the characters of eminent men, when they shall find it related who taught Epaminondas music, or see it numbered among his accomplishments, that he danced gracefully, and played skilfully on the flutes 3. But these will be such, for the most part, as, being unacquainted with Greek literature, will think nothing right but what agrees with their own customs.

If these readers will but understand that the same things are not becoming or unbecoming among all people, but that every thing is judged by the usages of men's forefathers, they will not wonder that we, in setting forth the excellencies of the Greeks, have had regard to their manners. For to Cimon, an eminent man among the Athenians, it was thought no disgrace to have his half-sister, 4 by the father's side, in marriage, as his countrymen followed the same practice; but such a union, according to the order of things among us, is deemed unlawful. 306 In Greece it is considered an honour to young men to have as many lovers 5 as possible. At Lacedaemon there is no widow 6 so noble that will not go upon the stage, if engaged for a certain sum. Through the whole of Greece it was accounted a great glory to be proclaimed a conqueror at Olympia; while to appear upon the stage, and become a spectacle to the public,7 307 was a dishonour to no one in that nation; but all these practices are, with us, deemed partly infamous, partly mean, and at variance with respectability. On the other hand, many things in our habits are decorous, which are by them considered unbecoming; for what Roman is ashamed to bring his wife to a feast, or whose consort does not occupy the best room in the house, and live in the midst of company? But in Greece the case is far otherwise; for a wife is neither admitted to a feast, except among relations, nor does she sit anywhere but in the innermost apartment of the house,8 which is called the gynaeconitis, and into which nobody goes who is not connected with her by near relationship.

But both the size of my intended volume, and my haste to relate what I have undertaken, prevent me from saying more on this point. We will therefore proceed to our subject, and relate in this book the lives of eminent commanders.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Opening Atlantis

I just finished reading Opening Atlantis by Harry Turtledove. It is an alternate history novel that takes place in a setting with a continent between North America (Terra Nova) and Europe. The map on the cover of the book shows the east coast of the United States and Canada split off into the middle of the Atlantic. This is, of course, Atlantis.

A description of the book notes, "New York Times bestselling author Harry Turtledove has intrigued readers with such thought-provoking 'what if...' scenarios as a conquered Elizabethan England in Ruled Britannia and a Japanese occupation of Hawaii in Days of Infamy and End of the Beginning. Now, in the first of a brand-new trilogy, he rewrites the history of the world with the existence of an eighth continent... Atlantis lies between Europe and the East Coast of Terranova. For many years, this land of opportunity lured dreamers from around the globe with its natural resources, offering a new beginning for those willing to brave the wonders of the unexplored land."

The book is split into three parts. The first part tells of the discovery and settlement of Atlantis by the English, French, and Spanish. The second part takes places generations later and centers on the war against a pirate nation on the Atlantean bay of Avalon. The final part is an account of a war between England and a French/Spanish alliance in Atlantis. Through the centuries, members of the English Radcliffe (Radcliff) family are featured.

I liked this book but I do have a few quibbles. I did not like the lack of maps. Other than the map on the cover which is reprinted in the book several times, the geography of Atlantis is not revealed. Where exactly is New Hastings and Avalon? What are the boundaries of the English, French, and Spanish colonies? Yes, I know the English are to the North, the Spanish are to the South, and the French are in between but I would have liked more map details.

Also, if there was a continent in the middle of the Atlantic, would this not change ocean currents and hence the weather? And if the weather changed the climate of Europe, would there have ever been a France, England, or Spain as we know them? OK, not a fair question. This is alternate history after all.

As are all Turtledove books, this is well written. I found the book engaging and enjoyable. I did not like to put it down even if the plot was a bit predictable at times. I have read that this is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to the next two books.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Vandalizing History on Easter Island

Finnish tourist Marko Kulju, 26, is in trouble. He has been accused of intentionally damaging a Moai on Chile's Easter Island. If found guilty, this act of vandalizing history may cost him seven years in jail. CNN has details in Easter Island statue 'vandalized'.

The articles notes, "Kulju used his hands to tear off the earlobe, which fell to the ground and broke into pieces measuring 8 to 12 inches each, Easter Island Police Chief Cristian Gonzalez told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Kulju ran away with at least one of the pieces from the 13-foot tall Moai, he said."

Easter Island government official Liliana Castro noted, "Fortunately, this type of thing does not happen every day, but it does happen, and it is almost impossible to control because on Easter Island there are sites of great archaeological value everywhere and the park guards cannot prevent all such incidents."

Archaeologists believe the island was discovered and colonized by Polynesians at about 400 AD. Subsequently, a unique culture developed. The human population grew to levels that could not be sustained by the island. A civil war resulted, and the island’s deforestation and ecosystem collapse was nearly complete. Over 880 statues called moai (pronounced 'mo eye') can be found on this isolated island, located 2,300 miles from the coast of Chile. The statues range in size from a few feet to over 30 feet, and weigh up to 150 tons. They were built sometime after the island was colonized in 300 C.E.. Each statue was hewn out of hard volcanic material from quarries near the Rano Raraku volcano. The statues are thought to honor their deity Make Make, or represent chieftans of the two or three tribes that inhabited this island. Originally the island was heavily forested for the construction of statues and campfires, but the rapid growth of the human population quickly denuded the island. About 250 years ago, warfare between the two tribes of 'Easter Islanders' led to the toppling of most of the statues. (Source)

If this all an misfortunate understanding, I wish Mr. Kulju well. However, if he did indeed damage this statue, I hope Chile throws the book at him. These sort of artifacts are not replaceable and they belong to the people of the Earth. This is a part of the human legacy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

From Antiquity to Einstein

Are you ready for some good lectures notes on the history of science? Jose Wudka of the University of California, Riverside has a nice collection up at From Antiquity to Einstein. It includes definitions and examples of early uses of scientific method, large numbers, early cosmology, Newtonian laws, electricity, magnetism, waves versus particles, and light.

The site is a bite dated as it is from 1998. Despite this, the content is solid and worth perusing. There is a lot here for those looking to teach this subject.

From the site:

These notes cover the development of the current scientific concepts of space and time through history, emphasizing the newest developments and ideas. The presentation will be non-mathematical: the concepts will be introduced and explained, but no real calculations will be performed. The various concepts will be introduced in a historical order (whenever possible), this provides a measure of understanding as to how the ideas on which the modern theory of space and time is based were developed. In a real sense this has been an adventure for humanity, very similar to what a child undergoes from the moment he or she first looks at the world to the point he or she understands some of its rules. Part of this adventure will be told here.