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Posts Tagged ‘Bede

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”*…

Woodcut illustrations from Anianus’ Compotus cum commento (ca. 1492), an adaptation of Bede’s computus system — Source.

Before humans stored memories as zeroes and ones, we turned to digital devices of another kind — preserving knowledge on the surface of fingers and palms. Kensy Cooperrider leads us through a millennium of “hand mnemonics” and the variety of techniques practiced by Buddhist monks, Latin linguists, and Renaissance musicians for remembering what might otherwise elude the mind…

In the beginning, the hand was just a hand — or so we can imagine. It was a workaday organ, albeit a versatile one: a tool for grasping, holding, throwing, and hefting. Then, at some point, after millions of years, it took on other duties. It became an instrument of mental, not just menial, labor. As a species, our systems of understanding, belief, and myth had grown more elaborate, more cognitively overwhelming. And so we started to put those systems out into the world: to tally, track, and record by carving notches into bone, tying knots in string, spreading pigment on cave walls, and aligning rocks with celestial bodies. Hands abetted these early mental labors, of course, but they would later become more than mere accessories. Beginning roughly twelve hundred years ago, we started using the hand itself as a portable repository of knowledge, a place to store whatever tended to slip our mental grasp. The topography of the palm and fingers became invisibly inscribed with information of all kinds — tenets and dates, names and sounds. The hand proved versatile in a new way, as an all-purpose memory machine.

The arts of memory are well known, but the role of the hand in these arts is often overlooked. In the twentieth century, beginning with the pioneering work of Frances Yates, Western scholars started to piece together a rich tradition of mnemonic practices that originated in antiquity and later took hold in Europe. The most celebrated of these is the “memory palace” [see here]. Using this technique, skilled practitioners can memorize vast collections of facts by nesting them in familiar places (or “loci”): the chambers of a building or along a well-known route. (To make these places more memorable, a bizarre image is often added to each one, the more jarring the better.) It is an odd omission that hand mnemonics are rarely mentioned alongside memory palaces. Both techniques are powerful and broadly attested. Both are adaptable, able to accommodate whatever type of information one wants to remember. And both work by similar principles, pinning to-be-remembered items to familiar locations.

The two traditions do have important differences. Memory palaces exist solely in the imagination; hand mnemonics exist half in the mind and half in the flesh. Another difference lies in their intended use. Memory palaces are idiosyncratic in nature, tailored to the quirks of personal experience and association, and used for private purposes; they are very much the province of an individual. Hand mnemonics, by contrast, are the province of a community, a tool for collective understanding. They offer a way of fixing and transmitting a shared system of knowledge. They serve private purposes, certainly — such as contemplation, in the case of the Mogao mnemonic, or calculation, in the case of Bede’s computus. But they also have powerful social functions in teaching, ritual, and communication…

The five-fingered memory machine: “Handy Mnemonics,” from @kensycoop in @PublicDomainRev.

* Steven Wright

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As we give it (to) the finger, we might recall an occasion for counting that required no fingers at all: on this date in 2015, a baseball game between Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards set the all-time low attendance mark for Major League Baseball. Zero (0) fans were in attendance, because the stadium was closed to the public due to the 2015 Baltimore protests (over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody).

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“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman”*…

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry 

… and in the relatively few instances in which they weren’t anonymous, they were often rarefied into the stuff of legend…

Many of us are familiar with the legend of Lady Godiva, who rode through the streets of Coventry naked, covered only by her long hair, so her husband would reduce taxes. This legendary story actually originates with a real early medieval English woman. Godgifu (who flourished from c.990-1067) was the wife of Earl Leofric of Mercia, and she was a major landholder in England before the Norman Conquest.

As powerful members of the nobility, Leofric and Godgifu were generous benefactors. As ‘the earl’s wife’, Godgifu is associated with her husband in the endowment and rebuilding of Stow St Mary, Lincolnshire in the 1050s, which was said to have been in ruins since it was burned down by Vikings. Leofric also endowed Coventry Abbey, an act with which Godgifu was associated in later accounts. Orderic Vitalis says that Godgifu gave ‘her whole store of gold and silver’, and this is said to include a necklace which was worth 100 silver marks. The Evesham Chronicle also names Leofric and Godgifu as founders both of Coventry, but also of the church of Holy Trinity, Evesham, to which they apparently gave a crucifix with figures of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist.

In the centuries after her death tales of her beauty, piety and devotion to the Virgin Mary are known, though it is not until the early thirteenth century that we see the story of Godgifu’s naked horse ride through Coventry appear in sources. Roger of Wendover in his Flores Historiarum, writes that: 

The countess Godiva, who was a great lover of God’s mother, longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy toll, often with urgent prayers besought her husband, that from regard to Jesus Christ and his mother, he would free the town from that service, and from all other heavy burdens; when the earl sharply rebuked her for foolishly asking what was so much to his damage, and always forbade her ever more to speak to him on the subject; and while she on the other hand, with a woman’s pertinacity, never ceased to exasperate her husband on that matter, he at last made her this answer, ‘Mount your horse, and ride naked, before all the people, through the market of the town, from one end to the other, and on your return you shall have your request.’ On which Godiva replied, ‘But will you give me permission, if I am willing to do it?’ ‘I will,’ said he. Whereupon the countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down her tresses, which covered the whole of her body like a veil, and then mounting her horse and attended by two knights, she rode through the market-place, without being seen, except her fair legs; and having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished husband, and obtained of him what she had asked; for earl Leofric freed the town of Coventry and its inhabitants from the aforesaid service, and confirmed what he had done by a charter.

Roger of Wendover is known for his exaggerations. This story is not corroborated by earlier sources and cannot be verified; thus historians must treat it simply as a colourful anecdote. Over the years, elements have been added to the legend, such as the fourteenth century miraculous version where Godiva is invisible, a sixteenth century modest version in ballad form, in which she requests that all the townsfolk stay indoors so as not to see her nakedness, or the late eighteenth century moralistic addition of Peeping Tom, who is struck blind after trying to glimpse her naked body. 

It might seem as if the later legend of Godiva has very little to do with the real evidence we have about the eleventh-century noblewoman and landowner Godgifu. However, some links can be made between the two figures. Godiva’s lack of adornment in her nudity would have seemed shocking to a medieval audience, not necessarily because nudity was an indication of sexual promiscuity, but because nobility was indicated by outer wear, like clothing and jewellery. By removing these, Godiva was not only removing her clothes, but also her status. Her nudity in this story does not function as a moral failure, but the converse, as an act of piety, in which she lowers herself in order to help those less fortunate, and her hair covers her ‘like a veil’ to protect her modesty. This piety is also present in the act of the real Godgifu giving away her precious necklace, an important symbol of status for elite women, to Coventry Abbey, as well as great quantities of gold and silver. Within the legend of Godiva and the real life of Godgifu there is a common thread of unadornment as a way of elite and wealthy women expressing religious piety.

Godgifu: The Bare Truth Behind the Lady Godiva Legend,” just one of the portraits of early medieval English women published every two weeks by Florence H R Scott.

* Virginia Woolf

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As we get to know the players, we might spare a thought for Æthelthryth (aka Etheldreda and Audrey); she died on this date in 679. An East Anglian princess, a Fenland and Northumbrian queen, and ultimately Abbess of Ely, she is an Anglo-Saxon saint. Indeed, according to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, “more medieval vernacular lives [about Æthelthryth] were composed in England than any other native female saint”– including an account contained in the Venerable Bede‘s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 23, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana”*…

 

guitar

Just as the boundaries of a guitar string (how it is pinned at both ends) determine how it vibrates, the distant past and far future of the universe may govern what happens today.

… imposing old Newtonian Schema thinking on new quantum-scale phenomena has landed us in situations with no good explanations whatsoever. If these phenomena seem inexplicable, we may just be thinking about them in the wrong way. Much better explanations become available if we are willing to take the future into account as well as the past. But Newtonian-style thinking is inherently incapable of such time-neutral explanations. Computer programs run in only one direction, and trying to combine two programs running in opposite directions leads to the paradoxical morass of poorly plotted time-travel movies. In order to treat the future as seriously as we treat the past, we clearly need an alternative to the Newtonian Schema.

And we have one. Most physicists are well aware of a different framework, an alternative where space and time are analyzed in an even-handed manner. This so-called Lagrangian Schema also has old roots and has become an essential tool in every field of fundamental physics. But even physicists who regularly use this approach have resisted the last obvious step: thinking of the Lagrangian Schema not just as a mathematical trick, but as a way to explain the world. Perhaps we haven’t been taking our own theories seriously enough.

The Lagrangian Schema doesn’t just allow future-based explanations. It demands them. By treating the future and the past on the same footing, this framework avoids paradoxes and makes new explanatory opportunities available. And it just might be the viewpoint that physics needs for the next major breakthrough…

More at “To Understand Your Past, Look to Your Future.”

Anthony Oettinger (though often mis-attributed to Groucho Marx)

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As we disentangle entanglement, we might spare a thought for Bede (or as he is more frequently remembered, Venerable Bede); he died on this date in 735.  An English monk, Bede studied and wrote widely on scientific, historical, and theological topics, ranging from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries.  He was an accomplished translator (Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace, and other classical writers in both Greek and Hebrew).  And his  Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) has earned him the title “The Father of English History.”  Indeed, it was in this work that Bede established as common practice the use of “BC” and “AD” with dates.

Bede as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

A(nother) matter of perspective…

 

Yesterday’s post located our moment in the larger sweep of time; today’s locates our experience– the things we can touch and see– in the larger hierarchy of scale.

Readers may recall Cary and Michael Huang’s “The Scale of the Universe”— in the spirit of xkcd’s nifty toon, a wonderful Flash re-do of Charles and Ray Eames’ classic Powers of Ten: an animation that lets one scroll through the orders of magnitude of existence.  Not content with “pretty terrific,” the Brothers Huang have revised and improved their tour of the universe…  Ladies and Gentlemen, “The Scale of the Universe 2“:

[TotH to friend CE]

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As we ruminate with reverence on our place in the scheme of things, we might spare a thought for Bede (or as he is more frequently remembered, Venerable Bede); he died on this date in 735.  An English monk, Bede studied and wrote widely on scientific, historical and theological topics, ranging from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He was an accomplished translator (Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace, and other classical writers in both Greek and Hebrew).  His  Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) has earned him the title “The Father of English History.” Indeed, it was in this work that Bede established as common practice the use of “BC” and “AD” with dates.

Bede as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 26, 2013 at 1:01 am

If food be the music of love, play on…

Vanessa Dualib is a Sao Paulo-based “daydreamer, pseudo-photographer, wanna-be astronaut and untrained intellectual who tends to find inspiration specially in fruits and veggies.”  That inspiration found form in her book Playing With Food.

Happily for us, she’s graciously shared the photos that animate her book; they’re available as a photo set, “Playing With My Food” on Flickr.

As we brave the broccoli forest, we might recall that it was on this date in 4004 BC that all creation began…  at least according to what is known as the Ussher Chronology.  Developed  in the 17th century by James Ussher, the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh (in what is now Northern Ireland), it held that the first day of creation began at nightfall, Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC.  Ussher’s conclusions were published in 1650 in his Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world).

Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s likely “life-span” was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).  In any case, his conclusion varied a bit from other Biblically-based estimates, like those of Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) and Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC).

Ironically, it was on this date in 1977 that paleontologist Elso Barghoorn announced the discovery of the oldest life-forms on earth:  3.4-billion-year-old one-celled fossils.

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