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Posts Tagged ‘Socrates

Carrying the World on Your Shoulders: It’s All About the Ink, Part Two…

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Tattoos have been with us since Prehistoric times; indeed, early tattoos were a kind of prehistory:  for example, 5th century BCE Iron Age corpses found preserved in frozen tombs (on the Ukok plateau in the Altai mountains in Siberia) are festooned with depictions of hunting and prey. Tattoos have been capturing world views and memorializing events (along with more personal passions, of course) ever since.

For much of the modern era in the West, tattoos were the preserve of outliers (e.g., seamen) and outlaws– until the latter half of the 20th century: in 1936, only 6% of Americans had a tattoo; in 2003, that percentage had risen to 16%; and by 2008, 36% of Americans 18 to 25 had a tattoo, rising to 40% for 26- to 40-year-olds.

As tattoos have become more common, their subjects have become more varied.  Part One of “It’s All About the Ink” looked at mathematically-themed tattoos.  But what about the physical world?

Our old friends at Strange Maps look at cartographic tattoos

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As we contemplate getting from here to there, we might send thoughtful birthday greeting to the co-founder of Western philosophy, Socrates; today’s date– June 4– is the best guess* as to the date of his birth in 469 BCE.

I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

– Socrates, quoted by Plutarch

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* Socrates’s birthday was specified by Apollodoros the Chronographer:  the fourth year of the 77th Olympiad, the Archonship of Apsephionos, the Sixth day of the Attic Month Thargelion (i.e. the birthday of the goddess Artemis).  Athenian months ran from New Moon to New Moon (roughly mid month to mid month), so Thargelion overlapped May and June. The Julian date was established by Eusebius.  (All this said, lunar calendars were sufficiently inaccurate– and Greeks, sufficiently unconcerned with precise birth records– that it was common practice to ascribe all children born in a twelve-month cycle the same “birthday,” which was actually just a “birth-year”; even then, some historians suggest that Socrates was born in 470 BCE, not 469.)

Written by LW

June 4, 2012 at 1:01 am

I forget…

 source: Flickr/Lord Rex

As we worry about the skills being lost in our growing dependence on new technologies, we might contemplate Plato’s recounting of Socrates’ dialogue with Phaedrus:

Socrates: Among the ancient gods of Naucratis in Egypt there was one to whom the bird called the ibis is sacred. The name of that divinity was Thoth, and it was he who first discovered number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, as well as the games of checkers and dice, and above all else, writing.

Now, the king of all Egypt at that time was Thamus, who lived in the great city in the upper region that the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; Thamus they call Amun. Thoth came to exhibit his arts to him and urged him to disseminate them to all the Egyptians. Thamus asked him about the usefulness of each art, and while Thoth was explaining it, Thamus praised him for whatever he thought was right in his explanations and criticized him for whatever he thought was wrong.

The story goes that Thamus said much to Thoth, both for and against each art, which it would take too long to repeat. But when they came to writing, Thoth said, “O king, here is something that, once learned, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and for wisdom.” Thamus, however, replied, “O most expert Thoth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art, but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them. And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are. In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”

Via Lapham’s Quarterly. (C.f. also Josh Mostel’s hysterical dramatization on Media Probes, if you can find it…)

As we chill, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that the final episode of The Lawrence Welk Show was taped (for syndicated release on April 17).  The series aired locally in Los Angeles for four years (1951–55), then nationally for another 28 years via the ABC network (1955–71) and– supported by anti-aging tonic Geritol,  sleep aid Sominex, and laxative Serutan–in first-run syndication (1971–82).  Then in 1986, lest a generation of Americans forget the polka, Oklahoma Public Television acquired the rights and began redistributing the programs to PBS stations…  on which they run to this day.

And a one, and a two…

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Written by LW

February 24, 2012 at 1:01 am

Let’s get cynical…

 

"Cynic: an idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision" - Rick Bayan

Cynicisn was, like the Doric column and the gyro sandwich, invented by the Greeks.  As Rick Bayan explains…

The first Cynics (we capitalize the name when we’re talking about the ancient ones) were students of a now-obscure philosopher named Antisthenes, who in turn was a student of the illustrious Socrates. Like Socrates, the Cynics believed that virtue was the greatest good. But they took it a step further than the old master, who would merely challenge unsuspecting folks to good-natured debates and let their own foolishness trip them up.

The Cynics were more blunt when it came to exposing foolishness. They’d hang  out in the streets like a pack of dogs (“Cynic” comes from the Greek word for  dog), watch the passing crowd, and ridicule anyone who seemed pompous, pretentious, materialistic or downright wicked. Fiercely proud of their independence, they led disciplined and virtuous lives. The most famous of the ancient Cynics was Diogenes, who reportedly took up residence in a tub to demonstrate his freedom from material wants. This cranky street-philosopher would introduce himself by saying, “I am Diogenes the dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.” He’d use a lantern by daylight, explaining that he was searching for an honest man. Even Alexander the Great didn’t escape unscathed. When the young conqueror found Diogenes sitting in the marketplace and asked how he could help him, the old philosopher replied that “you can step out of my sunlight.”

Bayan, who believes that cynicism is as important today as ever, has created The Cynic’s Sanctuary, one of whose fascinating features is the Cynic’s Hall of Fame; arranged chronologically, by date of birth, it begins with…

Aesop (c. 600 B.C. ) Was he real or legendary? We’re not absolutely sure. Aesop may have been a slave who lived on the Greek isle of Samos; it’s said that he was slain by irate priests at the Oracle of Delphi. (He probably got himself into hot water by mocking their beliefs.) His works weren’t assembled into book form until about eight centuries after his time. No doubt numerous ancient storytellers added to the collection along the way. But the reputed author of the world’s most famous fables — man or legend — has to stand as literature’s great proto-Cynic. His brief moral tales are sharp allegories of human folly — even when the characters are foxes, crows, mice, tortoises and hares. Aesop’s Fables teem with the wisdom and gentle mockery of someone who knows the human animal inside and out (especially our weaknesses). If you think Aesop is just for children, think again — and read him again.

Favorite quote:
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

The roster continues through the expected (e.g., Rabelais, Voltaire, Mark Twain) and the not-so-expected (Jesus, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer)…

In times like these, it’s comforting to know that one can take refuge in The Cynic’s Sanctuary.

 

As we memorize our Mencken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1780 that General Benedict Arnold betrayed the US when he wrote British General Sir Henry Clinton, agreeing to surrender the fort at West Point to the British army.  Arnold, whose name has become synonymous with “traitor,” fled to England after the plot fell through.  The British gave Arnold a brigadier general’s commission with an annual income of several hundred pounds, but only paid him £6,315 plus an annual pension of £360 because his plot had failed.  After the Revolutionary War, Arnold settled in Canada, and turned his hand to land speculation, West Indies, trade, and privateering– none of them very successfully.  He died in 1801.

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Yes, but what *is* “a ball”?…

Sticking with yesterday’s focus on sports…

Coming to a stadium in North London this Sunday: a tribute/replay of Monty Python’s “The Philosophers’ Football Match,” featuring Socrates Wanderers vs. Nietzsche Albion, all in support of the Philosophy Shop’s “Four Rs” campaign (a movement to get “reasoning” added to “reading, writing. and ‘rithmetic”).  Great cause; great fun.

As we hear “Frege” and “Kant” exclaimed in response to a Yellow Card (…at least, that’s what it sounded like), we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that John T. Scopes was served the warrant that led to his being the defendant in Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee (aka “the Scopes Monkey Trial”).

Tennessee had responded to the urgings of William Bell Riley, head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, and passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution– the Butler Act; in response, The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Act.  George Rappleyea, who managed several local mines, convinced a group of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, a town of 1,756, that the controversy of such a trial would give Dayton some much needed publicity. With their agreement, he called in his friend, the 24-year-old Scopes, who taught High School biology in the local school– and who agreed to be the test case.

The rest is celebrity-filled history, and star-studded drama.

Scopes in 1925

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

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