Uniformly at Random

Posts Tagged ‘books

Romantic mathematics

leave a comment »

Here is a short quotation from the excellent book Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics, by Amir Alexander:

The iconic tale of the tragic romantic mathematician, it seems clear, was both novel and exclusive in the early nineteenth century—novel because it ran counter to the images that had prevailed only a few years earlier, when mathematicians were more likely to be viewed as simple natural men than as striving romantic heroes; exclusive because the new story was reserved, among the sciences, to mathematics alone.  Only mathematics came to be viewed as a quest for pure sublime truth, only mathematics was perceived as a creative art rather than a science, and only mathematicians became tragic romantic strivers in the manner of contemporary poets, painters, and musicians.  It can well be said that in the early nineteenth century mathematics took leave of the natural sciences, which had been its companions for millennia, and sought a place for itself instead with the creative arts.

Advertisements

Written by uncudh

June 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Posted in math

Tagged with , ,

Jane Austen in togas

with one comment

Another noteworthy quotation from Heather:

The lifestyle of Symmachus and his friends provides a blueprint for that of the European gentry and nobility over much of the next sixteen hundred years.  Leisured, cultured and landed:  some extremely rich, some with just enough to get by in the expected manner, and everyone perfectly aware of who was who.  And all engaged in an intricate, elegant dance around the hope and expectation of the great wealth that marriage settlement and inheritance would bring.  Symmachus and his friends may have enjoyed editing Latin texts rather than painting watercolours and learning Italian, and their notions of such things as childhood and gender may have been rather different, but there is certainly a touch of Jane Austen in togas about the late Roman upper crust.

Frakking awesome.

Written by uncudh

February 26, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Posted in history

Tagged with , ,

Linguistic conservatism in Latin

leave a comment »

Peter Heather makes some interesting remarks on the education of Roman aristocrats and the resulting effect on the Latin language:

The bedrock of the system was the intense study of a small number of literary texts under the guidance of an expert in language and literary interpretation, the grammarian.  This occupied the individual for seven or more years from about the age of eight, and concentrated on just four authors: Vergil, Cicero, Sallust and Terence.  […]  Essentially, these texts were held to contain within them a canon of ‘correct’ language, and children were to learn that language—both the particular vocabulary and a complex grammar within which to employ it.  One thing this did was to  hold educated Latin in a kind of cultural [vise] preventing or at least significantly slowing down the normal processes of linguistic change.  It also had the effect of allowing instant identification.  As soon as a member of the Roman elite opened his mouth, it was obvious that he had learned ‘correct’ Latin.  It is as though a modern education system concentrated on the works of Shakespeare with the object of distinguishing the educated by their ability to speak Shakespearean English to one another (The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History).

Written by uncudh

February 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in history, literature

Tagged with , , , ,

There is no such thing as the Byzantine Empire

with 2 comments

The preface of J. B. Bury’s A History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene begins as follows:

There is no period of history which has been so much obscured by incorrect and misleading titles as the period of the later Roman Empire. It is, I believe, more due to improper names than one might at first be disposed to admit, that the import of that period is so constantly misunderstood and its character so often misrepresented. For the first step towards grasping the history of those centuries through which the ancient evolved into the modern world is the comprehension of the fact that the old Roman Empire did not cease to exist until the year 1453. The line of Roman Emperors continued in unbroken succession from Octavius Augustus to Constantine Palaeologus.

Written by uncudh

February 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Posted in history

Tagged with , , ,

Like a Shark

leave a comment »

Richard Holmes begins his book, The Age of Wonder, with several quotations from writers and philosophers of the Romantic Period, including this one from Coleridge:

I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark.

Reminds me of this comic from xkcd.

Written by uncudh

December 7, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Posted in literature

Tagged with , , , ,

Sigurd as the “chosen one”

leave a comment »

We have previously made some remarks concerning Tolkien’s recently published Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun.  One thing I neglected to mention was Tolkien’s one major departure from his sources: namely, his portrayal of Sigurd as the “chosen one” of the gods, whose presence at the Last Battle will determine its outcome and the future of the world to follow.  The Norse Poetic Edda begins with the famous poem Voluspa, which describes the prophecy of the Seeress concerning the Ragnarok, or the Doom of the gods.  Tolkien begins his Lay of Sigurd with his own version of the Voluspa; however, he inserts several stanzas describing the role of Sigurd in the Last Battle:

If in day of Doom
one deathless stands,
who death hath tasted
and dies no more,
the serpent-slayer,
seed of Odin,
then all shall not end,
nor Earth perish.

This conception of Sigurd is not at all present in any of the Norse texts.  One wonders why Tolkien felt it necessary to introduce such an element into the mythology.  Christopher Tolkien points out in his commentary to the Lay the connections to his father’s own imagined mythology, in particular to the tale of Turin Turambar:

This mysterious conception […] reappeared as a prophecy in the Silmarillion texts of the 1930s: so in the Quenta Noldorinwa, ‘it shall be the black sword of Turin that deals unto Melko [Morgoth] his death and final end; and so shall the children of Hurin and all Men be avenged.’

In general, the parallels between Sigurd and Turin are of course quite clear:  Turin as the Dragon-slayer, the wearer of the Dragon-helm, etc.

Written by uncudh

October 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Posted in literature

Tagged with , , , , ,

The death of love

with one comment

Arguably the greatest long poem (mahakavya) in classical Sanskrit is Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava (or “The Birth of Kumara”), which tells the tale of how the warrior god Skanda (the “Kumara” of the title) came to be born.  Once, the gods were suffering greatly from the attacks of the demon Taraka.  Unable to defeat Taraka, the gods approached the creator-god Brahma to ask for his help.  Specifically, the gods asked for a general who could lead them to victory against Taraka.  Brahma told the gods that they must find a way to convince Shiva the Destroyer to marry Parvati, the daughter of the mountain god.  The child of Shiva and Parvati would be the general that they were looking for.  However, Shiva was deeply absorbed in meditation and would not easily be tempted into marriage.  The gods approached Kamadeva, god of love (armed, like his Greco-Roman counterpart, with bow and arrow), and requested that he use his unique abilities to make Shiva fall in love with Parvati.  Kamadeva agreed, and went to the mountaintop where the god Shiva was engaged in meditation.  Shiva, however, sensed the intrusion of the love god.  Kalidasa describes what happened next (the Clay Sanskrit Library edition 3.69-72):

Then Three-eyed Shiva,
through his self-control
powerfully suppressing
the disturbance of his senses,
wished to see the cause
of his mind’s disturbance
and sent his gaze in all directions.

He saw Self-born Love ready to attack,
his lovely bow drawn right back
to form a circle,
his fist resting
at the corner of his right eye,
shoulder hunched,
left foot arched.

Enraged by the violation of his penance,
his frown made his face
dreadful to behold,
and from his third eye
a sparkling, blazing fire
suddenly flew forth.

“Lord, hold back your anger,
hold back!”—
even as the cries of the wind-gods
crossed the sky,
that fire born from the eye of Shiva who is Being,
reduced to ashes Intoxicating Love.

His corporeal form having been disintegrated by the fire emanating from the mystical third eye of Shiva the Destroyer, Kamadeva, the god of love, is henceforth known as Ananga, the Bodiless God.

Written by uncudh

September 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm