Archive for the ‘classics’ Category

A reader named Viswanath replied to my previous post; I started writing a reply, but I realized it was far too long for that window. So here it is, below.

You’ve got something of a point regarding Aryabhatta, but the details as I can perceive them are pretty complicated (as ancient history is, and as far as this armchair historian can read them). Arayabhatta, an Indian living during the Gupta Dynasty, wrote the Aryabhatiya in 499 AD, as a treatise on arithmetic and astronomy, including algebra. (All these and other facts courtesy Wikipedia.) A lost third volume of this work could have been a translation of the Aryabhatiya, and is mentioned by an Indian writer in the 9th century AD, which is interestingly right about at the same time Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, (considered the “father of algebra”), publishes The book of Summary Concerning Calculating by Transposition and Reduction in 820 AD. However the origins can also be traced back to the ancient Babylonians, who were working out algebraic methods of computation in the 1st millennium BC.

Two significant contributions were made by Greeks Hero of Alexandria, and Diophantus (2nd century AD), who may have gleaned something from mathematical information trickling back to the Greek world from Takshashila. Takshashila was an important center of Hindu and Buddhist learning from the 5th century BC to the 6th century AD, within the important Gandharan Kingdom.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The westernmost reaches of the Gandharan Kingdom lie on the border of present-day Afghanistan – previously the ancient Persian Empire – subsequently the easternmost penetration of Alexander the Great’s empire. The Persians captured Babylon in the 6th century BC, and Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in the 3rd century BC. A few centuries after Alexander, the Gandharan Empire entered its Graeco-Bactrian phase, and you can see the effects really plainly in the art of the period: sculptures clearly evincing Hindu, Persian and Greek influences simultaneously.

We recall that the origins of algebra come, in part, from the ancient Babylonians. Can you see where I’m going with this?

As with most scientific and engineering advancements in the course of human history, little bits are picked up here and there, added together, and flashed into Eureka! by pure chance, sometimes. (Two great general histories on this topic are The Day the Universe Changed and The Pinball Effect, both by James Burke.) Now, I don’t know a great deal about the history of mathematics, and this is just my theory, but it seems to me that by looking at the patterns of cultural communication, and the totality of the timeline, that the mathematical advances of algebra may well have grown outward from the Babylonian Empire, through the Persians, and flowed with Alexander’s armies into India, where it rested for a time. And then was communicated back through the Roman Empire in its greatest seat of learning, the Library of Alexandria. When Rome fell, Alexandria degraded. During the Middle Ages, the most profound nexus of knowledge and cultural transmission in Europe was Al-Andalus, where the act of translation between Jews, Christians, Greeks and Muslims kept water flowing in the Alhambra’s Generalife.

In other words, there was a basic fact of religious tolerance and civilizational organization throughout Islamic society at that time. To this, the West owes a great deal. Including algebra, where in its fullest and most systematic designs were delineated by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, at a time and place where knowledge – almost lost – could be sheltered. Acknowledging that was critical, in my view, toward establishing a dialogue toward creating more open Islamic societies. IMHO, Viswanath, it does not appear that Obama was “talking for glory,” and while your interest in reminding us of Indian contributions to the world’s scientific heritage is notable, as you can see through this analysis it can’t really fit very well into a speech that was already Obama’s longest.

Anyone who’s got a background in this area, I’d love to hear details, corrections or clarifications on this stuff.

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Now at Travel Dynamics International, for remarkably discounted rates, you can:

Voyage into the classical world with antiquities experts from Antiques Roadshow. Enjoy an epic cruise down the entire Pacific coast of South America, from the Panama Canal to Ushuaia. Explore the lives of famous women of antiquity. Take a once-in-a-lifetime repositioning cruise from Morocco to Patagonia, following the route of Magellan. Continue in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton with Peter Hillary, son of the first man to ascend Everest. Cruise the Falklands and South Georgia in the far southern Atlantic en route to Cape Town, South Africa. Discover South America from the Amazon to Uruguay. Take an astounding voyage along the entire Atlantic coast of Africa. Sail from coastal Brazil into the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. Or perhaps the Orinoco and Amazon, with the beaches of Trinidad? Delve into the rich cultures of the Western Mediterranean from Seville to Venice. Circumnavigate Newfoundland. Or cruise up the entire Atlantic coast of North America, from Palm Beach to the Canadian maritimes? Listen to exquisite music, and enjoy top-chef Mediterranean cuisine, from Seville to Naples.

The epic journeys you’ve been waiting for, available now for less.

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la-fenice1We stride on two levels, I think. There’s the domestic life, the day-to-day, the gainings of friendships and expertise. And then there’s the moment of deep insight, a flash of a hidden facet – the pattern of a façade, a new interpretation of a famous piece of music, that makes you believe you’ve comprehended the shape of things.

On Valentine’s Day, my fiancée and I attended the first opera I’d seen in many years – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, performed by the Yale Opera. It was truly a production for our age, a thing of very high quality indeed. It managed to translate Mozart’s Enlightenment philosophies perfectly into the contemporary idiom, while flashing additional little insights from the right now. The costuming of this Singspiel spoke volumes: Pamino in burgundy, Tamina in a blue-white gown reminiscent of Snow White; male choristers in turbans, female choristers in Women’s Temperance League hats, the Three Spirits as American Revolutionaries, and Papageno and Papagena – the true scene-and-show-stealers in both panache and vocal qualitybirds of a feather in 19th-century French Bohemian linens.

When you put it that way, and remember that Die Zauberflöte premiered on September 30, 1791, it’s pretty easy to gather what Mozart might have been thinking about: music as the magical, reconciling element, enlightening society and freeing it from slavery. (An excellent added touch: as Tamino and Pamina ascend to the wedding altar, the three Revolutionary Sprites are ring-bearers, and don the coats of Colonial statesmen as they bring forth the wedding rings.) (more…)

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This is a classic that’s hard to resist: Venice to Athens aboard the all-suite gold standard of small-ship cruising, with four opera singers – one an international legend, another a recent winner of the Singer of the World award – two concert pianists, an expert on opera and a classics scholar.

September 29 – October 9, 2009

From $7,995 per person (based on double occupancy) including all meals, drinks, lectures, performances, and shore excursions, also featuring:

• Free round-trip private car service from your home to the airport (50-mile radius)
• Free night in Athens (incl. hotel, breakfast, group airport transfer)
• Complimentary CD of the January 2009 gala concert Celebrating Marilyn Horne at Carnegie Hall (collector’s edition not available for sale)

Acclaimed mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, and six tremendous rising stars of opera and classical performance, join Fred Plotkin, author of Opera 101 (see what dinner with Fred is like in this New York Times profile) and Alan Cameron, Professor Emeritus of Classics at Columbia University, for this ten-day celebration of music in the Mediterranean (and a day for yourself in Athens).

Would you like a brochure? You can download it from our main page. Or you can give us a call at (800) 257-5767. Our autumn Mediterranean Music Festival will have you singing.

Marilyn Horne's gala celebration at Carnegie Hall, January 2009

Marilyn Horne's gala celebration at Carnegie Hall

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You are sailing away from Naples. You hear a voice cry out:

“Cyclops, if any mortal man ever asks you who it was that inflicted upon your eye this shameful blinding, tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus, sacker of cities!”

That voice is your own.

Or – by the gentle shores of Ithaka, a sweet voice sings out. A beautiful woman is whispering heartfelt words to her husband:

“The gods granted us misery, in jealousy over the thought that we two, always together, should enjoy our youth, and then come to the threshold of old age.”

And that is the voice of your wife.


Travel Dynamics International is proud to present a very special departure of The Journey of Odysseus, from JULY 31 – SEPT. 11, 2009. Collaborating with Readers of Homer, a 503(c) non-profit organization, we will not only be sailing from TROY to ITHACA, retracing the ten years’ voyage of wily Odysseus from the carnage at Illium home to Penelope. Guests will be invited to orate their favorite passages from The Odyssey in an organized reading that will span the length of the cruise. messina

In a world of intellectual candy, this is the chocolate truffle. Just imagine standing upon the deck of the Corinthian II, the gold standard of expedition cruising, and beckoning to either side of the Strait of Messina (a picture is on the right) while  declaiming:

In that cave Scylla lives (because she did), whose howling is terror. She has twelve feet, and all of them wave in the air. She has six necks upon her, grown to great length, and upon each neck there is a horrible head…

From Istanbul and Troy to Delos, Pylos, Malta, Sicily, Naples, Ithaca and Athens, (more…)

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The Onassis Cultural Foundation in midtown Manhattan has just opened an interesting exhibition on the role of women in ancient Greece, as illuminated in art of the time. The New York Times writes,

The main misconception is the notion that women had a universally mute and passive role in Athenian society. It is true that they lived with restrictions modern Westerners would find intolerable. Technically they were not citizens. In terms of civil rights, their status differed little from that of slaves. Marriages were arranged; girls were expected to have children in their midteens. Yet, the show argues, the assumption that women lived in a state of purdah, completely removed from public life, is contradicted by the depictions of them in art.

Much of that art is religious, which is no surprise considering the commanding female deities in the Greek pantheon. Like most gods in most cultures they are moody, contradictory personalities, above-it-all in knowledge but quick to play personal politics and intervene in human fate. Four of them make in-depth appearances here.

Read more of this excellent review.

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Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.
Ralph Crawshaw

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