Quotulatiousness

July 20, 2017

QotD: Who was Epicurus?

Filed under: Education, History, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who claimed the cosmos was eternal and merely material, made up of atoms and void. Yet, breaking with his predecessor Democritus, he considered the universe indeterminate. In the realm of ethics, Epicurus taught that the purpose of human life was the pursuit of happiness, which could be achieved by the measured study of the natural world and adherence to a prudent and temperate hedonism.

He counseled men not to fear their own death, saying,

    Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

He considered friendship as the utmost means of securing wisdom, saying,

    Friendship dances around the world, bidding us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness…The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.”

He advised men to avoid vain ambitions such as the pursuit of fame, exorbitant wealth, and political power for their own sake. Rather, he thought wise men would be “strong and self-sufficient” and “take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances.”

To Epicurus, pain is a natural evil, pleasure a natural good, with the ultimate pleasure being the absence of bodily pain and tranquility of the mind. From his Letter to Menoeceus:

    When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Nevertheless, because Epicurus claimed the ultimate aim of happiness is to find pleasure – and not virtue or knowledge unto themselves – many of his contemporaries and later critics would uncharitably accuse him of advocating debauchery, one even saying he “vomited twice a day from over-indulgence,” and that his understanding of philosophy and life in general was wanting.

One might hear the very same smear today from mainstream American partisans in regard to libertarians, i.e. that liberty lovers are simply “pot-smoking republicans” or libertines who barely understand life and are too drunk on utopian dreams to see clearly. In this same vein, many reproached Epicurus (as they do of libertarians today) for his aloof stance on politics as apathetic and his notion of justice as too transactional.

“Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit,” writes Epicurus in his Principal Doctrines, “to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another.” Elsewhere he writes, “We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.”

Accordingly, Epicurus set up his own school, “The Garden,” where he offered philosophy to anyone, even women and slaves – an unheard of practice at the time, which many contemporary critics saw as proof of his penchant for depraved behavior. Why else would one invite women and slaves into one’s abode other than revelry? Was he actually going to talk to them about ideas?

Thankfully, we have Diogenes Laërtius to defend Epicurus from his detractors:

    But these people are stark mad. For our philosopher has numerous witnesses to attest his unsurpassed goodwill to all men – his native land, which honored him with statues in bronze; his friends, so many in number that they could hardly be counted by whole cities, and indeed all who knew him, held fast as they were by the siren-charms of his doctrine…the Garden itself which, while nearly all the others have died out, continues for ever without interruption through numberless successions of one director after another; his gratitude to his parents, his generosity to his brothers, his gentleness to his servants, as evidenced by the terms of his will and by the fact that they were members of the Garden…and in general, his benevolence to all mankind. His piety towards the gods and his affection for his country no words can describe. He carried his modesty to such an excess that he did not even enter public life.

Joey Clark, “What Epicurus Can Teach Us about Freedom and Happiness”, Foundation for Economic Education, 2016-10-18.

July 17, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – IV: Systems Collapse – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Jul 2017

It started with famine… and ended with four great civilizations’ utter destruction. The Bronze Age Collapse is still a matter of scholarly debate, but our favorite theory rests on an understanding of Systems Collapse and how societies build themselves to survive disaster.

July 14, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – III: Fire and Sword – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 8, 2017

At last, we have the Sea People: marauders who swept into Bronze Age cities and ground them into dust. But while they’re often blamed for the Bronze Age Collapse, were they really its cause? What else must have been going on to cause such illustrious civilizations to crumble?

July 10, 2017

The Bronze Age Collapse – I: Before the Storm – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jun 24, 2017

Egyptians. Hittites. Assyrians. Myceneans. Long ago, these four Bronze Age civilizations lived together in a healthy system of trade, agriculture, and sometimes warfare. But then, everything changed when the Sea People attacked.

July 8, 2017

The past was not just like today in fancy dress

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

My QotD entry yesterday (The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances) gets an interesting echo in this article by Megan McArdle:

Open a historical novel, and you’ll find characters who would, sexually speaking, not have much difficulty fitting into the 21st century dating scene. Authors usually pay lip service to the era’s taboos, and sometimes use them as plot devices. But even there, the assumption is that what is being suppressed, or happening on the sly, is pretty much the same as what 21st century Americans enjoy, or wish they were enjoying. Humans have been having sex for millions of years. How different could it have been?

Quite, argues sociologist Gabriel Rossman. (The link is frank, but not prurient.) Ask an anthropologist, or a classicist, just how different it can be. Even things that look superficially similar — Greek tolerance toward homosexuality, for example — turn out upon closer examination to have been quite different. It wasn’t what we call “homosexuality”; neither the social nor the physical activity resemble a modern gay couple all that closely.

Since this is a family column, I will leave the frank discussion to Professor Rossman. But a couple of less … er … colorful examples may suffice to illustrate just how culturally and time specific sex actually is.

Take kissing. Pretty basic, yes? We might imagine that the cultural rules for when people kiss would vary, as indeed they do in our own culture, where very orthodox religious groups proscribe it before marriage, and libertines kiss strangers on national television. But it’s hard to imagine that the activity itself really varies all that much.

Except it does. For starters, a whole lot of cultures don’t kiss, at least romantically. It isn’t necessarily proscribed; they just don’t do it. The idea that kissing is a foundation for further sexual activity is to us so natural that it rarely occurs to any of us to question it, and yet, this is apparently a learned behavior, not an instinctive one, because in large cultural areas it is seen as weird and doesn’t happen.

(And so it is, if you think about it. If you enjoy kissing, I recommend not thinking about it very hard.)

Is sex the same, without the kiss? In some aspects, obviously. And yet try to imagine the West’s romantic literature, its poetry, its art and film, without the kiss. The result feels different not just in degree, but in kind.

June 30, 2017

Russia’s New Offensive – The Russian Women’s Battalion of Death I THE GREAT WAR Week 153

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 29 Jun 2017

After the Russian Revolution, fresh optimism is gripping the troops at the front line and another offensive is planned. The first American troops arrive in France and Greece officially joins the Entente.

June 21, 2017

Greek Rifles and Pistols of World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special feat. C&Rsenal

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 20 Jun 2017

If you want to learn more about the firearms of World War 1, subscribe to C&Rsenal: http://youtube.com/candrsenal

Othais explains the rifles and pistols that Greece fielded in the First World War, among them the legendary Mannlicher–Schönauer M1903 and the Greek Gras M1874.

June 20, 2017

Hero or Burden? – King Constantine I of Greece I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 Jun 2017

King Constantine I of Greece embodies the complex history of modern Greece in the early 20th century. By some he was and still is perceived as a hero who united the country. Others perceive him as a burden who only brought problems to Greece.

May 26, 2017

A noteworthy historical “Oh, shit!” moment

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Catallaxy Files, a guest post on a most butt-puckering “Oh, shit!” from long ago:

My favourite Oh Shit moment of all time occurred a while ago. On the 4th of September 401 BC to be exact. At dawn.

Cyrus the brother of the Persian Emperor wanted to knock him off and take the throne. He had plenty of local soldiers, but to add some oomph he hired about 13,000 Greek mercenaries. Many of these were Athenians down on their luck after their city lost the Peloponnesian Wars. The Greek hoplites were the Abrams tanks of the day. Unstoppable.

The Battle of Cunaxa saw Cyrus and his brother face off. It was going reasonably well for Cyrus’s guys – the Greeks routed their Persian opponents. But then Cyrus spotted the Emperor and his guard. According to Xenophon he then took his bodyguard of 600 heavy cavalry off and attacked the Emperor’s 6,000. Cyrus went all in – he personally attacked his brother and wounded him. But in doing so he received a javelin just under one eye and expired.

Which brings us to dawn next morning. The Greeks had no idea that their paymaster had suffered a quite unsuccessful death or glory moment, until the news arrived just then.

The Persians, having sorted out their differences, were now united into a huge army under Artaxerxes the Emperor. Which left the small matter of the Greek mercenary force deep inside the Persian Empire and surrounded by a vast horde of very unhappy Persians.

Oh shit.

The story of their escape back to Greece is awe inspiring and amazing. Well worth reading. Xenophon’s Anabasis is available free from Project Gutenberg at the link.

May 16, 2017

11 Things to see in Athens

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Mar 2017

On February i got a few days away to relax from everything. I left you with some automatic videos, so you wouldn’t be without new documentaries and i went on holiday to Athens, Greece. I wanted to share a little bit about what i saw. This video is the first video made by me. (Be good, please!)

February 9, 2017

The Year of Battles Comes To An End I THE GREAT WAR WW1 Summary Part 8

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2017

With the end of the Battle of Verdun, the year 1916 ends. A battle that was described as “World War 1 in a microcosm” and has been remembered in infamy ever since. Late 1916 also brings political shake-ups, an end to the Romanian campaign and new action in the Middle East. And still no end in sight.

January 27, 2017

Nivelle’s Spring Offensive – Royal Conspiracy In Greece I THE GREAT WAR Week 131

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Jan 2017

Germany is about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare again which might draw the United States into the conflict – but the Germans are not worried. The German Kaiser is instigating with his sister in Greece and Nivelle has big plans for a decisive battle in spring.

January 6, 2017

The World At War 1917 I THE GREAT WAR – Week 128

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Jan 2017

This war was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914. Now, as 1917 dawned, the world still knew 10 active theatres of war around the globe: Western Front, Italian Front, Eastern Front, Macedonian Front, Caucasus Front, Persian Front, Libyan Front, Palestine, Mesopotamia and German East Africa – and still there was no end in sight, no quick victory to be had for any side.

January 5, 2017

QotD: Warriors and (mere) merchants

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

We know almost nothing of the merchants who made ancient Greece rich enough to spawn an unprecedented culture, but we know lots about the deeds of those who squandered that wealth in war. “The history of antiquity resounds with the sanguinary achievements of Aryan warrior elites,” wrote the historian of antiquity Thomas Carney. “But it was the despised Levantines, Arameans, Syrians, and Greeklings who constituted the economic heroes of antiquity.”

Matt Ridley, “Waterloo or railways”, Matt Ridley Online, 2015-06-18.

December 28, 2016

QotD: The importance of fabric as a technological driver

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The ancient Greeks worshiped Athena as the goddess of technē, the artifice of civilisation. She was the giver and protector of olive trees, of ships and of weaving (without which there would be no sails). When she and Odysseus scheme, they ‘weave a plan’. To weave is to devise, to invent – to contrive function and beauty from the simplest of elements. Fabric and fabricate share a common Latin root, fabrica: ‘something skillfully produced’. Text and textile are similarly related, from the verb texere, to weave. Cloth-making is a creative act, analogous to other creative acts. To spin tales (or yarns) is to exercise imagination. Even more than weaving, spinning mounds of tiny fibres into usable threads turns nothing into something, chaos into order.

‘The spindle was the first wheel,’ explains Elizabeth Barber, professor emerita of linguistics and archeology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, gesturing to demonstrate. ‘It wasn’t yet load-bearing, but the principle of rotation is there.’ In the 1970s, Barber started noticing footnotes about textiles scattered through the archaeological literature. She thought she’d spend nine months pulling together what was known. Her little project became a decades-long exploration that turned textile archaeology into a full-blown field. Textile production, Barber writes in Prehistoric Textiles (1991), ‘is older than pottery or metallurgy and perhaps even than agriculture and stock-breeding’.

Of course, pottery and metal artifacts survived the centuries much better than cloth, which is rarely found in more than tiny fragments. That’s one reason we tend to forget how important textiles were in the earliest economic production. We envision an ancient world of hard surfaces much as we imagine the First World War in black and white.

But before there was gold or silver currency, traders used cloth. In the 20th century BC, the Minoan kingdom on resource-poor Crete swapped wool and linen for the metals that its famed craftsmen, represented by the mythical Daedalus, used to create their wares. In the pre-monetary trade of the ancient Aegean and Anatolia, writes the archaeologist Brendan Burke in From Minos to Midas (2010), textile production was of ‘greater value and importance … than the production of painted clay pots, metal tools, and objects carved from precious metals: everyone depended on cloth’.

Archaeologists often track fabric production by what is left behind. Huge numbers of spindle whorls (usually of clay) survive, as do the clay loom weights that held vertically hung warp threads in tension. By counting the clay weights left from his workshops’ looms, writes Barber, ‘we can calculate that King Midas of Gordion could have kept over 100 women busy weaving for him, which makes him more than twice as rich as Homer’s fabulous King Alkinnoos [Alcinous, from the Odyssey], who had 50. No wonder the Greeks viewed Midas as synonymous with gold!’

Virginia Postrel, “Losing the Thread: Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again”, Aeon, 2015-06-05.

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