The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.
Briton Rivière, Circe and the Companions of Ulysses, 1871. The original painting by Rivière has dropped from sight, but this reproduction, in both black and white and colorized versions, is widely available on the Internet. Rivière was well known for his paintings of animals. Circe directed Odysseus (Latin "Ulysses") to go to the Underworld to consult the seer Teiresias about his future.
Prequels and sequels to the Trojan War
In the movies, it's called a franchise. Audiences are eager to know the further adventures of favorite heroes and heroines. After the initial blockbuster, there are sequels. What new bad guys were vanquished by Superman? What happened to Harry Potter after he grew up and had a family? Then come the "prequels," telling what happened before the main story. How did Spiderman get his spider powers? Who was Darth Vader before he became Darth Vader?
Ancient Greek oral epic, the popular equivalent of our movies and cable TV, was no different. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are, for us, the story of the Trojan War and its aftermath, but there were other poems called the Epic Cycle, composed by various singers, that told what happened to Paris and Helen, Odysseus and Penelope, before and after the events of the two great epics. The Cypria, for example, told the story of the Judgment of Paris, in which the Trojan prince is awarded Helen as a prize by Aphrodite for declaring her the most beautiful goddess, thus starting the Trojan War. Another, the Nostoi ("Returns") told the adventures of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Diomedes, and other Greek heroes after the war. Other "franchises" were the Theban Cycle of epic poems about Oedipus, Antigone, and the Seven Against Thebes, the saga of Jason and the Argonauts, and stories about Theseus and Heracles. All these epics are lost, but the stories are known from short digests, from shorter poems like the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, and from the plays of Athenian dramatists who drew on the now lost epics for inspiration. Vergil's Latin Aeneid is another sequel to the Iliad.
Odysseus' adventures with his oar foretold by Teiresias in the Underworld
The final poem in the Epic Cycle was the Telegony, which told of Odysseus' later adventures and death. After disposing of the Suitors, Odysseus travels far inland, and dies, wounded in a fight with Telegonus, his own son by the goddess Circe, who does not recognize his father (a situation similar to Oedipus' killing of Laius). Bizarrely, Telegonus marries Penelope and Telemachus, Odysseus' son by Penelope, marries Circe.
We know the outline of the Telegony from Book 11 of the Odyssey. Odysseus and his men disembark on the island of Aeaea, where the goddess Circe turns the men into pigs (Book 10, illustrated above). Returning the men to their human form, Circe wines and dines them for a year. Finally, she lets them leave, but Odysseus must go to the Underworld to ask the shade of the Theban seer Teiresias to foretell his fate. In one of the great ghost stories of all literature, Odysseus visits the land of the dead. Teiresias tells Odysseus that after he kills the Suitors, he must journey far inland carrying an oar, until he meets a people who know nothing of the sea, and mistake the oar for a paddle-shaped winnowing fan, used by farmers to separate grain from chaff. Then he is to perform a sacrifice to Poseidon, return home, and make offerings to all the gods. Then he is to expect death "from the sea." This incident, used by both Aeschylus and Sophocles in (lost) plays, is often interpreted as a reference to Telegonus, who kills his father with a spear tipped with a fish bone.
Far from the sea, my maritime hat is unfamiliar
I recently had my own Odyssean moment, carrying a symbol of the sea into the grain lands of inland America. I was attending a convention of the National Railway Historical Society in Springdale, Arkansas. We went on rail excursions and took plenty of pictures. We were guests of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, which serves a thriving industrial area of the Ozarks, in a landscape of deep wooded valleys and fields dominated by towering grain elevators. As usual, I wore a broad-brimmed sun hat that I bought on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy when she visited New York during Fleet Week of 2005, as she made her farewell tour just before decommissioning. Embroidered on its crown are the initials "JFK" in the shape of an aircraft carrier viewed head-on, with planes taking off from her deck (see below). The "J" forms the starboard side, with its "island" or control structure, the "K" is the overhanging port side, and the "F" is the flat deck in the middle. I am accustomed to perfect strangers complimenting my attire, often just with a "Nice hat!" but sometimes with a nostalgic comment like "I served two years on that ship!" So in Arkansas I was surprised when a puzzled fellow excursionist asked "What does 'JFK' mean?" I explained, more or less to the stranger's satisfaction, the maritime origins of my hat.
Suddenly, I was Odysseus with his oar. I, too, carried a symbol of the sea to a land of grain, far from oceans and ships. Those who fill Springdale's granaries use John Deere combines rather than the winnowing fan. But what had been for me just a quaint myth assumed an immediate reality.
Below, in Greek and English, are the words of Teiresias's prophecy to Odysseus describing his ultimate fate.
"JFK" initials in the shape of an aircraft carrier, embruidered on a hat. Jet planes take off from the deck, and a birdlike helicopter hovers in the upper left corner.
Illustration adapted from Cecil Torr, Ancient Ships , 1895. (Top) war ship and merchant ship, about 500 B.C.. From a painted vase found at Vulci in Etruria, in the British Musuem. (Bottom) two war ships, about 500 B.C. From a painted vase by Nicosthenes, found at Vulci in Etruria, in the Louvre.
Two gallant flotillas, at Normandy on D-Day and in ancient Athens
An enormous force of ships and men, provided with every modern armament, spearheading history's greatest invasion, meticulously planned over many months. The result is a bloody apocalypse, thousands of dead littering the beach, invaders drowned in their tanks before they can reach the shore, landing craft exploding on hidden mines. Somehow the planning went terribly wrong.
This June we commemmorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy in World War II. Of the five landing beaches along the north coast of France, Omaha Beach, assaulted on June 5, 1944, has assumed mythic proportions for its scene of catastrophe. Bomber runs meant to soften defenses missed their mark, landing craft landed at the wrong spot, infantry burdened by overloaded backpacks were cut down as they disembarked. Although the Nazis believed the invasion would take place at the narrower channel at Calais, the entire coast had been well fortified by the efforts of Erwin Rommel, known as the Desert Fox for his earlier exploits in North Africa. The first waves of soldiers were mowed down as they came ashore, in a self-described "suicide mission." Over 9000 military dead, mostly from the Normandy invasion, are buried in the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
Ultimately, the Allies clawed their way ashore, and World War II ended with an Allied victory.
But we are put in mind of another gallant naval invasion, begun with high hopes and a belief in the invaders' invincibility, which took place almost 2500 years ago. This was the disastrous expedition of the Athenians against the Sicilian city of Syracuse in the waning years of the Peloponnesian War.
The Athenian expedition to Syracuse
The fifth century B.C. in ancient Greece is bookended by two great wars. The Persian Wars, chronicled by Herodotus, led to the hegemony of Athens and the foundation of the Athenian Empire. The Peloponnesian War, between Athens and allied city-states on the one hand, and Sparta (Athens' erstwhile ally) and cities allied with Sparta on the other, described magnificently by Thucydides, led to the dissolution of that empire. Athens survived as a center of learning, science, and philosophy, but her reign as a "global" political power came to an end.
The fleet sets out in a party atmosphere
The expedition to Syracuse began with an appeal by the Sicilian city of Segesta to Athens in 416 B.C. for aid in its war with another Sicilian city, Selinus. There was also an appeal from the Leontines, who were at war with Syracuse, a Sicilian colony of Corinth, a city allied with Sparta and a commercial foe of Athens. The Segestans deceived the Athenians into believing that they had great wealth with which they could finance an invasion. Sicily was of little importance to Athens, whose interests lay in the older Greek world of the eastern Mediterranean. But some young Athenian leaders saw an opportunity to increase the power and empire of Athens, with attendant greater glory. These leaders included the charismatic Alcibiades, perhaps best known to us as a character in Plato's Symposium, in which he tries drunkenly to seduce Socrates. The older, cautious general Nicias opposed the idea, and pointed out the enormous size of the force that would be needed, hoping to dissuade the Athenian people from the venture. The ploy backfired. The Athenians happily voted to send one hundred triremes instead of the sixty originally asked for. Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus were appointed leaders. The fleet departed with much celebration, the ships racing each other out of the harbor as crowds onshore cheered.
Things went bad quickly. Alcibiades was recalled to Athens on a charge, perhaps true, perhaps unwarranted, of mutilating sacred statues of Hermes and celebrating a mock version of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Lamachus advised immediately attacking Syracuse, but cautious Nicias dithered and wasted time, building fortification walls and fighting small skirmishes, giving Syracuse time to regroup and seek help from Corinth and Sparta. Alcibiades avenged himself by defecting to Sparta, advising the Spartans on their conduct of the war. More ships arrived from Athens as reinforcements, to no avail. Finally, the Athenian ships, with their long prows suited for fighting in open water, were penned in Syracuse harbor by the shorter, stouter ships of their opponents. The remnants of the Athenians tried to escape overland, but most were killed or sold into slavery. A few were allowed to escape because of their ability to recite favorite selections from the plays of Euripides.
Below, in Greek and English, is Thucydides' description of the splendid departure of the Athenian fleet.
Illustration from Cecil Torr, Ancient Ships , 1895. Waist of a war ship, about 400 B.C. From a fragment of a relief found on the Acropolis at Athens, in the Acropolis Museum. drawn from a cast.
The Chicago River, from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, January, 2008. (Photo by C.A. Sowa.)
CHICAGO COLLOQUIA ON DIGITAL HUMANITIES AND COMPUTER SCIENCE
Since their inception in the fall of 2006, I have been attending the Chicago Colloquia on Digital Humanities and Computer Science (DHCS), held at a rotating group of universities around Chicago. These Colloquia now draw participants from all over the world, who present projects covering many fields, including such interests as visual arts, archaeological reconstruction, musical composition, literary criticism, social trends, popular culture, history, and many fields yet to be discovered. Of the projects I have submitted under the name of Minerva Systems, a couple have been presented as poster exhibits. Others I have informally circulated among the participants. But whether one is presenting a paper or simply taking part in discussions, the Colloquia offer an opportunity to exchange a wealth of ideas. Workshops and smaller discussion groups, too, are well worth while.
For information about the Colloquia, visit the DHCS Web site at "http://chicagocolloquium.org". Information about all previous Colloquia (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) can also be accessed from there.
The Reliance Building, at State and Washington Streets in Chicago, January, 2008. (Photo by C.A. Sowa.) The Reliance Building, like the MINERVA System, was built on principles of modularity and extensibility.
Read about it!
My thanks to all those who have reviewed and used my self-study CD course on using computers and quantitative methods in the study of literature, The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar, and my thanks to those who continue to give me comments.
You can read Chapter 1, "A Guide to the Labyrinth: The Problem and Its Solution" on this Web site. (Note: this chapter now describes a greater variety of ways to structure a project, e.g., top-down, bottom-up, etc. It will continue to be revised.) You can also see images from two demonstrations of the MINERVA System, from 2006 (emphasizing individual applications programs), given at the First Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities at the University of Chicago and 2007 (emphasizing new project planning programs) given at the Second Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities at the Northwestern University.
The MINERVA System
The MINERVA System for Study of Literary Texts is a set of tools, some automated, some not automated, for planning and carrying out a project in literary study. Methods of Systems Analysis, borrowed from the scientific and commercial world, are adapted to the study of literature. This methodology emphasizes the use of diagramming techniques and modular design, offering a way to construct a project as a set of units or modules that can be worked on separately and moved around without disturbing the whole. A project is defined as an enterprise that has a goal and an organized way of achieving that goal.
The Loom of Minerva combines the methods of Systems Analysis with the insights of traditional belles-lettres literary criticism. All analysis takes as its point of departure the value of the piece of literature itself to the critic and the reader, as well as the historic, social, or aesthetic qualities attached to it. These alone confer significance on any work of scholarship. Examples grow directly from study of various works of literature, from Vergil to Coleridge to Baudelaire to Victor Hugo to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Gertrude Stein, and works of criticism from Sainte-Beuve to Swinburne to Gertrude Stein (criticizing her own work).
Emphasis is placed on analyzing the language of criticism itself, analyzing exactly what we mean by such terms as "beautiful," "ugly," "pompous," "like a spring garden," etc. By defining our terms with an exactness that can be quantified, we learn to give precision to our thoughts, whether using a computer or not.
What is in The Loom of Minerva
The CD contains both a set of narrative chapters and a set of programs, called the MINERVA System for Study of Literary Texts. The narrative chapters explain and amplify the programs, and the programs illustrate the chapters. The programs are provided in both executable form and source code, to satisfy both non-programmer scholars and programmers who want to play with the code.
MINERVA stands for Model INteractive Engine for Recognizing Verbal Artifice.
Advantages of the MINERVA System
The MINERVA programs do not require the use of data that is in a proprietary format. They use plain ASCII text, such as that downloaded from the Internet. The OwlData programs can be used to put downloaded or scanned text in the correct format for the MINERVA programs. The mathematics and statistics used are fairly elementary, such as can be understood as an introduction to basic concepts of what the computer and quantified methods can do. The programs are open-source, as they are intended to be extensible.
For more information:
If you are interested in finding out more about the Loom of Minerva or the MINERVA System, contact me at email@example.com.
Reconstruction of one of Babbage's engines at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California. Click on the picture to watch it in action. (Photo by J.F. Sowa).
Charles Babbage's Difference Engine and Analytical Engine
Charles Babbage, prolific Victorian inventor, is most famous for two of his inventions, the Difference Engine (1812) and the Analytical Engine (1833), which are perhaps the truest forerunners of the modern computer. The Difference Engine, a mechanical device of rotating gears, was designed to automatically generate mathemetical tables. It was called the Difference Engine because it was based on the principle of computing the differences between successive values of an expression, then the difference between the differences. Versions of the Difference Engine were eventually built and used, but Babbage himself dropped work on it to pursue his real dream, the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine was, or would have been, the first "real" computer, capable of performing any kind of mathematical operation, and able to be "programmed," that is, to perform a sequence of operations without human intervention, and to choose, when necessary, between alternative paths of action. It was to be powered by steam, and programs were to be entered into the machine by means of punched cards, an idea borrowed from the then-new Jacquard power looms. Babbage, sad to say, was never able to complete the Analytical Engine.
Ada, Lady Lovelace, "the world's first programmer"
Babbage's collaborator on his Engines was one of history's most remarkable women, Ada, Lady Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron. These lines from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage are thought to be addressed to her:
A gifted mathematician in her own right, Ada worked with Babbage until her untimely death in 1852 at the age of 36. In 1842, the Italian engineer Luigi F. Menabrea published a description, in French, of Babbage's Analytical Engine. Lady Lovelace translated Menabrea's article into English, expanding it with commentary so extensive that her "Notes upon the Memoir" are virtually an original work. She provides detailed directions for using the machine to calculate answers to mathematical problems, leading modern writers to call her "the world's first programmer." Her words relate computing to other artistic endeavors:
We may say most aptly that [Babbage's] Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.
A Babbage Engine in London and California
In 1985, the Science Museum in London set out to build a working Difference Engine No. 2, based on Babbage's original designs. It was completed in 2002, and is on public display at the Science Museum. An identical Engine, completed in 2008, is presently on loan to the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California, where it is on display until May, 2009. Read more about this recreated machine at the Computer History Museum Web site.
Click here or on the picture below to watch the Babbage engine in action, in a video taken by John F. Sowa.
Reconstruction of one of Babbage's engines, detail view. Click on the picture to watch it in action. (Photo by J.F. Sowa).
Read about the 1845 Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verse
Another Victorian machine which could be called an early special-purpose
computer was the Eureka machine designed by John Clark in 1845 for automatically
composing Latin hexameter poetry. It still survives, in a museum in Somerset,
England. Click here to read about it.
Book: Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
The book, out of print for a while, is again available by "on-demand" production. Contact the publisher for information.
New selections are available on this Web site for free reading. You can read Chapters 1 ("Introduction") and 10 ("Conclusion: the Place of the Hymns in the Ancient Greek Oral Tradition"), Appendix I ("Outlines of Themes Identified in the Hymns"). You can also see diagrams of the themes as they appear in the Hymns.
Article: "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry"
An article, by Cora Angier Sowa and John Sowa, describes in detail the quantitative and mathematical methods used on the computer to identify thematic elements in Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns. Material from this study was later integrated into into the more comprehensive Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns. Click on "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry". A version of the CLUMP cluster analysis program used to identify thematic repetitions is now also being integrated into the MINERVA suite of programs in the self-study CD The Loom of Minerva.
In orally composed poetry like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, there was no written text (the alphabet being barely known at the time, around 750 B.C.). The bard, like a jazz musician, recomposed his story each time (to a melody now lost to us), using stock phrases or "formulas" and repeated scenes. Since the story was enjoyed not by reading but by hearing it, there were no punctuation marks or chapter headings to tell listeners where they were in the narrative or its episodes. The skilled singer used, instead, repeated words and phrases to serve as "oral punctuation" to articulate the story and provide emphasis for important themes and concepts.
Reissued here is my article Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony, which explores the use of verbal repetition in Hesiod's tale of the origins of the gods.
We think of computers as being very modern, although calculating machines and computer-like devices have been around for a long time. In particular, we think of using such a machine to do such non-scientific tasks as composing poetry as a modern concept. But in 1845, John Clark built the Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verse. It still exists in a museum in England. Read about the Eureka Machine and read the original description of it from the Illustrated London News of July, 1845.
There is more about early computers and their mechanical ancestors in the self-study CD The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar, described above.
"Minerva" has long been a popular name for ships. There are cruise ships named "Minerva," including Greek vessels whose owners chose that name as a synonym for their own city patroness Athena. Warships named "Minerva" have graced the navies of Europe from the time of Nelson and Napoleon to the present, whether British "Minerva" or French "Minerve."
It is an interesting choice, considering that Athena, with her gift of the olive, defeated Poseidon, lord of the sea, with his gift of the horse, in the contest to be patron deity of Athens. (See the depiction of Athena and Poseidon below.)
The name "Minerva" for a British warship belongs in the splendid tradition of naming vessels after names from Classical history and mythology. Along with names like "Invincible," "Audacious," "Irresistible," "Insolent," "Victory," and "Dreadnought," we find "Gorgon," "Phoenix," "Achilles," "Apollo," "Dryad," "Endymion," "Hector," "Helicon," "Medusa," "Meleager," and, famously, "Arethusa." The most famous ship named for the Sicilian nymph Arethusa was known for her victory over the French "Belle Poulle" in 1778. Training ships for over a century inherited the name, one after the other.
A frigate "Minerva" participated in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent against the navy of Napoleon on February 14, 1797. The marine painter Thomas Buttersworth (the elder) painted a portrait of "Minerva" in 1810, and the "Minerva" Pub in Hull, England (built in 1831) uses the frigate's symbol, the owl, on its sign. Of course, some ships have been named "Athena" and "Poseidon," too; there was a movie about such a ship called The Poseidon Adventure.
There is a further connection between ships and this Minerva Systems site. In the self-study CD The Loom of Minerva (described above), an analysis of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is used as a case study to demonstrate methods of Systems Analysis and computer techniques.
A feminist note on the gender of ships: Because of the living qualities of ships, I like to refer to a ship as "she" rather than "it." While some may compare a vessel to a woman because of the supposedly capricious nature of both (although there seems nothing wrong with an occasional playful moment), I think that this view overlooks other qualities. Ships, like women, are beautiful, swift, intelligent, and powerful. I am glad to acclaim them as my sisters!
Signed vase painting by the Athenian potter/painter Amasis (6th cent.
B.C.), depicting Athena and Poseidon. The two figures are labeled
ATHENAIA and POSEIDON. The inscription down the middle reads
AMASIS MEPOIESEN ("Amasis made me"). Amasis may well have been
African. (Illustration from a lithograph by Kaeppelin et Cie., ca. 1840.
The actual vase is in the Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothèque
Nationale de France, Paris.)
Essays and reviews on building and architecture
Among the selections on this site is the previously published "Holy Places", a study of myths of landmarks. In addition, there is an epilogue to that essay, on "The World Trade Center as a Mythic Place". This piece continues the author's interest in relating ancient ideas to things that we care about in the modern world.
Cora Angier Sowa has combined humanities and technology for many years. She has a BA in Latin and an MA in Classics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a PhD in Classical Philology from Harvard University. She spent a year studying archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. She taught Greek and Roman literature and history at Mt. Holyoke, Vassar, and Brooklyn Colleges. For a number of years, she was a programmer/analyst at Chemical (now Chase) Bank in New York. She has taught classes in computers and humanities at the College of Staten Island and at St. John's University in Queens, New York. She served twice on the Committee on Computer Activities of the American Philological Association, once as chairperson of the committee. She was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship (for study in Greece) and of a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (for work on computers and ancient Greek literature).
In addition to the book Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns (described above), Dr. Sowa has published articles and reviews on Classics and on the mythology of architecture and motion pictures. A harp player, she is also on the board of trustees of the International Percy Grainger Society , an organization dedicated to preserving the home and archives in White Plains, New York of Percy Grainger -- composer, piano virtuoso, collector of folk songs, and inventor of an early mechanical music synthesizer. Dr. Sowa is Webmaster for the Grainger web site.
A lifelong railfan, Dr. Sowa is a member of the New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and is on its Board of Directors. She is National Representative for the New York Chapter and is on the Advisory Council of the national organization. She is also a member of the New York Railroad Enthusiasts.
Dr. Sowa lives in Croton-on-Hudson NY, and in New York City, with her husband, Dr. John F. Sowa, an expert in Artificial Intelligence and computer design, and several cats.
All selections on this site, unless otherwise identified, are copyright by Cora Angier Sowa.
Send e-mail to Cora Angier Sowa.
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