Minerva Systems home page
Chapter 1 of The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar, "A Guide to the Labyrinth"

2006: Demonstrating the MINERVA System

2007: Using the MINERVA System in a Collaborative Environment

2008: A Bridge Across the Culture Gap: Build your own project using MINERVA
"The Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verses" (1845)
"Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"
Selected Excerpts from Chapters of the book Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
"Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry"
"Holy Places", a study of myths of landmarks
"Epilogue to 'Holy Places': the World Trade Center as a Mythic Place"
Writings on Building and Architecture
"Ancient Myths in Modern Movies"
Archived "Quotations of the Month"
Write e-mail to Cora Angier Sowa

Pantes anthropoi tou eidenai oregontai phusei. semeion d' he ton aistheseon agapesis: kai gar choris tes chreias agapontai d' hautas... ("Everyone by nature desires to have knowledge. A sign of this is our love of the senses; aside from their usefulness we love them for themselves..." --Aristotle, Metaphysics I.1)

(Illustration: Athens in the nineteenth century, from an old engraving)


Welcome to Minerva Systems, an enterprise created by Dr. Cora Angier Sowa. It is a product of the author's longtime search for connections between the aesthetic and the technological. It is also devoted to examining the continuity of influence of Greek and Roman Classical civilization, and to exploring how ancient insights can be applied to today's world.

Athena -- the Roman Minerva -- was, we remember, the patroness both of intellectual wisdom and of crafts and technology.

This site presents a selection of writings by the author on some interconnected topics: Classical literature, computers and humanities, myths of machines, music, movies, architecture, and technology, and the aesthetic appreciation of the marvels of the built environment.

C.A. Sowa

Dr. Cora Angier Sowa

Athena the warrior

Athena - the Roman Minerva - was goddess of both intellectual wisdom and technical crafts. Accompanied by her owl, she was also protector of the city of Athens.



("Railroad History of Cora Angier Sowa")

While my professional career is in Greek and Latin Classics and in computers (interests that I combine in the field of digital humanities), I am also a lifelong railfan. I grew up in a house above the old Los Angeles Subway tunnel and trainyards, my father was Head Cost Analyst for the Los Angeles Division of the Southern Pacific, and my grandfather and uncle were civil engineers specializing in railway and highway bridges. I now live in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, overlooking the Hudson River and the historic tracks of the former New York Central, now CSX, Metro North and Amtrak. On the series of Web pages called "Cora Sowa's Right-of-Way: Railroad History of Cora Angier Sowa,", I display some of my collection of rail photos, with commentary about them. Pages called "Engineers (Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical) in the Family," add more archival material about various family members' contributions to the history of railroads and engineering.

Tracks of Ferrocarril del Sureste

Click HERE for "Cora Sowa's Right-of-Way."
Click HERE to read "Engineers in the Family."


The right-of-way, the stretch of land on which the tracks are laid, is the universe of the train. It is an alternative reality, intersecting but distinct from our usual world of streets and roads. You can go on it if you are on a train, or if you work there, or if you, unseen, trespass. Whether it is the narrow branch or spur disappearing mysteriously between buildings or merging into fields and forests, or the long, straight tangent of the main line, it speaks of something magical, just out of sight. It is the stage, on which an awaited drama will be acted out. It is a space warp, a pointer leading to a place of possibility. An invitation.

Lakeshore Limited
The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.


Preserving the past, inspiring the future

Every month there will be a new classical (or related) quotation in this space, appropriate to the season or to current events. Usually the quotations are from ancient Greek or Latin, with occasional forays into other sources, such as mediaeval Latin or ancient Near Eastern literatures. Previous quotations (beginning in September, 2004) are archived in "Archived Quotations of the Month". An index to all of these quotations is now located at the head of the first Archived Quotations page.

Translations are my own, except where otherwise noted.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Quotation of the Month? If so, send me your suggestions at casowa@aol.com.

Women at the well

Women chatting at the public fountain (Athens, 6th cent. B.C., from a hydria, or water jug)

What is today's conversation about?


Month Announcement


Quotation for April, 2015




For the beginning of spring, Proserpina returns to her mother Ceres (Ovid, Fasti and Metamorphoses)

Persephone returns
Knob-handled patera, or libation dish, Greek, from Apulia, Italy, 330-320 B.C. Attributed to the Baltimore Painter. Hermes leads Demeter and Persephone from the Underworld. Art Institute of Chicago, photo by C.A. Sowa, March, 2015. The crocuses above are from my garden.

Proserpina's return brings resurgence of spring vegetation

The games in honor of Ceres, goddess of the grain, Ovid tells us in his month-by-month calendar Fasti, were held on the 12th of April. This gives Ovid an excuse to tell the story of Ceres, (Greek Demeter) and her daughter Proserpina (Greek Persephone; Ovid uses both forms, depending on the meter), abducted by the Underworld god Dis (Pluto, Greek Hades). The story of the maiden's abduction and return symbolizes and mythically explains the return of vegetation and crops in spring after a long, hard winter.

Ovid's Fasti: The poet puts his whimsical stamp on the story

The primary source for the story of Persephone is the Homeric Hymn II to Demeter (ca. 750 B.C.). Ovid, in Book 4 of the Fasti (8 A.D.), includes all the main points of the story: Proserpina, picking crocuses and other flowers with her companions, is abducted by the Lord of the Underworld (who is her uncle). Ceres wanders far and wide looking for her, as the crops dry up and die. During her travels she disguises herself as an old woman and becomes nursemaid to a child (Demophon in the Hymn, Triptolemus in Ovid), whom she tries to make immortal by putting him in the fire. She is interrupted by the child's mother, Metanira, so that a successful future, but not immortality, awaits him. Proserpina is returned to Ceres, but because she ate one or more pomegranate seeds, she can only leave the Underworld for part of the year, remaining underground for the other part. Nothing is said in Ovid of the founding of Demeter's temple or her Mysteries, a central point of the Hymn.

Ovid being Ovid, he introduces whimsical elements into his narrative: Arethusa, the Sicilian fountain nymph, invited all the matron goddesses to a banquet, preventing Ceres from keeping proper guard over her playful daughter. Ceres almost found Proserpina on the first day by following her footprints, but some wandering hogs obliterated the trail!

Ovid's Metamorphoses: A variation with characters transformed into other things

Ovid also told the story in his Metamorphoses (Book V), but since that voluminous work is all about transformations, the emphasis is on characters who are changed into other things. The story is sung by the Muse Calliope in a singing contest, whose origins are too lengthy to tell here. As she tells it, Venus encourages Cupid to shoot his arrow into the King of the Underworld, causing him to fall in love with Proserpina (another complicated story). The innocent girl is carried off while picking flowers, as usual. But a Sicilian water nymph, Cyane, in a blow for women's rights, stands up to Pluto, telling him he should have wooed Proserpina, not abducted her, and puts out her arms to block him. Pluto strikes her pool with his sceptre and opens the earth to receive him and the abducted girl. Cyane melts away in tears and becomes one with her pool of water.

The pomegranate seeds make their mandatory appearance, but instead of Pluto forcing her to eat them, as in the Hymn, Proserpina, wandering innocently in a garden of fruit trees, plucks the pomegranate and eats some seeds. In another Ovidian innovation, Ascalaphus, son of the nymph Orphne and the infernal river Acheron, sees her eat the seeds and tattles on her, with the implication that if no one had seen her, she could have enjoyed a permanant return to the world above! Proserpina, no longer the innocent girl but the powerful Queen of the Underworld, turns Ascalaphus into an ill-omened owl, whose dire appearance foretells death and doom.

Ascalaphus' punishment as an ill-omened owl

Below, in Latin and English, is the story of Ascalaphus' betrayal of Proserpina.

Ovid Metamorphoses V.533-550

Dixerat, at Cereri certum est educere natam;
non ita fata sinunt, quoniam ieiunia virgo
solverat et, cultis dum simplex errat in hortis
puniceum curva decerpserat arbore pomum
sumptaque pallenti septem de cortice grana
presserat ore suo, solusque ex omnibus illud
Ascalaphus vidit, quem quondam dicitur Orphne
inter Avernales haud ignotissima nymphas
ex Acheronte suo silvis peperisse sub atris;
vidit et indicio reditum crudelis ademit.
ingemuit regina Erebi testemque profanam
fecit avem sparsumque caput Phlegethontide lympha
in rostrum et plumas et grandia lumina vertit.
ille sibi ablatus fulvis amicitur in alis.
inque caput crescit longosque reflectitur ungues
vixque movet natas per inertia bracchia pennas
foedaque fit volucris, venturi nuntia luctus,
ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen.

Ascalaphus tattles on Proserpina

He spoke, but Ceres was resolved to bring her daughter back.
The fates did not allow, since the maiden had broken
her fast, and while, simple as she was, she wandered in the cultivated gardens,
she plucked a purple fruit from a curved tree,
and extracting seven seeds from the pale rind
pressed them in her mouth. Alone of all,
Ascalaphus saw this, whom one time, it is said, Orphne bore,
not the least known of the Avernal nymphs,
to her own Acheron beneath the dark groves.
He saw, and by informing on her cruelly took away her return.
Then the queen of Erebus lamented and made the witness
into an unholy bird and sprinkling his head with water of Phlegethon
turned it into a beak and feathers and huge eyes.
Robbed of his own self, he is clothed in tawny wings.
He grows into a head and is bent back into long claws,
and he scarcely moves the feathers growing on his motionless arms.
He becomes a vile bird, messenger of coming sorrow,
the idle owl, a bird of ill omen for mortals.

Persephone abducted
Sarcophagus, depicting the abduction of Persephone. Roman, ca. 190-200 A.D. Art Institute of Chicago, photo by C.A. Sowa, March, 2015.

Quotation for March, 2015



The Etruscan connection: A haruspex warns Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March (Suetonius, The Divine Caesar)

Figurine of a haruspex, from the right bank of the Tiber 4th cent. BC. Full cast bronze. Height cm 17.7. Vatican Museums, Gregorian Etruscan Museum online, cat. 12040cat. 12040. A haruspex was an Etruscan seer who divined the future from the entrails of sacrificed animals. A model sheep's liver, with incised guide marks, is illustrated at the end of this article. It was a haruspex named Spurinna who told Caesar to beware danger not later than the Ides of March.

A Caesar for all seasons

Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, March 15, 44 B.C. His death, following his own gradual amassing of absolute powers, was followed by the accession to power of his grand-nephew and heir, Octavian (as the emperor Augustus), ending the Roman Republic and signaling the beginning of the Roman Empire. The meaning of Caesar's death has been the subject of many interpretations, which have changed many times in tune with the times in which it has been interpreted. Was Caesar a ruthless dictator with monarchical ambitions, and Brutus a republican hero for killing him, or was Caesar a populist hero, against whom Brutus committed an act of personal betrayal? Or was Caesar a talented military tactician, to be studied for his artfulness in war? Shortly after the assassination, Brutus had silver denarii minted bearing his own portrait, implying perhaps his own desire to be king.

In the English-speaking world, students have traditionally learned of Caesar from two sources, his own writings (chiefly his de Bello Gallico, a model of lucid Latin) and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Interpretations of Caesar and Brutus have shifted, while culture and politics changed, as analyzed by Maria Wyke in Caesar in the USA (2012). During the Revolution, for example, Caesar was equated with the hated British King Geroge III, but when Lincoln was assassinated, many felt that "a mad Brutus had felled a mighty leader." Many mood swings later, Caesar was linked with Mussolini and even Hitler.

Plutarch vs. Suetonius

The two main Classical sources for the life of Caesar are Plutarch's Parallel Lives and Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Shakespeare took his play mostly from Plutarch, with changes for dramatic effect. He compresses, for example, two Battles of Philippi into a single battle, and has Caesar assassinated in the Capitol instead of the actual venue, the Curia Pompeii. Plutarch (ca.46-120) and Suetonius (ca.69-after 122) were almost exact contemporaries, both born long after the events they describe. But Plutarch was Greek, from Chaeronea in Boeotia, and was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, and although he became a Roman citizen, remained mostly in Chaeronea and wrote in Greek. Suetonius was from Italy and was a friend of the senator and writer Pliny the Younger. In describing the assassination of Caesar, both mention mostly the same incidents: there were portents foretelling the murder, Caesar's wife Calpurnia suffered nightmares, and both tell how at the funeral an innocent man named Cinna was torn to pieces by the crowd, who thought he was the conspirator Cinna. And both include a seer who warns Caesar against the Ides of March, and when Caesar mocks him by saying that the Ides have come with no ill effect, says, "they have come, but they have not gone." Caesar's Comet, which blazed in the sky for seven days, was discussed in the Quotation for November, 2014.

Suetonius' Etruscan specifics

Portents are something a writer can have fun with, the more spectacular the better, and here the authors diverge, with Plutarch (followed by Shakespeare) being more generically macabre, and Suetonius more locally Italian. Shakespeare has Calpurnia report "most horrid sights seen by the watch":

A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
In addition, men on fire walk the streets, and a sacrificial victim was found to lack a heart. Plutarch, too, has nocturnal crashing sounds, lights in the sky, birds of omen, men all on fire and the victim without a heart.

Suetonius, however, is the most interesting, because his portents are strictly local. Roman colonists sent to Capua, an ancient Italian city originally settled by the Etruscans, had discovered what was said to be the tomb of Capys, father of Anchises, whose son Aeneas, along with his mother Venus, were considered to be Caesar's ancestors. A tablet was found within the tomb foretelling the death of a descendant of Capys at the hands of his kinsmen. Then the horses released by Caesar as a dedication to the river Rubicon after his crossing refused to graze and "wept copiously." A little king-bird (avem regaliolum) flying into the Hall of Pompey (where Caesar would be assassinated) bearing a sprig of laurel was torn to pieces by other birds, and Caesar himself dreamt that he flew above the clouds and clasped the hand of Jupiter.

In Suetonius, Caesar is warned about the Ides of March not by Shakespeare's random demented "soothsayer" or Plutarch's generic mantis, but by a haruspex, a respected Etruscan priest who divined the will of the gods by examining the liver of sacrificed animals. The haruspex wore a pointed headdress of hide or felt, tied under the chin to keep it from falling off (a bad omen), as depicted in the figurine pictured above. A model liver, with marked divisions, like the one pictured below, could be used as a guide. Caesar's haruspex bears the Etruscan name "Spurinna."

Below, in Latin and English, is Suetonius' enumeration of the portents surrounding Caesar's assassination.

Suetonius Divus Julius 81

Sed Caesari futura caedes evidentibus prodigiis denuntiata est. Paucos ante menses, cum in colonia Capua deducti lege Iulia coloni ad exstruendas villas vetustissima sepulcra disicerent idque eo studiosius facerent, quod aliquantum vasculorum operis antiqui scrutantes reperiebant, tabula aenea in monimento, in quo dicebatur Capys conditor Capuae sepultus, inventa est conscripta litteris verbisque Graecis hac sententia: "Quandoque ossa Capyis detecta essent, fore ut illo prognatus manu consanguineorum necaretur magnisque mox Italiae cladibus vindicaretur." Cuius rei, ne quis fabulosam aut commenticiam putet, auctor est Cornelius Balbus, familiarissimus Caesaris. Proximis diebus equorum greges, quos in traiciendo Rubiconi flumini consecrarat ac vagos et sine custode dimiserat, comperit pertinacissime pabulo abstinere ubertimque flere. Et immolantem haruspex Spurinna monuit, caveret periculum, quod non ultra Martias Idus proferretur. Pridie autem easdem Idus avem regaliolum cum laureo ramulo Pompeianae curiae se inferentem volucres varii generis ex proximo nemore persecutae ibidem discerpserunt. Ea vero nocte, cui inluxit dies caedis, et ipse sibi visus est per quietem interdum supra nubes volitare, alias cum Iove dextram iungere; et Calpurnia uxor imaginata est conlabi fastigium domus maritumque in gremio suo confodi; ac subito cubiculi fores sponte patuerunt.

A catalog of Etruscan portents

But his future murder was announced to Caesar by clear portents. A few months before, when the colonists brought to the colony at Capua under the Julian Law to construct country villas were demolishing some very ancient tombs, and were doing so more eagerly because as they searched around they found a considerable number of small vases of antique workmanship, they came upon a bronze tablet in a tomb, in which Capys, founder of Capua, was said to be buried. On it, in Greek characters and Greek words, was inscribed this sentiment: "Whenever the bones of Capys shall be discovered, a descendant of his will be slain at the hands of his kindred, and will be avenged with great destruction to Italy." For this matter, lest anyone think it a fable or a falsehood, the authority is Cornelius Balbus, a very close friend of Caesar. In the preceding days, Caesar learned that the herds of horses, which, when he crossed the Rubicon, he dedicated to the river and let wander without a keeper, stubbornly abstained from their feed and wept copiously. And when he was offering sacrifice, the haruspex Spurinna warned him to beware of danger which would appear not later than the Ides of March. The day before that same Ides, a little king-bird, flying into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, was pursued by birds of various kinds from the neighboring grove, which tore it to pieces in that same place. That very night, upon which arose the day of his murder, he himself seemed in his dream one moment to fly above the clouds, at another to clasp hands with Jupiter, and his wife Calpurnia thought that the gable of the house had collapsed and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; then suddenly the doors of the bedroom flew open of their own accord.

A model liver
A model liver as a guide for divination. Bronze diagram of a sheep's liver found at Picenum with Etruscan inscriptions. Bronze Liver of Piacenza, photo uploaded to Wikipedia by LoKiLeCh.

Archived Quotations

Earlier quotations, appropriate to the seasons or to current situations as indicated, are available in the pages of "Archived Quotations." The index of all archived quotations, formerly in this space, having grown very large, has now been moved to the head of the main Quotations page. The quotations themselves now occupy separate pages for each year, but all can be accessed from the index on the main Quotations page.

MINERVA participation in the Chicago Colloquia on Digital Humanities

Chicago River

The Chicago River, from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, January, 2008. (Photo by C.A. Sowa.)


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.

Previous DHCS Colloquia and MINERVA offerings:

Click on the buttons on the right to read the MINERVA presentations.


The theme of the first Colloquium (2006)was "What to do with a Million books," posing the problem that, now that all the world's libraries have been put in digital form, what do we do with them? MINERVA Systems presented a demonstration showing the capabilities of MINERVA as a set of tools for carrying out a project to study a work of literature, using digital methods.

The first Colloqium was held at the University of Chicago at its Hyde Park Campus.


The emphasis of the second Colloquium (2007) was on using digital materials in a collaborative environment, and on discerning what studies are better undertaken by using digitized versions of materials such as images and text than by using the original non-digitized sources.

The MINERVA demonstration for 2007 highlighted new additions to the Systems Analysis Tutorial/Project Planner, which aid the user in steps to planning and carrying out a project in an organized way. These techniques are adapted from the commercial and scientific fields, where teams of persons who may be working in distant locations must coordinate their efforts.

The second Colloqium was held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


The theme of the third Colloquium (2008) was "'Making Sense'- an exploration of how meaning is created and apprehended at the transition of the digital and the analog." "Sense-making" is a field concerned with finding meaning in vaguely defined material. As usual, this third Colloquium brought together a terrific group of diverse scholars and students working in different areas of computer applications. These included not only literary and sociological studies, but such inventive applications as a study of different musical genres (country, gospel, blues, hip hop, heavy metal, etc.) to see which body parts (head, heart, hand, etc.) are mentioned most often, and three-dimensional recreations of archaeological and historic sites, including a study of pedestrian traffic patterns in an ancient Turkish town destroyed by Cyrus the Great.

Minerva Systems submitted a paper to the third Colloquium, "A Bridge Across the Culture Gap: Build Your Own Project Using the Minerva System for Study of Literary Texts", which was given as a handout to all who were interested. Additions to the MINERVA System emphasized the need to serve "the great unserved middle," between the Luddites and the Rocket Scientists, of scholars and students, who would like to be introduced to elements of logical analysis and computerized methods.

The third Colloqium was held at the University of Chicago.


The theme of the fourth Colloquium (2009) was "Critical Computing", seeking to explore how productive research collaborations between computer scientists and humanists can be most effective.

  • How might computation provide new critical tools for humanists?
  • How might humanists help us understand the real meaning and import of computational results?

The fourth Colloquium was held at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


The theme of the fifth Colloquium (2010) was "Working with Digital Data: Collaborate, Curate, Analyze, Annotate." Emphasized in particular were papers or poster sessions about annotation, scholarly crowdsourcing, and challenges of human/computer interaction. How to create better texts from OCR may be a problem in which new forms of human/computer interaction hold particular promise.

Minerva Systems circulated a paper titled "BUILD-A-BEAR" RESEARCH PLANNING: CLARIFICATION OF DEFINITIONS AS THE KEY TO CHOOSING OR WRITING PROGRAMS, a discussion of analytical methods designed to help the scholar/user analyze his or her own research problems sufficiently to choose or design an appropriate computer solution.

The fifth Colloquium was held at Northwestern University.


The sixth Colloqium (2011) was held at Loyola University at its Water Tower Campus. Minerva Systems was again in attendance.


The seventh DHCS Colloquium was held at the University of Chicago at its Hyde Park campus. Minerva attended.


The eighth Colloquium, attended by Minerva, was held at De Paul University, near Lincoln Park.

Read the MINERVA demos and handouts from the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 Colloquia.

Click on the buttons below to see the complete MINERVA handouts.

Reliance Building

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.

The Reliance Building, an incredible little jewel in the middle of Chicago's Loop, was not all built at once. When the developer acquired the site in 1882, it was occupied by a five-story building. The leases on the lower two floors expired in 1890, those on the top three in 1894. So, as the first leases expired, the architects Daniel H. Burnham and John Wellborn Root demolished the first two floors, and, jacking up the top three storeys, replaced the demolished floors with the first two floors of the new building. When the remaining leases expired, the top floors of the old building were demolished, and replaced with new floors, designed by Charles Atwood, Root having died. The number of floors eventually grew to fifteen, made of identical structural modules and clad in graceful terracotta, giving the building the perfect proportions that it has today, somewhat overwhelmed, unfortunately, by the gigantism of the surrounding modern buildings.

Today, the Reliance Building, after years of neglect (shabby but still showing her noble "bones"), has been reborn as a boutique hotel, called the Burnham, with an excellent restaurant, the Atwood, on its ground floor, the names being chosen as an homage to its architects.

THE MINERVA SYSTEM FOR STUDY OF LITERARY TEXTS, INTRODUCED A IN SELF-STUDY CD The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar

Minerva and Labyrinth

The Loom of Minerva is a self-study CD that introduces the Minerva System for Study of Literary Texts, which is a set of tools, some automated and some semi-automated, for planning and carrying out a project in literary study. The Loom of Minerva contains both text chapters and a set of programs. The first chapter, "A Guide to the Labyrinth" (now much revised), can be read on this Web site, and images of two (earlier) demonstrations of the system from 2006 and 2007 can also be seen. More revisions are to come, including an on-line version.

Illustrations: Statue of Minerva, Helsinki, Finland (photo by J.F. Sowa); "Palace of Minos," Knossos, Crete, the building that was perhaps the original Labyrinth (photo by C.A. Sowa).

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.

  • The programs.

    The programs are in two groups, The Tutorial in Systems Analysis and the MINERVA Program Suite. The Tutorial in Systems Analysis takes the student through the steps to plan and design a project, beginning with the Selection of a Topic, going through the activities of drawing hierarchical and flow charts, and continuing to the final Evaluation of Results. The screens are interactive, so that the student can practice designing his or her own project.

    The MINERVA Program Suite is an interactive suite of programs designed for use by scholars and critics of literature. These programs, which can be used with texts of English, Classical, or other literatures, currently contains sixteen programs: eight to perform different types of literary analysis, and eight "OwlData" programs that the scholar can use to create or adapt data for the analytical programs. Currently available are programs to make concordances, search for words and cooccurring words, do statistical studies, perform cluster analysis, and compose original paragraphs. Developed in modular fashion, MINERVA is intended to be expandable, so that in the future more modules can be added to do more things. The latest to be developed is a program to perform cluster analysis based on the program described in Sowa and Sowa "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry."

  • The narrative chapters

    The narrative chapters can be read like a book, or they can be entered directly from the programs by clicking on links on the screens.

    The first four text chapters of The Loom of Minerva introduce the MINERVA System. They demonstrate the steps for planning and developing a project, and provide many literary examples for using the programs. Historical chapters of The Loom of Minerva analyze projects past and present, that have used computers and other mechanical devices in the study of literature (including the Eureka Machine for composing Latin hexameters). Also described are works of literature that were inspired by machines, like the short story "Moxon's Master" by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), in which a chess-playing robot murders its inventor. Four final chapters of the book are for techies only: a programming manual of Visual Basic, using literary examples, for those gung-ho readers who want to understand the arcana behind the MINERVA programs included with the book.

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 casowa@aol.com.

Untermyer fountain

Historical chapters of The Loom of Minerva describe projects using the computer in the study of literature, including the author's Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns (see below). One of the thematic elements analyzed is "Maidens Dancing and Picking Flowers."

Illustration: the Untermyer Fountain, Central Park, New York City, sculpture by Walter Schott, ca. 1910 (photo by C.A. Sowa).



Babbage replica, detail

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:

Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child,
Ada, sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled
And then we parted,--not as now we part,
But with a hope...

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 Babbage's Engine

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.


Dionysos in ship

One of the mythic themes analyzed in Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns is the Epiphany of a God.

Illustration: Dionysos in a boat with grape vines and dolphins, cup by Exekias, about 540 B.C., Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlung, from a photo by R. Schoder, S.J. It is reproduced in Chapter 9, "Epiphany of a God and Institution of Rites."

Book: Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns

Cora Angier Sowa is the author of Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns published by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Wauconda, IL (1984).

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.

"Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"

The Muses

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.

The Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verses (1845)

Eureka machine

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.

Ships named Minerva

Sea battle 1776

Classically named ships have a long tradition. Illustration: "The PHOENIX and the ROSE, engaged by the ENEMY'S FIRE SHIPS & GALLEYS, on the 16th Augt 1776. Engraved from the Original Picture by D. Serres, from a Sketch of Sir James Wallace's." Lithograph by G. Hayward for D.T. Valentine's Manual 1776.

"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!

Sea battle 1840

"Attack on Sidon by Commodore Charles Napier." The battle took place in September, 1840. Sir Charles Napier was a lineal descendant of John Napier, inventor of Napierian logarithms, whose mathematical insights led to the invention of the slide rule, itself an ancestor of the modern computer.

The ships in the picture are identified along the bottom as H.M.S. "Gorgon" (flag), H.M.S. "Thunderer" (84 guns), Turkish Corvette (20 g.), Austrian frigate "Guerriera," H.M. Brig "Wasp" (16 g.), H.M.S.S. "Stromboli."

Vase painting by Amasis

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.)

Myths of landmarks: Pennsylvania Station and Times Square as centers of the universe, the World Trade Center as a Mythic Place

World Trade Center portrait

The World Trade Center was a sacred place long before it was blown up by terrorists. Lower Manhattan was the sacred land of the Lenape Indians, who made their community and buried their dead there. The modern World Trade Center, with its iconic double-towered shape (a nation's gateway, a cosmic tuning-fork?) was a symbol to the world of universal aspirations and longings. As a center of communications (with its towering antenna) and of transportation (as a hub of rail transportation) it had the mana or spiritual power of the crossroads, the traditional meeting place watched over by the gods of trade.

The WTC is not sacred just because it, along with its inhabitants, was destroyed; it was destroyed because it was sacred. Today, Mercury returns, as the god of communication and of commerce, along with the spirits of all who have lived and died there.

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.

You can also read two of the author's previously published book reviews on architecture, on Alison Sky and Michelle Stone's Unbuilt America and Albert Mehrabian's Public Places and Private Spaces.

About the Author

Self portrait on ferry Eureka

The author is an aficionado of many kinds of transportation, including railroads, ships, and airplanes. Here I am "at the wheel" of the ferryboat Eureka (rebuilt in 1923 from the 1890 freight-car ferry Ukiah) at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

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.

Playing the harp with cat

The author plays the harp for an appreciative audience (handsome cat-about-town Feliz Sowa).

All selections on this site, unless otherwise identified, are copyright by Cora Angier Sowa.

Send e-mail   Send e-mail to Cora Angier Sowa.

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