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
WELCOME TO MINERVA SYSTEMS
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
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.
Dr. Cora Angier Sowa
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.
FOR MY RAILFAN READERS!
CORA SOWA'S RIGHT-OF-WAY
("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.
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.
The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.
CLASSICAL QUOTATION OF THE MONTH
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Women chatting at the public fountain (Athens, 6th cent. B.C.,
from a hydria, or water jug)
What is today's conversation about?
Quotation for October, 2014
Cynthia's wild ghost visits Propertius
The Appian Way. Cynthia, buried near a busy road, wished her
epitaph kept short, to be easily read by the hurried passerby.
(Illustration from Rodolfo Lanciani,
Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries, 1898.)
Cynthia the free spirit
"Cynthia" was Propertius' obsession,
his muse, the center of his emotional, sexual, and poetic life.
Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit ("Cynthia was
the first, Cynthia will be the end") he wrote (Propertius I.12.20).
Her real name was Hostia, and she may have been a descendant of the
Roman poet Hostius. She was, it seems, not a common
prostitute, but more likely an experienced "party girl" who attracted
well-heeled lovers. Propertius, a young poet who joined the circle
of the wealthy Maecenas (also the patron of Horace and Vergil),
was mesmerized. Hostia was beautiful, intelligent (he
calls her docta puella, "learned girl"), demanding,
self-absorbed, fickle, and self-dramatizing. She was insanely jealous
of other women in Propertius' life, but expected complete freedom,
sexual and otherwise, for herself. The relationship did not go smoothly.
They broke up, they got back together. She could make him miserable.
But she inspired some of his finest poetry.
He called her "Cynthia" after Mount Cynthus on Delos,
birthplace of Apollo, god of song and poetry. His first book of
elegies is called Cynthia monobiblos "One book about Cynthia."
And then Cynthia died. By now Propertius was writing his fourth
book of poems. The affair was over, and Propertius had
moved on to other poetic themes and, presumably, other loves.
But his bipolar emotions remained. He continued to write poetry,
but the fire was gone.
Cynthia's angry ghost
Book Four contains two poems about Cynthia, No. 7, in which
Cynthia's ghost, fresh from the funeral pyre, visits Propertius
in a dream, and No. 8, a vivid picture of Cynthia very much alive.
They go together — Cynthia the wild woman
in death as in life.
In No. 7, Cynthia appears to Propertius as he tosses and turns in his
lonely bed. She is gruesomely burned, with her charred clothing sticking
to her body, and her bones rattle. She berates him for daring to
sleep, and for not calling her name as she died (it might have bought
her an extra day of life). She accuses him of not giving her a lavish enough
funeral. She recalls their adventures, as when she climbs down a rope
at night to meet him (apparently to escape the notice of her
current boyfriend). She accuses his servants Lygdamus and Nomas of
poisoning her, and of mistreating her faithful attendants for
praising her. She launches into a mythological digression
(she is a docta puella, after all) about the fate in the
Afterlife of famous villainesses like Clytaemnestra (who killed her
husband Agamemnon) and famous heroines like Hypermestra (who
refused to kill hers). She concludes by ordering Propertius to
pension off her faithful servants, and to erect a memorial column
by the river Anio at Tibur with an epitaph short enough to read
on the run. With characteristic narcissism, it is to announce that
"Here lies golden Cynthia, who brings honor to the Anio."
Ghosts, she tells him, and even the dog Cerberus, wander at night,
to be ferried back across Lethe at dawn. Gruesomely and theatrically,
she tells Propertius it is all right if he takes other lovers, because
"soon you will be all mine, and our bones will grind together"
eternally mingled. And then she vanishes as he tries to embrace her.
Live Cynthia recalled
Live Cynthia remembered in No. 8 is counterpoint to dead Cynthia
in No. 7. Cynthia leaves Propertius to go to a festival of Juno
(more likely Venus, as he says sarcastically). He pictures her
flying down the Appian Way, driving her own team of horses, with
her latest boy toy in tow. Propertius comforts himself by
inviting over two girls who could be counted on for fun, while the
servant Lygdamus serves them wine. The threesome are having a good time
when Cynthia suddenly throws open the doors, "her hair undone, but
lovely in her fury." Cynthia beats up on the two girls, who flee.
She demands that Lygdamus be put in chains (she accused him of
poisoning her in the previous poem).
She purifies the house with incense and throws out everything
the interlopers have touched. Then she and Propertius make love.
In life, Cynthia was dramatic, and in death she
was dramatic, too. She was his wild woman, and he loved her.
Below, in Latin and English, are the opening and concluding
verses of Propertius 4.7.
Propertius Elegies IV.7.1-24, 71-96
Sunt aliquid Manes: letum non omnia finit,
luridaque evictos effugit umbra rogos.
Cynthia namque meo visa est incumbere fulcro,
murmur ad extremae nuper humata viae,
cum mihi somnus ab exsequiis penderet amoris,
et quererer lecti frigida regna mei.
eosdem habuit secum quibus est elata capillos,
eosdem oculos: lateri vestis adusta fuit,
et solitum digito beryllon adederat ignis,
summaque Lethaeus triverat ora liquor.
spirantisque animos et vocem misit: at illi
pollicibus fragiles increpuere manus :
"Perfide nec cuiquam melior sperande puellae,
in te iam vires somnus habere potest?
iamne tibi exciderant vigilacis furta Suburae
et mea nocturnis trita fenestra dolis?
per quam demisso quotiens tibi fune pependi,
alterna veniens in tua colla manu!
saepe Venus trivio commissa est pectore mixto
fecerunt tepidas pallia nostra vias.
foederis heu taciti, cuius fallacia verba
non audituri diripuere Noti.
at mihi non oculos quisquam inclamavit euntis:
unum impetrassem te revocante diem:
. . .
sed tibi nunc mandata damus, si forte moveris
si te non totum Chloridos herba tenet:
nutrix in tremulis ne quid desideret annis
Parthenie: potuit, nec tibi avara fuit:
deliciaeque meae Latris, cui nomen ab usu est,
ne speculum dominae porrigat ilia novae:
et quoscumque meo fecisti nomine versus,
ure mihi: laudes desine habere meas.
pelle hederam tumulo, mihi quae praegnante corymbo
mollia contortis alligat ossa comis;
ramosis Anio qua pomifer incubat arvis,
et numquam Herculeo numine pallet ebur;
hic carmen media dignum me scribe columna,
sed breve, quod currens vector ab urbe legat:
HIC TIBVRTINA lACET AVREA CYNTHIA TERRA:
ACCESSIT RIPAE LAVS, ANIENE, TVAE.
nec tu sperne piis venientia somnia portis:
cum pia venerunt somnia, pondus habent.
nocte vagae ferimur, nox clausas liberat umbras,
errat et abiecta Cerberus ipse sera.
luce iubent leges Lethaea ad stagna reverti:
nos vehimur, vectum nauta recenset onus.
nunc te possideant aliae: mox sola tenebo:
mecum eris, et mixtis ossibus ossa teram."
haec postquam querula mecum sub lite peregit,
inter complexus excidit umbra meos.
Cynthia's rage, and her last wish
The shades of the dead are real. Death does not end everything.
The sallow ghost escapes the conquered funeral pyre.
For Cynthia seemed to lean over my bedpost,
she recently buried next to the hum at the edge of the road,
when, after the funeral of my love, my sleep was fitful,
and I lamented the frigid kingdom of my bed.
She had the same hair as when she was carried out,
the same eyes; her clothing was charred onto her side,
and the fire had eaten away the beryl ring she wore on her finger,
and the water of Lethe had worn the edges of her lips.
She emitted the spirit and voice of one breathing,
but her brittle hands rattled their thumb-bones.
"Faithless one! — yet no girl can hope for any better —
Can sleep already hold such power over you?
Have our furtive deeds in the sleepless Subura already slipped
and my window sill worn by our nocturnal tricks?
From it how many times did I let down a rope and hang from it for you,
coming down hand over hand to embrace your neck!
Venus was often engaged in the crossroads; while our breasts mingled.
Our cloaks made the roads beneath us warm.
Alas for that tacit bond, whose false words
the unhearing South Winds have swept away.
No one called out my name as my eyes closed;
had you called me back I could have gained one more day.
. . .
But now I give you this mandate, Perhaps you are moved,
and Chloris' magic herbs do not hold you,
Let my nurse Parthenie lack for nothing in her tremulous old age,
She was capable, and never greedy for money toward you.
And let not my darling Latris ["Server"], whose name comes from her job,
hold the mirror for a new mistress.
And whatever verses you composed in my honor,
burn them for me. Stop claiming fame that is mine.
Drive the ivy from my tomb, which with full berries
binds my soft bones with its twisted foliage.
Where the apple-bearing Anio watches over bough-laden fields
and, under Hercules' divine protection, ivory never yellows,
there write a verse worthy of me on the middle of a columns,
but short, so that the hurrying traveller may read:
HERE AT TIBUR LIES GOLDEN CYNTHIA
HONOR IS CONFERRED ON YOUR BANKS, ANIO.
And do not scorn dreams coming through the blessed portals,
when blessed dreams arrive, they have weight.
Wandering at night we are borne about, night frees the imprisoned
and Cerberus himself roams around, the bolt to his door thrown back.
At dawn the laws order us to return to the Lethean swamps.
we are ferried across, and the boatman counts his freight.
Now let others possess you; soon I alone will hold you.
you will be with me, and I shall grind my bones against your bones mixed
After she had completed her complaint-filled prosecution of me,
her shade slipped away from my embrace.
Funeral stele of Hegeso, ca.410-ca. 400 B.C., found in the
Kerameikos cemetery in Athens, now in Athens' National
Archaeological Museum. A replica has been set up in the Kerameikos.
Hegeso takes a last look at her jewels, brought to her by her
maidservant. The relief is Greek, not Roman, but conveys the
sadness evident in Propertius' poem, written four centuries later.
Earlier quotations, appropriate to the seasons or to current situations
as indicated, are available in the pages of
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
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
"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
The MINERVA demonstration for 2007 highlighted
new additions to the Systems Analysis
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
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
Click on the buttons below to see the complete MINERVA handouts.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
A VICTORIAN COMPUTER LIVES AGAIN!
WATCH A REPLICA OF CHARLES BABBAGE'S ENGINE IN ACTION
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 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.
TRADITIONAL THEMES AND THE HOMERIC HYMNS IS AGAIN IN PRINT.
SELECTIONS AVAILABLE FOR FREE READING ON THIS SITE
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"
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
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.
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
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!
"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
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.),
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
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.
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
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.
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 to Cora Angier Sowa.
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