Thanks to the Ancient Greeks

α. Democracy. The cherished idea flowered in the 6th century BC when power was first passed to the people. Or rather, the ten per cent of Athens’ population who classified as citizens – women, slaves and foreigners did not make the grade. The remainder, men of 18 years and over, were divided into local groups – the demoi – who were then represented on the city’s major council or parliament of 500 called the boule. In addition, 40 times each year the people (the ekklesia) met in their thousands to vote on issues of both foreign and domestic policy.

β. Love. Indeed, love is actually Greek. The Goddess of Love in Greek mythology is Aphrodite who was born in the sea off Cyprus, conjured from the foam produced by the severed genitals of Zeus’s grand-father, hurled there by his son. Not the most auspicious of starts in life, though Aphrodite subsequently thrived, going on to become not only the Goddess of Love but, in the eyes of the Spartans, also a Goddess of War. So, by default, she was the Goddess of Married Couples.

A Greek and an Italian argue over who has the superior culture.
The Greek: We built the Parthenon.
The Italian: We built the Coliseum.
The Greek: We gave birth to advanced mathematics.
The Italian: Yes, but we built the Roman Empire.
The Greek: We invented sex!
The Italian: That’s true, but we thought of having it with women.

γ. Philosophy. The entire canon of western thought: Marx, Descartes, Derrida are all balanced on the shoulders of three men. Aristotle (384-322 BCE), who stood on the shoulders of his master Plato (429-347 BCE) who was propped up by Socrates (469-399 BCE). The latter was a veteran of the Peloponnesian War and when he was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock, he showed future generations how to die with dignity.

δ. Geometry. The ancient phrase “Beware Greeks bearing gifts” was coined to describe the dubious present of the Trojan horse, and any school pupil baffled by Pythagoras’ theorem is likely to turn up his nose at their gift of geometry. The word is derived from the term geometria, meaning the measurement of the earth, a discipline which Euclid, who was actually from Alexandria in Egypt, first studied at Plato’s Academy. In case our weary pupil wishes to nurse any further grudges, mathematics was also the Greeks’ fault.

ε. The Secret Police. The Gestapo in Nazi Germany and the KGB of Stalin’s Russia can trace their antecedents to Sparta, the original military state. The heroics of the ancient warrior race are justly celebrated at Thermopylae. It was here that 300 Spartans held off a Persian army of 150,000, and left the moving inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by/That here obedient to their words we lie”. But their society was one of great cruelty. A percentage of the Helots – their slaves – were slaughtered each year and at night an elite group known as the kryptia would seek out and execute trouble-makers.

ς. Ostracism. To be ostracised from a group or, as it is described today, “sent to Coventry”, is a Greek invention, which required the spurned party to depart from the city walls and live in exile. This law of banishment was first introduced in 508 BC but was first used almost 20 years later in 487 BC. The term is derived from ostraka the fragments of pottery on which the unfortunate nominee’s name was inscribed.

ζ. The Marathon. What a poor Athenian messenger tackled out of necessity, millions now do for fun. Following the battle of Marathon at which the Greeks broke the Persian army, losing just 192 men to their opponents 6,000, a messenger was dispatched to run the 25 miles back to Athens to announce the city’s salvation and their success. It was a feat he doggedly achieved before dying of exhaustion.

η. Alexander the Great. Before Colin Farrell dyed his hair blond and slipped into a leather skirt, a young Greek (well Macedonian actually) led an army of 40,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry on a mission to conquer the known world. Today the battle tactics and wisdom of Alexander, who was a pupil of Aristotle, are studied by business leaders who adore his direct approach. When faced with the riddle of the Gordian Knot, which prophecy decreed could only be unravelled by he who would rule Asia, Alexander paused for a second before slicing it in two.

θ. The Olympic Games. The first gathering of top athletes drawn from the Hellenic world was in 776 BC and afterwards, every four years, they would return to Olympia to compete for crowns of wild olives in events such as chariot racing, wrestling, boxing and the pentathlon. There is no mention in recorded history of a competitor being banned for steroid abuse.

ι. The Muse. Artistic success in ancient Greece was not 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Instead, creative ideas were bounteous gifts bestowed by the Muses, a group of nine goddesses who were each responsible for a particular endeavour. They were Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (the flute), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (hymns), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy) and Urania (astronomy).

“Two thousand summers have imparted to the monuments of Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a maturer golden and autumnal tint, for they have carried their own serene and celestial atmosphere into all lands to protect them against the corrosion of time.”

– Henry David Thoreau

ια. Bawdy Comedy. Some 2,500 years before Frankie Howerd and Sid James, the Greek world had its own ‘Carry On’ star in the shape of Aristophanes (450-388 BC). The playwright attacked the establishment’s sacred bulls with scandalously sexual plays that mocked both politicians and the city’s elite with a merciless wit.

ιβ. Public Jury. The system of trying the accused by a jury of his peers first took place in Athens. A full participation in the political and criminal process began after male citizens turned 30, at which point they were eligible to serve on juries or stand for election as a magistrate. Each day potential jurors would gather at the Athenian Agora, the market place, where they were picked by lot.

ιγ. History. As in the fields of philosophy, medicine and mathematics, the father of history was also a Greek. Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote his famous “histories” in the 5th century BC. This recounts the expansion of the Achaemenid empire under its kings Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius I the Great. It also records for posterity the actions of the Spartans at Thermopylae.

ιδ. The Hippocratic Oath. The pledge made by modern physicians that they will, in essence, ‘do no harm’ is attributed to the Greek physician, from the island of Kos, who in the 5th and 4th century BC laid the foundation stones of scientific medicine by freeing medical study from the constraints of philosophical speculation and superstition.

ιε. Hades/Hell. Hades was controller of the Kingdom of the Dead and the brother of Zeus. In many ways the Christian concept of Hell, as an underground lair ruled by the Devil, is an appropriation of the Greek myth.

ις. Argos. Richard E Grant’s spaced out rock star may pronounce it as ‘Argoose’ and believe the catalogue shop in which your Tefal kettle comes sliding down a conveyer belt is, in fact, a chic designer outlet, but he’s wrong. The real Argos was a settlement to which Greeks in the ‘Golden Age’ choose to transplant the court of Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae and the destroyer of Troy.

ιζ. Doric Architecture. The evolution of Greek architectural styles took place during the 7th and 6th centuries BC. At the time the majority of buildings in Ancient Greece used limestone but the nearest quarry to Athens produced marble, and the result was the temple to Athena Parthenos or Athena the Virgin. This is known today as the Parthenon, on which the architects, Callicrates and Ictinus, perfected the Doric columns.

ιη. The Screw. The little metal device beloved by B&Q devotees across Britain was invented by Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, who lived during the 2nd century BC. The author of Archimedes’s Principle, a law of physics relating to buoyancy and specific gravity, discovered the screw while developing a device that would draw water from ships to prevent them sinking.

ιθ. Homer. The finest poet of ancient times was said to have been born in Izmir, in what is now Turkey. He has traditionally been credited with writing two of the greatest works of world literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey, which together tell the story of the Trojan war. Latterly it has been suggested that he did not even exist, and that these epics were the combined work of various oral storytellers.

κ. Tragedy. The Greeks were not the first society bedevilled by foul deeds and atrocities; they were, however, the first to shout about it. The theatrical Greek tragedy began with the dithyramb, a choral song in honour of Dionysus, but it was Aeschylus (525-456 BC) who developed the form from one actor to two. Sophocles (496-406 BC) added a third player and scripted the Theban plays that tells the story of Oedipus who murdered his father, married his mother, and went on to became the first soap opera star.

“So again we have learned something, instead of making a cheap joke about the Greek civilisation upon which everything around us depends, from electricity to clothes to democracy and logic and philosophy and everything we take for granted and is so dear to us.”

– Stephen Fry

Amazing Animal Facts (v)

Sea Cucumber
Sea cucumbers, close relatives of the starfish, are the oceans’ binmen – they process more than 90 per cent of all the dead plant and animal material that settles on the sea floor. Their bodies are made from a connective tissue called “catch collagen”, which gives them an almost miraculous ability to change from solid to fluid in order to escape predators.

Some species can blow themselves up to the size of a football. Others expel water to make themselves look like pebbles. The ultimate cucumber party trick is to blow their guts out of their bottom and flood the water around with a toxic soup. Known as a “cuke nuke”, it can wipe out all the fish in a small aquarium, as well as the cucumber itself.

Spiders’ silk is five times stronger than steel and 30 times more stretchy than nylon. An average spider will spin more than four miles of silk in a lifetime and this can be collected and woven into garments.

However, the spiders’ predatory nature makes them tricky to farm: put 10,000 spiders in a sealed room and you will eventually end up with a single enormously fat spider. (Despite their reputation, female black widows only eat one in ten of their mates, although they can get through twenty five partners in one day.)

Tardigrades are plump, microscopic creatures that fall somewhere between worms and insects. Also known as water bears or moss piglets, they are the toughest animals on the planet. If their water supply dries out, they dry out, too. All life processes come to a complete stop and they become totally inert.

In this “dead” state, tardigrades are practically indestructible: they have been frozen to within a degree of absolute zero (-272°C) and heated to temperatures of 151°C. They have been immersed in chemicals and squeezed by pressures six times greater than those at the bottom of the ocean: but, like living granules of instant coffee, with one drop of water they come back to life – even a century later.

When walruses find a clam, they hold it firm in their lips, create a vacuum around it and use their tongue like a piston to extract the soft tissue. As a special treat, they hoover up seagulls from underneath or suck the brains of seal pups out through their nostrils. Walruses have a sucking power three times stronger than the average Dyson vacuum cleaner, which explains why their stomachs are full of small pebbles.

The Asian giant hornets of Japan, also known as the Yak Killer, are the super-predators of the wasp family. They are enormous – like flying thumbs, with a quarter-inch sting. Their venom is strong enough to dissolve human tissue and they kill more than 50 people a year. But the Japanese get their own back in style: they serve the larvae raw as hornet sashimi and deep-fry the adults, which are reputed to taste like sweet prawns.

See other: Amazing Animal Facts

On The Demand Of Truth

“Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down. down. Amen! If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.”

– Dan Barker

28/v mmxiv

The Earth weighs about 6 million, billion, billion kilograms.

In Ancient Greece, blackberries were prescribed as an antidote for piles.

Bringing Up Baby in 1938 was the first film to use the word gay to mean homosexual. Cary Grant, in one scene, ended up having to wear a lady’s feathery robe. When another character asks about why he is wearing that, he responds an ad-libbed line “Because I just went gay”. At the time, mainstream audiences didn’t get the reference so the line was thought popularly to have meant something to the effect of “I just decided to be carefree.”

There is evidence to suggest that fleas mate for life.

Two of the English language’s foremost men of letters were not exactly extensive novelists: Oscar Wilde wrote one novel in his lifetime (The Picture of Dorian Gray), William Shakespeare did not write any.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

War on the Pthirus Pubis

The species Pthirus Pubis or crab louse, also known as the pubic louse, is an insect that is an obligate ectoparasite of humans. It mainly feeds on blood and is typically found in pubic hair, but may also live on other areas with coarse hair, including the eyelashes. – “When a man and a woman love each other very much.” Interestingly, and perhaps disturbingly, a closely related species, Pthirus Gorillae, infects gorilla populations. The species passed to humans 3.3 million years ago.

Lately, the Pthirus Pubis is going through a bad time; its natural habitat seems to be diminishing. Having said that, waxing the pubic area is actually not a new trend.

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” – Coco Chanel

In certain Middle Eastern societies, the removal of body hair was considered proper hygiene. There’s even evidence that total body hair removal dates back as far as 4,000 to 3,000 BCE in some cultures.

In the United States, body hair removal did not really kick into gear until the 1940s, when bathing suits started getting teeny-weeny. It was then that the hair removal along the bikini line became a concern, because, as we all know, lack of hair tends to be equated with femininity. Despite the bikini line receding, full bushes tended to remain intact underneath.

By the time 1972’s iconic porn film Deep Throat came out, women still tended to be as hairy as men between their legs. But just two years later, there was a new look on the scene – at least in the world of pornography. The first so-called pink shot of an entirely pubic hair-free woman appeared in Hustler in 1974. Between 1985 and 2010, the amount of Playboy Playmates with pubic hair has steadily declined to zero.

What soon followed was a virtual industry of hairless vulvas. Perhaps trying to appeal to many men’s fantasy worlds, women outside of the porn industry started waxing their nether regions in droves. By 1987, thanks to seven sisters from Brazil who opened a lady’s salon in New York City, a full-fledged trend was born.

Hoi Polloi

In Ancient Greek, hoi polloi means ‘the many’, or ‘the majority’. In English, it means the masses or common people in a derogatory sense.

“When red-headed people are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.” – Mark Twain

In the Ancient World however, it was not a derogatory term. It was used by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War. The term was used to praise the Athenian democracy, contrasting it with hoi oligoi, meaning ‘the few’; from which we get the word oligarchy.

Hoi polloi is sometimes used incorrectly to mean ‘upper class’, i.e. the exact opposite of its normal meaning. It seems likely that the confusion arose by association with the similar-sounding but otherwise unrelated word hoity-toity.

Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism

One evening in Paris in 1879, The Stomach Club, a society of American writers and artists, gathered to drink well, to eat a good dinner and hear an address by Mark Twain. He was among friends and, according to the custom of the club, he delivered a humorous talk on a subject hardly ever mentioned in public in that day and age. After the meeting, he preserved the manuscript among his papers. It was finally printed in a pamphlet limited to 50 copies 64 years later.

‘My gifted predecessor has warned you against the “social evil–adultery.” In his able paper he exhausted that subject; he left absolutely nothing more to be said on it. But I will continue his good work in the cause of morality by cautioning you against that species of recreation called self-abuse to which I perceive you are much addicted. All great writers on health and morals, both ancient and modern, have struggled with this stately subject; this shows its dignity and importance. Some of these writers have taken one side, some the other.

Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with fine enthusiasm, “Give me masturbation or give me death.” Caesar, in his Commentaries, says, “To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor. They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion.” In another place this experienced observer has said, “There are times when I prefer it to sodomy.”

Robinson Crusoe says, “I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art.” Queen Elizabeth said, “It is the bulwark of virginity.” Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, “A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The immortal Franklin has said, “Masturbation is the best policy.”

Michelangelo and all of the other old masters–“old masters,” I will remark, is an abbreviation, a contraction–have used similar language. Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, “Self-negation is noble, self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with self-abuse.” Mr. Brown, here, in one of his latest and most graceful poems, refers to it in an eloquent line which is destined to live to the end of time–“None knows it but to love it; none name it but to praise.”

Such are the utterances of the most illustrious of the masters of this renowned science, and apologists for it. The name of those who decry it and oppose it is legion; they have made strong arguments and uttered bitter speeches against it–but there is not room to repeat them here in much detail. Brigham Young, an expert of incontestable authority, said, “As compared with the other thing, it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Solomon said, “There is nothing to recommend it but its cheapness.” Galen said, “It is shameful to degrade to such bestial uses that grand limb, that formidable member, which we votaries of Science dub the Major Maxillary–when they dub it at all–which is seldom,  It would be better to amputate the os frontis than to put it to such use.”

The great statistician Smith, in his report to Parliament, says, “In my opinion, more children have been wasted in this way than any other.” It cannot be denied that the high antiquity of this art entitles it to our respect; but at the same time, I think its harmfulness demands our condemnation. Mr. Darwin was grieved to feel obliged to give up his theory that the monkey was the connecting link between man and the lower animals. I think he was too hasty. The monkey is the only animal, except man, that practices this science; hence, he is our brother; there is a bond of sympathy and relationship between us. Give this ingenuous animal an audience of the proper kind and he will straightway put aside his other affairs and take a whet; and you will see by his contortions and his ecstatic expression that he takes an intelligent and human interest in his performance.

The signs of excessive indulgence in this destructive pastime are easily detectable. They are these: a disposition to eat, to drink, to smoke, to meet together convivially, to laugh, to joke and tell indelicate stories–and mainly, a yearning to paint pictures. The results of the habit are: loss of memory, loss of virility, loss of cheerfulness and loss of progeny.

Of all the various kinds of sexual intercourse, this has the least to recommend it. As an amusement, it is too fleeting; as an occupation, it is too wearing; as a public exhibition, there is no money in it. It is unsuited to the drawing room, and in the most cultured society it has long been banished from the social board. It has at last, in our day of progress and improvement, been degraded to brotherhood with flatulence. Among the best bred, these two arts are now indulged in only private–though by consent of the whole company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in good society, to remove the embargo on the fundamental sigh.

My illustrious predecessor has taught you that all forms of the “social evil” are bad. I would teach you that some of these forms are more to be avoided than others. So, in concluding, I say, “If you must gamble your lives sexually, don’t play a lone hand too much.” When you feel a revolutionary uprising in your system, get your Vendome Column down some other way–don’t jerk it down.’