How the Greeks Knew the Earth was a Sphere


‘As long ago as 340 BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle, in his book On the Heavens,
was able to put forward two good arguments for believing that the earth was a round sphere rather than a Hat plate. First, he realized that eclipses of the moon were caused by the earth coming between the sun and the moon. The earth’s shadow on the moon was always round, which would be true only if the earth was spherical. If the earth had been a flat disk, the shadow would have been elongated and elliptical, unless the eclipse always occurred at a time when the sun was directly under the center of the disk. Second, the Greeks knew from their travels that the North Star appeared lower in the sky when viewed in the south than it did in more northerly regions. (Since the North Star lies over the North Pole, it appears to be directly above an observer at the North Pole, but to someone looking from the equator, it appears to lie just at the horizon. From the difference in the apparent position of the North Star in Egypt and Greece, Aristotle even quoted an estimate that the distance around the earth was 400,000 stadia. It is not known exactly what length a stadium was, but it may have been about 200 yards, which would make Aristotle’s estimate about twice the currently accepted figure. The Greeks even had a third argument that the earth must be round, for why else does one first see the sails of a ship coming over the horizon, and only later see the hull?’

– Hawking. S. (1998) A Brief History of Time New York, United States: Bantam Books p. 2

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Catharsis


‘Using his ideas about the fictional status of art, Aristotle made a particular study of the emotions aroused by tragic drama. This formed the basis for his theory of “catharsis”. Aristotle perceived how tragic drama draws on the audience’s feeling of pity and fear – it was common for Athenian spectators to weep openly at stage performances.

[Aristotle]
“These feelings are aroused particularly when the hero suffers a significant reversal of fortunes such as when Oedipus, in Sophocles’ drama Oedipus Rex, discovers that Jocasta, his wife, is in fact his mother. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the messenger who reveals Oedipus’ true identity initially came to deliver joyous news.”

Catharsis is the feeling of sympathy aroused in the audience for Oedipus in this tragic moment of reversal. Aristotle argued that the fictional status of the play creates a sense of distance between the spectator and the tragic hero, and that because of this it is possible to enjoy tragedy and take aesthetic pleasure in it.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 21-22

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In New Zealand, snakes of any kind are illegal.

Aristotle defined space by the things inside it according to his theories, if one were to remove the things then the space would no longer exist.

The word unfriend first appeared in print in 1659.

The Norwegian Armed Forces have unisex dormitories, ‘meatless Mondays’, and allow male soldiers to sport ponytails.

A male rhinoceros beetle can lift 850 times its own body weight.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Philia


Philia is a shared experience. The love we feel for people with whom share our innermost feelings and dreams, or with whom we strive with to achieve a shared goal. Philia

Philia is what the Greeks called friendship, and they valued it far more than the base sexuality of Eros. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.

Aristotle takes philia to be both necessary as a means to happiness. He argues that to be a wholly virtuous and fulfilled person necessarily involves having others for whom one is concerned; without them, one’s life is incomplete – “No one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods”.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
– Elbert Hubbard

We can all ask ourselves how much of this philia we have in our lives. It’s an important question in an age when we attempt to amass “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter—achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.

See other: Kinds of Greek Love

Philautia


Philautia is self-respect. The love we give to ourselves. This is not immediately vanity, like narcissism, but our joy in being true to our own values. The strength to care for ourselves so that we can in turn care for others.Philautia

The clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. A healthier version enhanced your wider capacity to love.

“I cannot conceive of a greater loss than the loss of one’s self-respect.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (as is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or, as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”

See other: Kinds of Greek Love

Who First Made A Drama Out Of A Crisis?


In 5th Century Athens, theatre was closely connected to the cult of Dionysus, in whose theatre on the southern slopes of the Acropolis tragedies and comedies were staged at an annual festival.

But the origin of theatre is a much-debated issue. One tradition tells of the actor Thespis (hence the word ‘Thespian’) standing on a cart and playing a dramatic role for the first time around 532BC; another claims that drama began with ritual choruses and gradually introduced actors’ parts.

Aristotle (384-322BC) supposed that the choruses of tragedy were originally ritual songs (dithyrambs) sung and danced in Dionysus’ honour, while comedy emerged out of ribald performances involving model phalluses.

As a god associated with shifting roles and appearances, Dionysus seems an apt choice of god to give rise to drama. But from the earliest extant tragedy, Aeschylus’ Persians of 472BC, few surviving tragedies have anything to do with Dionysus.

Comic drama was largely devoted to making fun of contemporary figures – including in several plays (most famously in Aristophanes’ Clouds) the philosopher Socrates.

See other: Which Greek Legends Were Really True?

A Philosophers’ Guide To Art


What did the world’s foremost western philosophers think about art?

Plato (428-348) Beauty as an ideal

What matters is a higher, perfect beauty; a harmony which we do not immediately appear to see. If you want to see a copy of reality, you might as well buy a mirror. We should strive to look for something of a higher nature instead of repeating the things we see.

Aristotle (384-322) Art as an organic unity

Works of art are an organic unity. The work is whole. It is, beginning, middle and ending, in itself complete. Works of art are artistic; that is to say, they express a perceivable harmony. Its elements are organised, and none of its parts can be replaced or removed without it losing its value.

Kant (1724-1804) Pointless purpose

It is important that art conveys a sense of order and harmony. Everything seems to be finely tuned. The internal coherence of the work of art is immensely close nit and complex, as if it was designed to serve a certain purpose. Like the parts of an organism are dependent upon the organism’s will to further exist. The work of art, however, possesses this strong coherence without any purpose whatsoever.

When the work of art has been created, we can see that it is good, but we could not have thought of any parameters or rules of design beforehand. The relations within the composition are only purposeful within itself and create a formal unity of universal beauty in which everything is carefully coordinated.

Hegel (1770-1831) Development of the self by means of estrangement of the self

Art is an absolute necessity. We learn about ourselves by means of the work of art. The artist is irrelevant; however, we can learn from the image which he provides. In doing so, that is, by expressing ourselves through a certain material, we learn more about ourselves. Consequently, the world becomes less and less peculiar.

Schopenhauer (1788-1860) Art as a haven in this heartless world

The work of art is a harmonious and selfless entity, and is heavily contrasted with the reality of human life. Happiness is unthinkable. The work of art is an escape from the chaos of everyday life. The acceptance of this is an ideal and the form it takes is art. In aesthetic bliss we can experience how joyful life should be; because when we behold and enjoy beauty, our soul is calmed and comforted. The work of art releases us from the world in which we live – art stops the wheels of time, she always achieves her purpose.

Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Art as an escape from life

Art reconciles us with life; however, this reconciliation is not perfect. When one gazes at art, one does not gaze at reality. We are allowed to have a haven, but we are not allowed to shy away from living. When one purposefully elevates one’s life, life becomes a work of art. And when life is beautiful, ethics and aesthetics become one. The work of art pleases us in a moment of elation – it makes life seem shorter.

Nietzsche (1844-1900) Life as work of art

Art is for art’s sake, that is, art justifies itself and has the quality of dispensing with a purpose – moral or rational – since only through the aesthetic production can the world be justified.

Art may well be said to be the bridge between Man and the superhuman, the übermensch, the bridge to perfection and eternity. Through art, Man transcends the confines of his own ego and secures oneness with the universe. Clearly, it is established: the role of art as means of self-transcendence.

Wittgenstein (1889-1951) The unsayable and the image

Art is intransitive. Aesthetics cannot be enunciated in a clear linguistic form. The work of art does not tell us anything and requires no further explanation; however, it shows the unsayable, and provides the right perspective.

Heidegger (1889-1976) The disclosure of the concealedness

Art has its place within the idea of the world and reality. Art concerns itself with truth and we should look for what it can show us. This disclosure in the face of concealedness is not a state but an event, it is something that happens. Disclosure also means that focus shifts. And since reality is not a total presence, reality is always more, the work of art shows us concealedness as concealedness.

“How does a body, a nonmental object, come to ‘embody’ or ‘express,’ for our aesthetic imagination, values which it does not literally contain? Why should colours and shapes and patterns, sounds and harmonies and rhythms, come to mean so very much more that they are?”

– Louis Arnauld Reid

Galilean Relativity


  1. A person on a moving ship drops a rock. They see it fall straight down to land at their feet.
  2. Someone on shore sees the rock continue to move horizontally as it falls, and says the trajectory is parabolic.
  3. Another observer on another ship sees it move horizontally with a different speed and sees a different parabola.
  4. They all see it land at the same time. Galileo concluded that the horizontal motion cannot influence the vertical motion, and that what takes place on the ship is independent of the ship’s motion.
  5. Galileo argued this applies to all physical and biological processes.
  6. The same principle applies to what takes place on a moving Earth.

Galileo thought about the question of a moving Earth. If the Earth moves, why do we not notice this motion, as Aristotle claimed we would. Here is the thought experiment he carried out in answer to this puzzle:

A person on a ship drops a rock. To that person its trajectory is a straight line. An observer on shore sees the trajectory as a parabola. Someone on another ship sees yet a different parabola. All of them are making valid observations. They all see it land at the same time.

Galileo concluded that the vertical motion of the rock must in principle be independent of its horizontal motion. Furthermore he concluded that everything that happens on board the ship must be independent of its motion. He argued that whatever you take with you on the ship, insects, fish, physics experiments, etc will be unable to detect the horizontal motion of the ship. He was assuming, of course, that this motion is perfectly uniform and smooth.

This is called the Galilean principle of relativity and explains immediately why we do not sense the motion of the Earth about the Sun.