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

On Freedom from Pain


Chorus of Theban Elders: ‘Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no one happy who is of mortal race, until he hath crossed life’s border, free from pain.’

– Sophocles, Oedipus Rex


Taken from Oedipus the King, lines 1529-1530; as published in The Tragedies of Sophocles (1917), translated by Richard Claverhouse Jebb.

Conversations: Dogmas Run Amok


Galene
I once heard someone say that Stalin was an atheist. They did not say much else, but I understood their statement to be critical of atheism, suggesting there must be some relation between atheism and totalitarian cruelties.

Sappho
This is a silly stab at trying to reach some sort of moral high ground; it is commonly employed by the more orthodox and fundamentalist theist.

Helena
Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have either embraced a religion, or rejected all existing religions and replaced it with a new one; the problem with totalitarian regimes is they behave too much like religions – they embrace utterly dogmatic systems of thought to validate the regime’s claim to power.

Galene
That seems a little strong. Continue reading

Lesbianism in Victorian England


In Victorian England, terms such as lesbian and sapphic came into use for female relationships. For some time, the Victorians never seemed to consider criminalising female homosexuality.

Apocryphally, these were also due to be criminalised in the 1885 legislation know as the Labouchere Amendment, until Queen Victoria declared them impossible, whereupon the clause was omitted – a joke that serves to underline a common, and commonly welcomed, ignorance, at a time when lurid, fictionalised lesbianism was often figured as an especially repulsive and seductive French vice.

“The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.” – Rachel Maddow

One of the first people to break the amendment was Oscar Wilde. The judge sentenced him to two years hard labour, although he wished he could punish him even more saying that, “this is the worst case I have ever tried.” A week earlier, the same judge tried a case of child murder.

Cannabis Myth?


“George Washington smoked cannabis.”


Ruling:
False. As far as we know, he farmed hemp for economical purposes.

Analysis:
Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp at their farms. In Virginia, hemp was promoted at the time as an alternative cash crop to tobacco, since it did not deplete the soil as much. Hemp was also useful for rope, paper, and clothing. Now, even though there was no social stigma attached to smoking pot at the time, there is no evidence to suggest Washington also smoked the plant. Having said that, Thomas Jefferson did at some point trade hemp seeds with another farmer in Missouri, which by many modern standards would qualify him as a dealer.

See other: Mythconceptions?

A Nuanced Look at Prostitution in Ancient Greece


In ancient times, the Greek port Corinth was famous for its sacred prostitutes.

After landing at the Corinthian docks, sailors would apparently wheeze up the thousand-odd steps to the top of a stunning crag of rock called the Acrocorinth, which offered 360-degree vistas of the sparkling Mediterranean. There they would pass beneath the marble columns of the Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of Beauty and Love, within whose incense-filled, candlelit confines 1,000 comely girls supposedly worked around the clock gathering funds for their deity.

Since the Renaissance, this idea had gripped antiquarians, who liked to imagine that congress with one of Aphrodite’s servants offered a mystical union with the goddess herself — uninhibited pagans coupling in ecstasy before her statue in the perpetual twilight of the temple.

In fact, this lusty vision of Corinth was created entirely from a three-line report by the Greek geographer Strabo, who writes around 20 CE:

The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess. And because of them, the city used to be jam-packed and became wealthy. The ship-captains would spend fortunes there, and so the proverb says: “The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man.”

Having said that, modern historians have found that the image of a pagan free-for-all needs some serious qualification. Continue reading

Primaries and Caucuses


In the United States presidential elections, a primary is a statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates; a caucus is a system of local gatherings where voters decide which candidate to support. Both systems culminate in the selection of delegates who will vote on behalf of the electorate at a party’s national convention.

On closer inspection, the system is incredibly convoluted and even undemocratic. Consider the following news report:

“We’re putting up right now a graphic Bernie Sanders wins 56 to 44 percent in Wyoming the delegates rewarded Hillary Clinton 11 Bernie Sanders 7. Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths? This system is so rigged!” – MSNBC

And it is not just the Democrats, when Donald Trump won Louisiana beating Ted Cruz by more than 3 percent he was upset to discover Ted Cruz could potentially get as many as 10 more delegates or as he put it:

“I end up winning in Louisiana, and then when everything is done I find out I get less delegates and this guy that got his ass kicked, OK. Give me a break!” – Donald Trump

There is no clearer piece of evidence that this system is broken than when Donald Trump is actually making sense. Confronted with results like these, the process appears counter-intuitive. Continue reading

Conversations: Eradicating Religion


Helena
I would argue that one of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.

Sappho
Absolutely. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty! Unfortunately, it is probably true to say that nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.

Zoe
Surely, you would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good? Continue reading