In 1900, a boat carrying sponge divers encountered a storm and took refuge on the island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea. While they were diving off the island’s coast, they discovered a 2,000-year-old shipwreck, believed to be a Greek ship that had sunk in around 60 or 70 BC.
The divers brought up jewelry, pottery, coins, and statues made of bronze and marble. Another artifact brought up was a lump of eighty-two pieces of a corroded bronze device.
The artifacts were taken to the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens for cleaning and analysis, but the bronze artifact was too delicate to be studied by hand. It wasn’t until 1951 that Derek J. de Solla Price, a physicist, and professor at Yale University, took notice of the artifact and began to study it. He employed the most advanced technology for the time, the X-ray machine, to discover its origin and purpose, but still had no answers.
Price and Greek nuclear physicist, Charalampos Karakalos, performed X-ray and gamma-ray tests and in 1974, they published a paper that listed the gear settings and inscriptions on the face of the mechanism. They believed it had been manufactured in around 87 BC, which correlates with the dates of the coins found, and that it may have come from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon. Researchers initially thought it was an astronomical clock, but others thought that would have been far too sophisticated for the time.
The pieces were made from a low-tin bronze alloy, and because the writing on the artifact is in Koine Greek, it may be safe to assume that the device was made in Greece. Why it was on a cargo ship is unknown, but because researchers believe the cargo was on its way to Rome, it may have been part of booty from the Greek islands.
The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, which began in 2005, is an international association of researchers, backed by the National Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Athens, where the device now resides. Technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard from the United States and X-Tek Systems from the UK, assisted the project using advanced digital imaging, 3D technology, and a powerful microscopic X-ray device. Originally designed to search for minute cracks in turbine blades, this machine allowed researchers to decipher the minute details of the writing and gears.
The Antikythera Mechanism has earned the nickname “the first computer” because researchers found it was designed for the study of astronomical phenomena, using a mechanical, computer-like system that shows the cycles of the solar system. The construction exhibited the incorporation of standard theories of astronomy and mathematics at the time.
Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University led a 2006 study of the mechanism. He stated that the device was “just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind”. He said that its astronomy was “exactly right” and that it was “more valuable than the Mona Lisa”. Christian Carman and James Evans spent several years comparing the mechanism with the Babylonian records of eclipses. Using a process of elimination, they determined that the date at which the machine was set to begin, was 205 BC.
The dial has a fixed ring on the front representing the ecliptic, with the twelve zodiac signs marked in equal thirty-degree sectors. This followed the Babylonian custom of assigning one-twelfth of the ecliptic to each zodiac sign, rather than accounting for the variables of the constellation boundaries. On the outside of the first dial is a movable ring that indicates the months and days of the Sothic Egyptian calendar – 12 months of 30 days, plus five extra days distributed throughout the year.
To work the mechanism, a person had to turn a small hand crank into the largest gear, which was linked to a crown gear that moved the date pointer on the front dial to set the correct Egyptian day. The year is unable to be set, so the current year must be known by looking up the cycles shown by various indicators from the Babylonian almanac tables for that day.
In a full rotation, the crank moves the date pointer about 78 days; an additional pointer tracks the spiral cuts in the metal. The dials had four and five full rotations of the pointers; when the pointer reached the final month at either end of the spiral, the second pointer had to be moved by hand to the other end. Turning the hand crank would also cause the interlocked gears inside the mechanism to rotate, causing simultaneous calculations of the position of the sun and moon, the moon phase, eclipse, and calendar cycles.
Articles, videos, and books continue to be produced by the Antikythera mechanism. As research progresses, and with the advent of 3-D printing, perhaps science can look forward to a working model of the device someday in the future.
Hello! Handshake, high five, fist bump. These ways of greeting a friend or new acquaintance seem so natural and unremarkable now, but how did these gestures originate in the first place?
The handshake dates back the farthest. Archaeological relics suggest that handshakes were practiced in ancient Greece in the 5th century B.C. It was a symbol of peace, showing that you were not carrying a weapon. In Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, the most-visited in Germany, a 5th-century funereal relic shows two soldiers shaking hands. At the Acropolis, in Athens, Greece, a 5th-century stone slab depicts Hera and Athena shaking hands.
The Greek poet Homer describes handshaking several times as displays of trust in his epics TheOdyssey and The Iliad. During the Roman era, the handshake evolved to more of an arm grab. Knights in Medieval Europe may have added the shaking of hands up and down as a clever way to dislodge any hidden weapons.
Some historians suggest that modern-day handshaking became popularized by 17th century Quakers, who believed the gesture to be more egalitarian than a hat tip or a bow, according to History.com. In some 17th century marriage portraits, the husband and wife are seen shaking hands as a symbol of their legally binding commitment. By the Victorian era, etiquette guides instructed that the handshake should be firm. While most English-first and Scandinavian countries prefer a firm handshake, in some countries too firm a grip is considered rude and aggressive. Some Asian countries prefer a more gentle touch.
In contrast with the ancient ritual of handshaking, the origins of the high five date back only to last century. And slapping five actually started not up high but down low. The low five has been a fixture of the African American culture since the Jazz Age, as a response to “slap me some skin.” In the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer, Al Jolson slaps low fives to celebrate a Broadway audition.
There’s even a National High Five Day, #NH5D, launched by the University of Virigina to promote youth health and just generally spread good cheer. National High Five Day occurs on the third Thursday of April (coming on the 19th this year). The founders of that day concocted a back story of the high-five’s origin that briefly gained traction on the internet: That a basketball player named Lamont Sleets Jr. had seen his father, Lamont Senior, slapping palms with five veteran brothers from the Vietnam War. And that Junior had incorporated the high five into games as a homage to his father. It was pure fiction, as an ESPN magazine reporter found out when he tracked down Lamont Jr. in 2011. Oh.
In fact, it was Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who did an impromptu high-five in front of fans in a game against the Houston Astros in October 1977. Burke held up his hand to greet teammate Dusty Baker, who was rounding the bases off his 30th home run. The Dogders were the first team to have four players with 30 home runs.
“His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” Baker told ESPN. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.” Burke then stepped to the plate and hit his first home in the major league, and Baker high-fived him. The high five became a thing with the L.A. Dodgers and soon sports at large.
The fist bump is the most modern invention. Like the high five, it has its origins in sports. Some trace it to the boxing ring, where opponents touch gloves before a match. Others point to basketball. In the 1970s, star Fred Campbell of the Baltimore Bullets popularized the gesture by giving it his own exuberant flair.
In 2008, Barack Obama brought the fist bump to political headlines when he bumped his wife, Michelle, after his nomination, prompting detractors to denounce it as a “terrorist fist jab.” (Barack Obama was notably passionate about basketball.) The Washington Post called it “the fist bump heard ’round the world.”
The Canadians were quick to embrace the fist bump, or “pound,” as a healthy alternative to germ-spreading handshake, especially during flu season. “It’s a nice replacement of the handshake because you can’t just refuse to shake someone’s hand. It’s rude and seems almost un-Canadian,” Tom Feasby, the dean of medicine at the University of Calgary, told the CBC News in 2009.
Whatever you choose—handshake, high five, fist bump—works just as well for departures, too. Goodbye!
E.L. Hamilton has written about pop culture for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. She lives in central New Jersey, just west of New York City
In the summer of 536, a strange cloud appeared in the skies over much of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Sometimes referred to as “a veil of dust,” something plunged the Mediterranean region and many other areas of the world into gloomy years of cold and darkness.
This foreboding change was recorded by the Byzantine historian Procopius. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” Procopius also wrote of disease and war resulting from the blocking of the sun’s light.
A Syrian scribe described the change as “…the sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while ocean was tumultuous with spray.” Gaelic Irish records describe a “failure of bread” in the year 536.
For many years, historians and scientists have wondered what may have caused Procopius and others to record notable differences in weather. Modern research has provided some interesting theories.
Much of the rest of the world seems to have been impacted by the cloud as well, at least in the northern hemisphere. Studies of tree rings between 536 and 551 show less tree growth in China, Europe, and North America. Less solar radiation reaching the earth resulted in lower temperatures and abnormal weather patterns. The results for humans included lower food production output, famine, as well as increased social and political disruption.
There were specific events recorded that were likely related to the ominous cloud. A deadly pandemic swept through the Byzantine Empire in 541-542, that became known as the Justinian Plague. Estimates are that up to a third of the population perished during the outbreak. Procopius described some of the horrible symptoms as fever and swelling all over the body.
In 536 China, there was famine and drought with many deaths, as well as reports of “yellow dust that rained down like snow.” At the same time, Korea faced massive storms and flooding. Unusually heavy snowfalls were noted in Mesopotamia.
Scandinavia seems to have been particularly hard hit. Archaeological evidence indicates that almost 75 percent of villages in parts of Sweden were abandoned in these years. One theory is that this displacement of people was a catalyst for later raids by Vikings seeking more fertile land in other parts of Europe and beyond. A Norse poem of the time reads, “The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. Down from heaven, stars are whirled.”
The severe weather may have impacted other historical trends. Among them is the migration of Mongolian tribes westward, the fall of the Persian Sassanid Empire, and the rise and rapid expansion of Islam.
Some historians mark these specific changes in weather patterns as contributing to the historic transition from antiquity to the beginning of the era of the Dark and Middle Ages. It certainly emphasizes the impact rapid climate change may have had on human populations.
What could have caused such a sudden and dramatic change in weather? Experts are divided, and we may never know the whole answer. One theory is that the climate around the world changed based on one giant volcanic eruption, possibly from Central America. This could have resulted in a layer of ash and dust covering the skies of much of the planet.
Another suggestion is that there were two large volcano blasts within a couple of years of each other, specifically in 536 and 540, causing darkness and cold around most of the world. Clouds of smoke and debris from massive volcanic fires could have spread rapidly.
Evidence of volcanic eruptions was backed up by material found in both the North and South Poles. In both Antarctica and Greenland, sulfate deposits have been discovered dating back to the mid-6th century.
A third theory contemplates the impact of a comet or meteorite crashing into the Earth. Or the possibility of a near miss from a comet passing by that could have left thick dust clouds of particles in the atmosphere. Experts generally think this explanation is less plausible than that of volcanic eruptions.
Whatever the cause, people living at the time noticed and recorded a rapid change in nature. Human populations around the earth were disrupted and to many it would have felt like the world were coming to an end.
Plato (c. 428–c. 348 BCE) and Aristotle (384–322 BCE) are generally regarded as the two greatest figures of Western philosophy. For some 20 years Aristotle was Plato’s student and colleague at the Academy in Athens, an institution for philosophical, scientific, and mathematical research and teaching founded by Plato in the 380s. Although Aristotle revered his teacher, his philosophy eventually departed from Plato’s in important respects. Aristotle also investigated areas of philosophy and fields of science that Plato did not seriously consider. According to a conventional view, Plato’s philosophy is abstract and utopian, whereas Aristotle’s is empirical, practical, and commonsensical. Such contrasts are famously suggested in the fresco School of Athens (1510–11) by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, which depicts Plato and Aristotle together in conversation, surrounded by philosophers, scientists, and artists of earlier and later ages. Plato, holding a copy of his dialogue Timeo (Timaeus), points upward to the heavens; Aristotle, holding his Etica (Ethics), points outward to the world.
Although this view is generally accurate, it is not very illuminating, and it obscures what Plato and Aristotle have in common and the continuities between them, suggesting wrongly that their philosophies are polar opposites.
So how exactly does Plato’s philosophy differ from Aristotle’s? Here are three main differences.
Forms. The most fundamental difference between Plato and Aristotle concerns their theories of forms. (When used to refer to forms as Plato conceived them, the term “Form” is conventionally capitalized, as are the names of individual Platonic Forms. The term is lowercased when used to refer to forms as Aristotle conceived them.) For Plato, the Forms are perfect exemplars, or ideal types, of the properties and kinds that are found in the world. Corresponding to every such property or kind is a Form that is its perfect exemplar or ideal type. Thus the properties “beautiful” and “black” correspond to the Forms the Beautiful and the Black; the kinds “horse” and “triangle” correspond to the Forms the Horse and the Triangle; and so on.
A thing has the properties it has, or belongs to the kind it belongs to, because it “participates” in the Forms that correspond to those properties or kinds. A thing is a beautiful black horse because it participates in the Beautiful, the Black, and the Horse; a thing is a large red triangle because it participates in the Large, the Red, and the Triangle; a person is courageous and generous because he or she participates in the Forms of Courage and Generosity; and so on.
For Plato, Forms are abstract objects, existing completely outside space and time. Thus they are knowable only through the mind, not through sense experience. Moreover, because they are changeless, the Forms possess a higher degree of reality than do things in the world, which are changeable and always coming into or going out of existence. The task of philosophy, for Plato, is to discover through reason (“dialectic”) the nature of the Forms, the only true reality, and their interrelations, culminating in an understanding of the most fundamental Form, the Good or the One.
Aristotle rejected Plato’s theory of Forms but not the notion of form itself. For Aristotle, forms do not exist independently of things—every form is the form of some thing. A “substantial” form is a kind that is attributed to a thing, without which that thing would be of a different kind or would cease to exist altogether. “Black Beauty is a horse” attributes a substantial form, horse, to a certain thing, the animal Black Beauty, and without that form Black Beauty would not exist. Unlike substantial forms, “accidental” forms may be lost or gained by a thing without changing its essential nature. “Black Beauty is black” attributes an accidental form, blackness, to a certain animal, who could change color (someone might paint him) without ceasing to be himself.
Substantial and accidental forms are not created, but neither are they eternal. They are introduced into a thing when it is made, or they may be acquired later, as in the case of some accidental forms.
Ethics. For both Plato and Aristotle, as for most ancient ethicists, the central problem of ethics was the achievement of happiness. By “happiness” (the usual English translation of the Greek term eudaimonia), they did not mean a pleasant state of mind but rather a good human life, or a life of human flourishing. The means by which happiness was acquired was through virtue. Thus ancient ethicists typically addressed themselves to three related questions: (1) What does a good or flourishing human life consist of?, (2) What virtues are necessary to achieve it?, and (3) How does one acquire those virtues?
Plato’s early dialogues encompass explorations of the nature of various conventional virtues, such as courage, piety, and temperance, as well as more general questions, such as whether virtue can be taught. Socrates (Plato’s teacher) is portrayed in conversation with presumed experts and the occasional celebrity; invariably, Socrates exposes their definitions as inadequate. Although Socrates does not offer his own definitions, claiming to be ignorant, he suggests that virtue is a kind of knowledge, and that virtuous action (or the desire to act virtuously) follows necessarily from having such knowledge—a view held by the historical Socrates, according to Aristotle.
In Plato’s later dialogue Republic, which is understood to convey his own views, the character Socrates develops a theory of “justice” as a condition of the soul. As described in that work, the just or completely virtuous person is the one whose soul is in harmony, because each of its three parts—Reason, Spirit, and Appetite—desires what is good and proper for it and acts within proper limits. In particular, Reason understands and desires the good of the individual (the human good) and the Good in general. Such understanding of the Form of the Good, however, can be acquired only through years of training in dialectic and other disciplines, an educational program that the Republic also describes. Ultimately, only philosophers can be completely virtuous.
Characteristically, for Aristotle, happiness is not merely a condition of the soul but a kind of right activity. The good human life, he held, must consist primarily of whatever activity is characteristically human, and that is reasoning. The good life is therefore the rational activity of the soul, as guided by the virtues. Aristotle recognized both intellectual virtues, chiefly wisdom and understanding, and practical or moral virtues, including courage and temperance. The latter kinds of virtue typically can be conceived as a mean between two extremes (a temperate person avoids eating or drinking too much but also eating or drinking too little). In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle held that happiness is the practice of philosophical contemplation in a person who has cultivated all of the intellectual and moral virtues over much of a lifetime. In the Eudemian Ethics, happiness is the exercise of the moral virtues specifically in the political realm, though again the other intellectual and moral virtues are presupposed.
Politics. The account of justice presented in Plato’s Republic is not only a theory of virtue but also a theory of politics. Indeed, the character Socrates there develops a theory of political justice as a means of advancing the ethical discussion, drawing an analogy between the three parts of the soul—Reason, Spirit, and Appetite—and the three classes of an ideal state (i.e., city-state)—Rulers, Soldiers, and Producers (e.g., artisans and farmers). In the just state as in the just individual, the three parts perform the functions proper to them and in harmony with the other parts. In particular, the Rulers understand not only the good of the state but, necessarily, the Good itself, the result of years of rigorous training to prepare them for their leadership role. Plato envisioned that the Rulers would live simply and communally, having no private property and even sharing sexual partners (notably, the rulers would include women). All children born from the Rulers and the other classes would be tested, those showing the most ability and virtue being admitted to training for rulership.
The political theory of Plato’s Republic is notorious for its assertion that only philosophers should rule and for its hostility toward democracy, or rule by the many. In the latter respect it broadly reflects the views of the historical Socrates, whose criticisms of the democracy of Athens may have played a role in his trial and execution for impiety and other crimes in 399. In one of his last works, the Laws, Plato outlined in great detail a mixed constitution incorporating elements of both monarchy and democracy. Scholars are divided over the question of whether the Laws indicates that Plato changed his mind about the value of democracy or was simply making practical concessions in light of the limitations of human nature. According to the latter view, the state of the Republic remained Plato’s ideal, or utopia, while that of the Laws represented the best that could be achieved in realistic circumstances, according to him.
In political theory, Aristotle is famous for observing that “man is a political animal,” meaning that human beings naturally form political communities. Indeed, it is impossible for human beings to thrive outside a community, and the basic purpose of communities is to promote human flourishing. Aristotle is also known for having devised a classification of forms of government and for introducing an unusual definition of democracy that was never widely accepted.
According to Aristotle, states may be classified according to the number of their rulers and the interests in which they govern. Rule by one person in the interest of all is monarchy; rule by one person in his own interest is tyranny. Rule by a minority in the interest of all is aristocracy; rule by a minority in the interest of itself is oligarchy. Rule by a majority in the interest of all is “polity”; rule by a majority in its own interest—i.e., mob rule—is “democracy.” In theory, the best form of government is monarchy, and the next best is aristocracy. However, because monarchy and aristocracy frequently devolve into tyranny and oligarchy, respectively, in practice the best form is polity.
WRITTEN BY: Brian Duignan
This is the land of the Maniots, a clannish community said to be descended from Spartans, the legendary warriors of Ancient Greece.
“Here is your lalaggi,” said Giorgos Oikonomeas, handing me a crispy dough strip deep fried in extra-virgin olive oil. He had the build of a warrior – sturdy and broad-shouldered – but his wrinkled face was warm and relaxed.
Oikonomeas grew up in the village of Neochori on the Mani Peninsula’s north-west coast and never left. He spent his life running a kafeneio (a traditional Greek coffee house); now retired, he no longer serves customers, but rather spends his mornings at the kafeneio exchanging news with friends about family and occasionally politics.
We are as Spartan as can be
As my teeth sunk into the crisp flesh of the lalaggi, the dough melting on my tongue, Oikonomeas explained that I was savouring a snack that was likely eaten thousands of years ago by Greece’s infamous soldiers. “Lelegas, the first king of Sparta, was probably the first one to manufacture it,” he told me.
“If you want to get a taste of what life would have been like in Ancient Sparta, look no further,” he said. “We are as Spartan as can be.”
After defeating Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta reached the apex of its power in the 5th Century BC. But its dominance was short-lived: in 371BC, the Spartans were defeated by soldiers from the city-state of Thebes, sparking the downfall of Sparta. But the Spartans living on the Mani peninsula, sheltered from the rest of the Peloponnese by the Taygetos mountains, held strong, defending their territory for centuries from the Thebans, and later Ottoman, Egyptian and Franc forces, among others. The Maniots as they became known were just as treacherous on the sea as they were on land, dabbling in small-time piracy and frequently travelling to other coastal nations as mercenaries. They were reputed to be so ruthless that many conquerors simply steered clear.
The region remained self-governing until the mid- to late 19th Century, when the Greek government reduced the peninsula’s autonomy. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when construction of new roads opened the peninsula to the rest of the Peloponnese, that the Maniots began to embrace newcomers.
The Maniots were reputed to be so ruthless that many conquerors simply steered clear
The Maniots’ affinity for conflict wasn’t only directed at outsiders. During its time as an autonomous region, the peninsula was governed by different families, or clans; as these clans struggled for power, violent vendettas erupted that could last for years. “If a member of another family shamed one of your own, a family roundtable was gathered to decide upon the severity of the punishment,” Oikonomeas explained. “The punishment was inflicted on the whole clan and not just the perpetrator. Such was the Maniot sense of pride.” He noted that until recently Maniots would refer to their sons as ‘guns’ and their daughters as ‘barrels with gunpowder at the foundations of their house’.
Maniots now devote their lives to more peaceful endeavours such as olive farming. The region is known for its olive oil that’s fruity and full-bodied with a luscious golden-green hue; it’s used for everything from flavouring cheese to dressing anchovies to frying lalaggi.
However, the region’s ferocious past is not forgotten. The Ancient Spartan maxim ‘ι tan i epi tas’, a phrase first uttered by Gorgo, wife of Spartan King Leonidas, before the king led the stand against invading Persian troops at the battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, can be heard on a regular basis. The saying translates to ‘with the shield or on the shield’ – a reminder that there are only two ways home from war: either carrying one’s shield as a winner, or being carried on it as a casualty. The adage is still commonly used today, both as a vote of strength and as a warning.
That’s not the only reminder. Almost anyone who was born and raised on the Mani peninsula will tell you they have Spartan blood in their veins.
“Maniots descend from Ancient Spartans, full stop,” Oikonomeas said.
At 86, Oikonomeas still remembers his mother spooning hardboiled eggs into his mouth to make him stronger, insisting that as the only boy it was up to him to continue the family legacy. And he recalls watching his aunts gather the night before a family funeral to recite mourning songs at hair-raising frequencies, a ritual mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
But there’s no hard scientific evidence proving a direct link between today’s Maniots and the Ancient Spartans. Any trace of authentic Spartan DNA long ago disappeared; all that’s left of the warriors are their legends. Some historians and anthropologists say similarities between ancient and modern rituals – like the mourning songs – are strong indicators of a relationship between Ancient Spartans and modern Maniots, but Basil C Gounaris, professor of modern history at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, disagrees.
“Natural anthropology and history are not aligned,” Gounaris said. “Living in the same natural environment obviously leads the settlers to similar choices on many issues. But this has nothing to do with the DNA of the inhabitants.”
Sunburnt crowds trickled into the kafeneio while Oikonomeas sipped his coffee, watching nonchalantly as the establishment’s new proprietor tried to keep up with the increasing number of patrons. The kafeneio is small, but its privileged position right across the street from Neochori’s main square means it’s almost always busy. About 10 square wooden tables have been squeezed into the tiny space, while the clatter of dishes and the whoosh of espresso machines ensure there’s never silence.
“I spoke with a professor who challenged your claims about an unbroken lineage from Ancient Spartans,” I told him as I wiped fried pastry crumbs from my fingers.
Unfazed, Oikonomeas passed me another lalaggi. “‘ι tan i epi tas’, you may tell him.”