The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.
Above: Statue of Athena, wearing a cape fringed with snakes, from the West Pediment of the Old Temple of Athena on the Acropolis. From Wikimedia, photo December 29, 2014 by Fcgsccac.
The anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers
September 11, 2021 marked the twentieth anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan by Middle Eastern terrorists. A total of 2,763 persons are known to have died when hijackers flew two planes into the towers, leading to their collapse. These included those working in the buildings and the firemen and other first responders attempting to save the occupants.
The Towers were a true work of living sculpture. Their construction was unique. Lacking the steel skeleton common to modern skyscrapers, the towers designed by Minoru Yamasaki were supported by an exoskeleton of steel grillwork, in order to maximize floor space on each story. The vertical edges of the buildings, instead of being squared off, were beveled, and contrasting bands one and two thirds of the way up relieved their stark verticality. Moreover, the two structures were offset from each other, so that they changed aspect when seen from various directions and at different times of day.
The World Trade Center as a sacred place
In their short life (1970-2001) the Twin Towers were iconic in every sense. The site is now called a "sacred space" because of the great loss of life, but, as I describe in an essay written at the time, The World Trade Center as a sacred place, the place was always sacred. Lower Manhattan was the sacred land of the Lenape Indians, who made their community and buried their dead there. The Towers, reaching for the sky like a giant tuning fork, were a symbol of aspiration known all over the world, greeting the immigrant like the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of New York and of American possibility. The terrorists knew this. The site is not sacred because it and its inhabitants were destroyed, it was destroyed because it was sacred.
This month's Quotation of the Month describes the destruction of another sacred structure, the Old Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens in 480 B.C. by the Persians. Unlike the Twin Towers, which were never rebuilt (the footprints of the Towers are now occupied by a pair of reflecting pools), the temple of Athena was rebuilt. The rebuilt structure is the one we know as the Parthenon, which itself has a long and varied history.
The destruction of the Old Temple of Athena on the Acropolis
We tend to think of the Parthenon, the iconic symbol of Athens and indeed of the ancient world, as always having been there, dominating the city as it sits on the Acropolis mesa. It seems frozen in time, and even the addition of a disabled-accessible walkway is criticized for disturbing the sanctity of the place. But it was only one in a series of temples built on the site to honor Athena Polias, "Athena Protector of the City," and even in more modern times, it was rebuilt and refashioned to suit the needs of various occupiers of the city.
The Acropolis was always a place of power and meaning. Parts of a Mycenaean fortification wall of the 13th century B.C. survive, on a site that had been inhabited since Neolithic times. The first structure that we could call a predecessor of the Parthenon was the Hekatompedon, or "Hundred-footer," built around 570-550 B.C. It was demolished by the Athenians after the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in the First Persian War in 490 B.C. so that a larger temple, known as the Older Parthenon, could be constructed. This Older Parthenon or Pre-Parthenon was still under construction when the returning Persians, under Xerxes, destroyed the temple and other structures and massacred those seeking shelter there.
Dörpfeld's discoveries on the Acropolis, and the Parthenon rebuilt
In 1885, Wilhelm Dörpfeld discovered foundations believed to be those of the Old Athena Temple, next to the Erechtheion, a temple famous for its porch of the caryatids, female statues holding up the roof instead of columns. A picture of these foundations appears at the foot of this article. Sculpture from this old temple has been found, including the statue of Athena shown at the head of the article.
The present Parthenon was built near the site of the old temple, at the height of the Athenian Empire under Pericles, as a temple and as a treasury. In the sixth century A.D., it was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, it was turned into a mosque. In 1687, a Venetian bombardment caused an ammunition dump stored in the building to explode, reducing it to the splendid ruin that we see today.
Herodotus and Themistocles' "wooden walls"
Herodotus, in Book 8 of his Histories, describes how the Persians discovered an unguarded way up the rocky outcrop, thought to be impregnable. An oracle had told the Athenians to seek shelter behind the "wooden walls," and some said that this meant a wooden palisade (although the oracle also said that all of mainland Greece would fall to the Persians). However, Themistocles, a great promoter of the Athenian navy, cleverly interpreted the oracle to mean that the Athenians should rely upon their wooden ships. Themistocles led the Athenians to defeat the Persians at the Sea Battle of Salamis, and the invading army finally met defeat at the land battle of Plataea and a further sea battle at Mycale.
A clash of powers with many sides
To our modern eyes, considering the wary relationship between Western powers and those of the Middle East, we often see the Persian Wars as a battle between "Good" (Greeks) and "Bad" (Persians). But the relationship was more complicated than that. Not every Greek city was hostile to the Persians. Several cities, including Argos and Thebes, were sympathetic to the Persians. Themistocles himself, embroiled in later life in Athenian politics, went into exile and lived out his life as governor of Magnesia under the Persian king Artaxerxes I. Herodotus, Greek historian of the Persian conflict, was born in Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, then part of the Persian Empire, and was accused by Plutarch of being too sympathetic to the Persian side. And Aeschylus, one of the greatest Athenian dramatists, who had himself fought in the Persian War, perhaps at Salamis, created his tragedy The Persians as a picture of the ill-fated invasion by Xerxes from the Persian point of view.
Quotation of the Month, Herodotus Histories 8.53
For our Classical Quotation of the Month, we bring you, in Greek and English, Herodotus' account of the sacking of the Acropolis by the Persians. The Oxford text has been used, third edition, 1927. The translation is my own.
The foundations of the Old Athena Temple, next to the Erchtheion. From Martin Luther D'Ooge, The Acropolis of Athens, 1909.
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 at "http://chicagocolloquium.org". Information about all previous Colloquia (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) can also be accessed from there.
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.
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 comments.
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 University.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
Book: Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
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.
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.
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.
"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 French "Minerve."
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!
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.)
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.
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 an emerita member of the board of trustees of the 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 created the original 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 and of the Railway and Locomotive HIstorical Society.
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.
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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