The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.
Above: The Lion Gate at Mycenae, with students and faculty from the American School of Classical Studies entering, 1964. I, in my student days, am standing against the left side of the doorway holding an unbrella, in a photo taken by Fr. Edward Bodnar, using my camera. It is from this location that King Agamemnon would have gone forth to fight the Trojans, and where, following the war, he would enter, only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, having ignored the warnings of Cassandra. The lions' heads, which were carved separately, are unfortunately gone.
Disasters strike when warnings are ignored
The news is dominated by two tragedies that could have been averted, the global COVID pandemic and, in the past week, the collapse of the Champlain Towers condominium in Surfside, Florida. In both cases, warnings were ignored which could have prevented devastation. In the case of the pandemic, scientists and physicians had warned for years that a disease of some kind could sweep over the world, taking millions of lives, and that medical and social preparations should be planned for. It was a hundred years since the influenza epidemic of 1918-20, but there were more recent episodes, including the AIDS crisis, Ebola, and the swine flu. Yet funding was cut for basic medical research, and even after cases appeared, politicians and conspiracy theorists downplayed the threat, and derided science in general.
In the case of the building collapse, engineers had warned at least since 2018 of safety deficiencies in the structure. Here, too, warnings were dismissed as insignificant.
We are reminded of the fate of Cassandra, the Trojan princess and prophetess who could foresee the future, but was cursed with never having anyone believe her. A war captive brought back to Greece after the Trojan War, she and her story appear in Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon, the first play of the trilogy known as the Oresteia. That play contains the famous phrase pathei mathos "knowledge through (sad) experience," or, more colloquially, "learning the hard way" or "the school of hard knocks."
Aeschylus' Agamemnon: an accursed family
The Agamemnon tells of the homecoming of Agamemnon, king of the city of Mycenae and leader of the Greeks in the war against the city of Troy. The war, according to legend, was an act of revenge because the Trojan prince Paris had run off with Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon. (Helen was also the sister of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife.) The play opens with the watchman watching for the signal flares relayed from Troy that will announce the defeat of Troy.
A chorus of elders, men who were too old to be sent to fight, enter and recapitulate the story of the Greek army's departure for Troy ten years ago. A failure of a favoring wind, which prevented the army from departing was attributed to a curse which could only be lifted if Agamamnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia. Clytaemnestra has not forgiven her husband for the killing of their daughter. She has taken as her lover Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, brother of Agamamnon's father Atreus. Aegisthus has his own reasons for hating Agamamnon, as Agamamnon's father Atreus had murdered Thyestes' other children.
Pathei mathos in Agamemnon
The chorus sings "a song of anguish," extolling Zeus, king of the gods, while recapitulating Zeus' own accursed family, in which each generation, sons and grandsons, had conquered the previous generation of rulers. It is the law established by Zeus that "from experience comes knowledge" (pathei mathos v. 172), a phrase whose meaning has been debated by psychologists and theologists. A simple, literal meaning seems most appropriate: sometimes people learn only by having something horrible happen to them. The Chorus repeats the phrase again at v. 250 in slightly different form as "Justice (Dike) inclines her scales so that those who suffer learn (tois pathousin mathein)."
The Chorus does not yet know the full scale of the violence to come, but is fearful. By the end of the play, Agamemnon is murdered by Clytaemnestra. In the second play, The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's son Orestes murders both Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, and in the final play of the trilogy, "The Eumenides" ("The Kindly Goddesses," i.e. the Furies), Orestes is on trial in a court in Athens for the murder of his mother. He is acquitted, thanks to a vote by the goddess Athena, who claims, improbably, that the mother is not the true parent of a child, but merely a caretaker of the seed of the father, who is the true parent.
Cassandra's warnings to Agamemnon
Once again, we see warnings that were ignored. Agamemnon, on his return, brought with him as a captive (and concubine) the Trojan princess Cassandra (another reason for Clytaemnestra to hate him). Cassandra had been given the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo, but because she spurned him (the exact details differ in various accounts) he decreed that no one would ever believe her. Her warnings to the Trojans about their own impending doom at the hands of the Greeks had already been ignored. Cassandra foresees the disaster to come, and cries out hysterically. Her warnings are not believed, and she is killed along with Agamemnon.
Quotation of the Month, pathei mathosin Aeschylus' Agamemnon
For our Classical Quotation of the Month, we bring you, in Greek and English, Aeschylus' Agamemnon verses 160-183, in which the Chorus of Elders ponders on the person of Zeus, and recounts the terrible history of the god, culminating in the famous words concerning the wisdom that comes from tragic experience.
The ruins of ancient Troy, with its many layers, in an illustration from Chrestos Tsountas and J. Irving Manatt, The Mycenaean Age,, 1897. The book was written not long after the pioneering excavations of both Mycenae and Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, and Schliemann's rediscovery of the actual location of ancient Troy, leading to the realization, now generally accepted, that the Trojan War was real.
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 on the board of trustees of the International 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 is Webmaster for the 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.
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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