Minerva Systems home page
Chapter 1 of The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar, "A Guide to the Labyrinth"

2006: Demonstrating the MINERVA System

2007: Using the MINERVA System in a Collaborative Environment

2008: A Bridge Across the Culture Gap: Build your own project using MINERVA
"The Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verses" (1845)
"Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"
Selected Excerpts from Chapters of the book Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
"Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry"
"Holy Places", a study of myths of landmarks
"Epilogue to 'Holy Places': the World Trade Center as a Mythic Place"
Writings on Building and Architecture
"Ancient Myths in Modern Movies"
Archived "Quotations of the Month"
Write e-mail to Cora Angier Sowa

Pantes anthropoi tou eidenai oregontai phusei. semeion d' he ton aistheseon agapesis: kai gar choris tes chreias agapontai d' hautas... ("Everyone by nature desires to have knowledge. A sign of this is our love of the senses; aside from their usefulness we love them for themselves..." --Aristotle, Metaphysics I.1)

(Illustration: Athens in the nineteenth century, from an old engraving)


Welcome to Minerva Systems, an enterprise created by Dr. Cora Angier Sowa. It is a product of the author's longtime search for connections between the aesthetic and the technological. It is also devoted to examining the continuity of influence of Greek and Roman Classical civilization, and to exploring how ancient insights can be applied to today's world.

This site presents a selection of writings and photography by the author on some interconnected topics: Classical literature, computers and humanities, railroads and engineering, architecture, music, and movies, and the aesthetic appreciation of the marvels of the built environment.

C.A. Sowa

Dr. Cora Angier Sowa

Athena the warrior

Athena - the Roman Minerva - was goddess of both intellectual wisdom and technical crafts. Accompanied by her owl, she was also protector of the city of Athens.



Click to read the report:

HTML: "Summer Institute 1969"

PDF: "Summer Institute 1969 PDF"

PDF (Searchable): "Summer Institute 1969 Searchable PDF"

The final report to the National Endowment for the Humanities of the APA (now SCS) Summer Institute in Computer Applications to Classical Studies, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1969, and in which I was a participant, has now been put on this web site. This was a seminal experience in the development of digital methods in the Classics, starting with simply putting as much Greek and Latin literature in digital form as we could (mostly on IBM punched cards! I personally punched the texts of the complete Homeric Hymns and Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, all in capital letters and with no accents, because that's all the punched cards could record).

The participants in the Summer Institute varied widely in experience and interests, and visiting lecturers were equally varied. Introduction was made to programming languages that were important at the time (FORTRAN, PL/I, SNOBOL), and to statistics, linguistics, and various concepts for deriving information from and about the digitized texts.

And yes, we watched the moon landing on July 20, 1969, sitting with the rest of the university community on the floor of the UIUC gymnasium, watching on the big screen as the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon.

The report on the Summer Institute can be read THREE ways, either in .html or in two .pdf formats. The first PDF version is an actual image of the original report. The second is a cleaned-up version that is easier to read, and is also searchable. It was very kindly prepared by John Muccigrosso, Chair and Professor of Classics at Drew University, Madison, NJ.

Click on one of the links below:

HTML: "Summer Institute 1969"

PDF: "Summer Institute 1969 PDF"

PDF (Searchable): "Summer Institute 1969 Searchable PDF"



("Railroad History of Cora Angier Sowa")

While my professional career is in Greek and Latin Classics and in computers (interests that I combine in the field of digital humanities), I am also a lifelong railfan. I grew up in a house above the old Los Angeles Subway tunnel and trainyards, my father was Head Cost Analyst for the Los Angeles Division of the Southern Pacific, and my grandfather and uncle were civil engineers specializing in railway and highway bridges. I now live in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, overlooking the Hudson River and the historic tracks of the former New York Central, now CSX, Metro North and Amtrak. On the series of Web pages called "Cora Sowa's Right-of-Way: Railroad History of Cora Angier Sowa,", I display some of my collection of rail photos, with commentary about them. Pages called "Engineers (Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical) in the Family," add more archival material about various family members' contributions to the history of railroads and engineering.

Tracks of Ferrocarril del Sureste

Click HERE for "Cora Sowa's Right-of-Way."
Click HERE to read "Engineers in the Family."


The right-of-way, the stretch of land on which the tracks are laid, is the universe of the train. It is an alternative reality, intersecting but distinct from our usual world of streets and roads. You can go on it if you are on a train, or if you work there, or if you, unseen, trespass. Whether it is the narrow branch or spur disappearing mysteriously between buildings or merging into fields and forests, or the long, straight tangent of the main line, it speaks of something magical, just out of sight. It is the stage, on which an awaited drama will be acted out. It is a space warp, a pointer leading to a place of possibility. An invitation.

Lakeshore Limited
The view from my window, with the Lakeshore Limited passing by.


Preserving the past, inspiring the future

Every month there will be a new classical (or related) quotation in this space, appropriate to the season or to current events. Usually the quotations are from ancient Greek or Latin, with occasional forays into other sources, such as mediaeval Latin or ancient Near Eastern literatures. Previous quotations (beginning in September, 2004) are archived in "Archived Quotations of the Month". An index to all of these quotations is now located at the head of the first Archived Quotations page.

Translations are my own, except where otherwise noted.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Quotation of the Month? If so, send me your suggestions at casowa@aol.com.

Women at the well

Women chatting at the public fountain (Athens, 6th cent. B.C., from a hydria, or water jug)

What is today's conversation about?

Quotation for January, 2019





Extreme Weather and Climate Change Deniers: Rejection of Science, Ancient and Modern (Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I)

Sacrifice of Iphigenia

Above: Iphigenia is sacrificed at Aulis so that the Greek fleet can sail for Troy. Based on a wall painting at Pompeii. From Oskar Seyffert, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1899, p.323.

Extreme weather and a lopsided Polar Vortex

The weather has gone crazy. The northeastern and midwestern U.S. have been experiencing record cold, while other parts of the country have been suffering extended drought. We in New York went down to zero temperature, but Chicago hit a low of -21, bringing much of the city to a halt. The Postal Service suspended delivery in some areas, breaking their traditional promise, which itself is taken from Herodotus' description of the Persian couriers (Herodotus, Histories 8.98):

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

The Lower 48 States have been experiencing weather that properly belongs in Alaska and the Arctic, where global warming has disrupted the patterns of the upper air, the Polar Vortex and the jet stream.

There are still those that think that global warming is Fake News, and furthermore, that science itself is not to be trusted.

Lucretius on Epicurus' contributions to a scientific view

The conflict between science and long-held supersititions is as old as science itself. This month's Quotation of the Month is from the De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of Things") of the Roman poet Lucretius (ca. 99 B.C.- ca. 55 B.C.), where he lays out the scientific system of physics and cosmology developed by the Epicurean school of philosophy, and rails against evils perpetrated in the name of superstitious beliefs.

Epicurus (341- 270 BC), who derived much of his system from the earlier work of Democritus (ca. 460 - ca. 370 BC), developed an early version of the atomic theory, which taught that the universe is made up of tiny invisible particles which they called atoms ("indivisibles"). These particles move about and interact with each other. Epicurus introduced the idea of the "swerve," which allows atoms to deviate from their normal course, thus opening the door to free will.

Lucretius adopts Epicurus' system, but Epicurus is also his hero, freeing mankind from the bonds of what he calls religio. By this word Lucretius does not mean what we would call "religion," in fact he is as pains to explain that he should not be accused of impiety. He believes in gods, but does not believe that the gods take any active role in the lives of people. Therefore, it is common (as I have done here) to translate religio as "Superstition," connecting the word to its likely derivation, from religere, "to bind, constrain."

The sacrifice of Iphigenia, a result of Supersitition

Lucretius' most horrifying example of beliefs gone wrong is the tale of Iphigenia, daughter of King Agamemnon, who is sacrificed at Aulis to ensure a fair wind for the Greek troops to sail for Troy. Supposedly, Agamemnon had offended the goddess Artemis by killing a deer in her forest, and she demanded a human sacrifice. The story was told in the lost epic the Cypria and famously in Euripides' play Iphigenia at Aulis. Iphigenia (sometimes, as in Lucretius, called Iphianassa) is duped into coming to Aulis with the promise that she is to marry the hero Achilles.

In some versions of the story, Artemis at the last minute substitutes a deer for Iphigenia, and the girl herself is spirited away to Tauris, where she becomes a priestess of Artemis. Lucretius follows a more downbeat version, in which Iphigenia dies. The story ends with one of Lucretius' most famous lines:

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
So much evil could Superstition persuade.

Flaming ramparts of the universe

Below, in Latin and English, are verses 62-101 of De Rerum Natura, containing Lucretius' praise of Epicurus and his telling of the story of Iphigenia.

The phrase "the flaming ramparts of the universe" (flammantia moenia mundi, v. 73) refers to the fiery belt of aether, which was believed to encircle the world. (It could be argued, in fact, that mundus should be translated as "world" rather than "universe." The Stoics frequently used mundus to mean the universe, but the Epicureans, unlike the Stoics, believed that the universe contained an infinite number of worlds.) Thomas Gray imitated the line in The Progress of Poesy 3.2 (speaking of Milton) with "He pass'd the flaming bounds of space and time."

Lucretius De Rerum Natura I.62-101

Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret,
in terris oppressa gravi sub religione,
quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans,
primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra
est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra;
quem neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitanti
murmure compressit caelum, sed eo magis acrem
inritat animi virtutem, effringere ut arta
naturae primus portarum claustra cupiret.
ergo vivida vis animi pervicit et extra
processit longe flammantia moenia mundi
atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque,
unde refert nobis victor quid possit oriri,
quid nequeat, finita potestas denique cuique
qua nam sit ratione atque alte terminus haerens.
quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
opteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.

Illud in his rebus vereor, ne forte rearis
impia te rationis inire elementa viamque
indugredi sceleris. quod contra saepius illa
religio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta.

Aulide quo pacto Triviai virginis aram
Iphianassai turparunt sanguine foede
ductores Danaum delecti, prima virorum.
cui simul infula virgineos circum data comptus
ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,
et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem
sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros
aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,
muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat.
nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat,
quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem;
nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras
deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum
perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,
sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso
hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,
exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur.
tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

Epicurus freed us from Superstition such as that which killed Iphigenia

When human life lay foul before our eyes upon the ground,
oppressed beneath the weight of Superstition,
which showed its head from heaven's regions,
lowering over mortals with horrible aspect,
it was a man of Greece who first dared lift mortal eyes
against it and take a stand in opposition,
whom neither the fame of the gods nor thunderbolts nor
the menacing murmur of the heavens could restrain, but all the more
they goaded the sharp courage of his soul, so that he might desire
to be the first to break the close-fitted locks to the gates of nature.
And so the lively strength of his mind prevailed
and he went forth, far beyond the flaming ramparts of the universe,
traversing the entire immeasurable space in mind and spirit,
whence, victorious, he brings back to us the knowledge of what can come to be,
what cannot, and finally in what way the power of each thing is limited,
and what is its deep-seated boundary.
Therefore Superstition, in turn, is cast underfoot
and trampled, and the victory makes us Heaven's equal.

This I fear in these matters, that you may perhaps think
that you are undertaking elements of reason that show impiety,
and that you entering the way of crime, whereas, on the contrary,
Supersitition itself has brought forth criminal and impious acts.

As when at Aulis the altar of the Virgin of the Crossroads
was horribly defiled by the blood of Iphianassa,
at the hands of the chosen leaders of the Danai, first among men.
She, as soon as the ribbon was placed around her virgin coiffure,
and was arranged to fall equally down each cheek,
and at the same time she saw her father stand sorrowfully by the altar
and next to him the attendants hiding the knife,
while the citizens shed tears at the sight of her,
frozen in fear sank to her knees upon the ground.
Nor could it help the miserable girl at such a time
that she was the first to call the king by the name of father.
For she, uplifted by the hands of men, was brought trembling to the altar,
not so that she might be accompanied by the loud Hymeneal song,
but that chaste she might be unchastely, at the very age of marriage,
as a sorrowful victim fall at the hand of her father,
so that a fortunate departure might be given to the fleet.
So much evil could Superstition persuade.


Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy after a lost Hellenistic original. British Museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, from Wikimedia.

Archived Quotations

Earlier quotations, appropriate to the seasons or to current situations as indicated, are available in the pages of "Archived Quotations." The index of all archived quotations, formerly in this space, having grown very large, has now been moved to the head of the main Quotations page. The quotations themselves now occupy separate pages for each year, but all can be accessed from the index on the main Quotations page.

MINERVA participation in the Chicago Colloquia on Digital Humanities

Chicago River

The Chicago River, from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, January, 2008. (Photo by C.A. Sowa.)


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.

Previous DHCS Colloquia and MINERVA offerings:

Click on the buttons on the right to read the MINERVA presentations.


The theme of the first Colloquium (2006)was "What to do with a Million books," posing the problem that, now that all the world's libraries have been put in digital form, what do we do with them? MINERVA Systems presented a demonstration showing the capabilities of MINERVA as a set of tools for carrying out a project to study a work of literature, using digital methods.

The first Colloqium was held at the University of Chicago at its Hyde Park Campus.


The emphasis of the second Colloquium (2007) was on using digital materials in a collaborative environment, and on discerning what studies are better undertaken by using digitized versions of materials such as images and text than by using the original non-digitized sources.

The MINERVA demonstration for 2007 highlighted new additions to the Systems Analysis Tutorial/Project Planner, which aid the user in steps to planning and carrying out a project in an organized way. These techniques are adapted from the commercial and scientific fields, where teams of persons who may be working in distant locations must coordinate their efforts.

The second Colloqium was held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


The theme of the third Colloquium (2008) was "'Making Sense'- an exploration of how meaning is created and apprehended at the transition of the digital and the analog." "Sense-making" is a field concerned with finding meaning in vaguely defined material. As usual, this third Colloquium brought together a terrific group of diverse scholars and students working in different areas of computer applications. These included not only literary and sociological studies, but such inventive applications as a study of different musical genres (country, gospel, blues, hip hop, heavy metal, etc.) to see which body parts (head, heart, hand, etc.) are mentioned most often, and three-dimensional recreations of archaeological and historic sites, including a study of pedestrian traffic patterns in an ancient Turkish town destroyed by Cyrus the Great.

Minerva Systems submitted a paper to the third Colloquium, "A Bridge Across the Culture Gap: Build Your Own Project Using the Minerva System for Study of Literary Texts", which was given as a handout to all who were interested. Additions to the MINERVA System emphasized the need to serve "the great unserved middle," between the Luddites and the Rocket Scientists, of scholars and students, who would like to be introduced to elements of logical analysis and computerized methods.

The third Colloqium was held at the University of Chicago.


The theme of the fourth Colloquium (2009) was "Critical Computing", seeking to explore how productive research collaborations between computer scientists and humanists can be most effective.

  • How might computation provide new critical tools for humanists?
  • How might humanists help us understand the real meaning and import of computational results?

The fourth Colloquium was held at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


The theme of the fifth Colloquium (2010) was "Working with Digital Data: Collaborate, Curate, Analyze, Annotate." Emphasized in particular were papers or poster sessions about annotation, scholarly crowdsourcing, and challenges of human/computer interaction. How to create better texts from OCR may be a problem in which new forms of human/computer interaction hold particular promise.

Minerva Systems circulated a paper titled "BUILD-A-BEAR" RESEARCH PLANNING: CLARIFICATION OF DEFINITIONS AS THE KEY TO CHOOSING OR WRITING PROGRAMS, a discussion of analytical methods designed to help the scholar/user analyze his or her own research problems sufficiently to choose or design an appropriate computer solution.

The fifth Colloquium was held at Northwestern University.


The sixth Colloqium (2011) was held at Loyola University at its Water Tower Campus. Minerva Systems was again in attendance.


The seventh DHCS Colloquium was held at the University of Chicago at its Hyde Park campus. Minerva attended.


The eighth Colloquium, attended by Minerva, was held at De Paul University, near Lincoln Park.

Read the MINERVA demos and handouts from the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 Colloquia.

Click on the buttons below to see the complete MINERVA handouts.

Reliance Building

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.

The Reliance Building, an incredible little jewel in the middle of Chicago's Loop, was not all built at once. When the developer acquired the site in 1882, it was occupied by a five-story building. The leases on the lower two floors expired in 1890, those on the top three in 1894. So, as the first leases expired, the architects Daniel H. Burnham and John Wellborn Root demolished the first two floors, and, jacking up the top three storeys, replaced the demolished floors with the first two floors of the new building. When the remaining leases expired, the top floors of the old building were demolished, and replaced with new floors, designed by Charles Atwood, Root having died. The number of floors eventually grew to fifteen, made of identical structural modules and clad in graceful terracotta, giving the building the perfect proportions that it has today, somewhat overwhelmed, unfortunately, by the gigantism of the surrounding modern buildings.

Today, the Reliance Building, after years of neglect (shabby but still showing her noble "bones"), has been reborn as a boutique hotel, called the Burnham, with an excellent restaurant, the Atwood, on its ground floor, the names being chosen as an homage to its architects.

THE MINERVA SYSTEM FOR STUDY OF LITERARY TEXTS, INTRODUCED A IN SELF-STUDY CD The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar

Minerva and Labyrinth

The Loom of Minerva is a self-study CD that introduces the Minerva System for Study of Literary Texts, which is a set of tools, some automated and some semi-automated, for planning and carrying out a project in literary study. The Loom of Minerva contains both text chapters and a set of programs. The first chapter, "A Guide to the Labyrinth" (now much revised), can be read on this Web site, and images of two (earlier) demonstrations of the system from 2006 and 2007 can also be seen. More revisions are to come, including an on-line version.

Illustrations: Statue of Minerva, Helsinki, Finland (photo by J.F. Sowa); "Palace of Minos," Knossos, Crete, the building that was perhaps the original Labyrinth (photo by C.A. Sowa).

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.

  • The programs.

    The programs are in two groups, The Tutorial in Systems Analysis and the MINERVA Program Suite. The Tutorial in Systems Analysis takes the student through the steps to plan and design a project, beginning with the Selection of a Topic, going through the activities of drawing hierarchical and flow charts, and continuing to the final Evaluation of Results. The screens are interactive, so that the student can practice designing his or her own project.

    The MINERVA Program Suite is an interactive suite of programs designed for use by scholars and critics of literature. These programs, which can be used with texts of English, Classical, or other literatures, currently contains sixteen programs: eight to perform different types of literary analysis, and eight "OwlData" programs that the scholar can use to create or adapt data for the analytical programs. Currently available are programs to make concordances, search for words and cooccurring words, do statistical studies, perform cluster analysis, and compose original paragraphs. Developed in modular fashion, MINERVA is intended to be expandable, so that in the future more modules can be added to do more things. The latest to be developed is a program to perform cluster analysis based on the program described in Sowa and Sowa "Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry."

  • The narrative chapters

    The narrative chapters can be read like a book, or they can be entered directly from the programs by clicking on links on the screens.

    The first four text chapters of The Loom of Minerva introduce the MINERVA System. They demonstrate the steps for planning and developing a project, and provide many literary examples for using the programs. Historical chapters of The Loom of Minerva analyze projects past and present, that have used computers and other mechanical devices in the study of literature (including the Eureka Machine for composing Latin hexameters). Also described are works of literature that were inspired by machines, like the short story "Moxon's Master" by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), in which a chess-playing robot murders its inventor. Four final chapters of the book are for techies only: a programming manual of Visual Basic, using literary examples, for those gung-ho readers who want to understand the arcana behind the MINERVA programs included with the book.

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 casowa@aol.com.

Untermyer fountain

Historical chapters of The Loom of Minerva describe projects using the computer in the study of literature, including the author's Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns (see below). One of the thematic elements analyzed is "Maidens Dancing and Picking Flowers."

Illustration: the Untermyer Fountain, Central Park, New York City, sculpture by Walter Schott, ca. 1910 (photo by C.A. Sowa).



Babbage replica, detail

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:

Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child,
Ada, sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled
And then we parted,--not as now we part,
But with a hope...

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 Babbage's Engine

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.


Dionysos in ship

One of the mythic themes analyzed in Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns is the Epiphany of a God.

Illustration: Dionysos in a boat with grape vines and dolphins, cup by Exekias, about 540 B.C., Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlung, from a photo by R. Schoder, S.J. It is reproduced in Chapter 9, "Epiphany of a God and Institution of Rites."

Book: Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns

Cora Angier Sowa is the author of Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns published by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Mundelein, IL (1984).

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.

"Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"

The Muses

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.

The Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verses (1845)

Eureka machine

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.

Ships named Minerva

Sea battle 1776

Classically named ships have a long tradition. Illustration: "The PHOENIX and the ROSE, engaged by the ENEMY'S FIRE SHIPS & GALLEYS, on the 16th Augt 1776. Engraved from the Original Picture by D. Serres, from a Sketch of Sir James Wallace's." Lithograph by G. Hayward for D.T. Valentine's Manual 1776.

"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!

Sea battle 1840

"Attack on Sidon by Commodore Charles Napier." The battle took place in September, 1840. Sir Charles Napier was a lineal descendant of John Napier, inventor of Napierian logarithms, whose mathematical insights led to the invention of the slide rule, itself an ancestor of the modern computer.

The ships in the picture are identified along the bottom as H.M.S. "Gorgon" (flag), H.M.S. "Thunderer" (84 guns), Turkish Corvette (20 g.), Austrian frigate "Guerriera," H.M. Brig "Wasp" (16 g.), H.M.S.S. "Stromboli."

Vase painting by Amasis

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.)

Myths of landmarks: Pennsylvania Station and Times Square as centers of the universe, the World Trade Center as a Mythic Place

World Trade Center portrait

The World Trade Center was a sacred place long before it was blown up by terrorists. Lower Manhattan was the sacred land of the Lenape Indians, who made their community and buried their dead there. The modern World Trade Center, with its iconic double-towered shape (a nation's gateway, a cosmic tuning-fork?) was a symbol to the world of universal aspirations and longings. As a center of communications (with its towering antenna) and of transportation (as a hub of rail transportation) it had the mana or spiritual power of the crossroads, the traditional meeting place watched over by the gods of trade.

The WTC is not sacred just because it, along with its inhabitants, was destroyed; it was destroyed because it was sacred. Today, Mercury returns, as the god of communication and of commerce, along with the spirits of all who have lived and died there.

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.

You can also read two of the author's previously published book reviews on architecture, on Alison Sky and Michelle Stone's Unbuilt America and Albert Mehrabian's Public Places and Private Spaces.

About the Author

Self portrait on ferry Eureka

The author is an aficionado of many kinds of transportation, including railroads, ships, and airplanes. Here I am "at the wheel" of the ferryboat Eureka (rebuilt in 1923 from the 1890 freight-car ferry Ukiah) at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

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.

Playing the harp with cat

The author plays the harp for an appreciative audience (handsome cat-about-town Feliz Sowa).

All selections on this site, unless otherwise identified, are copyright by Cora Angier Sowa.

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