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Why Does Stuff Exist?

by on June 22, 2018

If that title seems a bit vague, not to mention all-around weird, then there is probably a reason for that. The subject matter we are tackling today tends to be so head-scratchingly confusing that any attempt at explaining it via a brief title just falls short.
ParmenidesThat’s right everybody. This week we are looking at one of those grand and profound questions that philosophy has blessed us with over the centuries; it’s one of those real nitty-gritty, what-does-it-all-mean sort of questions that tends to infuriate amateur philosophers and causes first year philosophy students to consider pursuing a degree in art history instead.
So…why does stuff exist? How did it get here? Did it come from nothing? Or did it always exist? We are going to get to all that in just one moment.
First, believe it or not, I actually do get quite a bit of reader mail. After my article a few weeks ago, I woke up to a flurry of emails in my inbox.
“Outstanding newsletter, thank you.”, read one such letter.
“Interesting stuff, keep it coming!”, read another.

Some of our readers turn out to be philosophers themselves and wasted no time in sharing their views.

“…Religion and metaphysics seek to understand the source of it all. Science said it all started with the Big Bang which created Space, Time, Energy and Matter, Location and such. Since there was no Space until the Big Bang- what did it go Bang in?

In religion they say it all started with God saying “Let there be light and there was light”. Since the word “let” is a request or command, who was he aiming that communication at?
Both explain how ‘something’ came into being. Since the laws of nature, God and physics say all words to exist must have its opposite. (check any thesaurus). SO the opposite of something is NOTHING. What NOTHING created all the somethings?”



An interesting idea, I think to myself. It is an idea, however, that is slightly flawed.

For starters, the Big Bang theory does not state that matter and energy suddenly appeared from nothingness. Rather, it tells us that the universe once existed in an incredibly dense state and then BANG, it rapidly expanded. As a cosmological theory, the Big Bang does not necessarily promote the idea that something (the universe) came from nothing (all physicists reading this should feel free to write in and correct me if I’ve made some unforgiveable mistake).
Ignoring the religious explanation for the creation of being, because I am simply not up for more theology this week, we are still left with that final, dangling question: What nothing created all the somethings?
Believe it or not, that is a question that has been puzzling philosophers for centuries, and it brings us back to our topic of the day: how does stuff come into existence?
parmenides statueThis question of the origin of existence was of supreme importance to the Greek philosophers. There was perhaps no philosopher who better explained the confusion behind “coming into being” than Parmenides.
Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic philosopher who lived either in the late sixth or early fifth century BC and is often considered to be the founder of the Elatic school of ancient philosophy.
Parmenides is best remembered for his critiques on change and motion. He makes the seemingly baffling claim that all matter is incapable of change. Moreover motion, insofar as it is a type of change, is also impossible. How exactly is change impossible? His argument goes something like this:
Change consists of coming into being (the philosophers used the Greek word, genesis). If something changes, comes into being, then it came into being from something else. What did it come into being from? There are only two options as far as Parmenides can see.

1. Being comes from nonbeing

2. Being comes from being

If #1 is correct, then it would tell us that being (existence) springs from nothingness. This is a logical impossibility since nothing can come from nothing (not even the Big Bang).
If #2 is correct and we conclude that being comes from being, then that would imply that there existed a state of non-being at one point. However, we know this to be impossible.
We cannot say that B came to exist from A, because that would imply that there was once a time that B partook of non-existence, and we have already shown that that which does not exists does not exist out of necessity and nothing can come from nothing.
Put very frankly, so long as a thing can be thought of or expressed, it can be said to exist. More importantly, it can be said that that thing ALWAYS existed and will always exist. Change is impossible and the entire universe is indivisible and eternal.
If this seems like a rather tricky argument, then that is because it is. It is an argument that would seem to contradict our own empirical observations, our perception that all things are changing all the time.
Our senses, according to Parmenides, are actually an illusion. The way of perception is the way of opinion, and only be adhering to strict rational thought can we arrive at the way of the truth, namely that all of existence is One and cannot partake of change.
protagorasThe ideas of Parmenides would actually have implications for the field of ethics as well as philosophy. This “parmenidean problem” would be hijacked by some unscrupulous figures of ancient Greece and used to justify a relativistic view of morality and ethics.
The sophists, specifically Protagoras of Abdera, would make the claim that, since perception is illusion and only being truly exists, there was no true standard of goodness based on human nature.
Each idea is just as good as the next, both equally valid and invalid at the same time. In short, there is no standard for morality. Man is the measure of all things. The sophists would use these ideas while defending their plaintiffs in court or when teaching the subject of ethics and morality.
Men like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle believed that an acceptance of ethical relativism was the worst thing that could happen to an individual. Philosophy ought to lead us to a better understanding of virtue, not deprive us of any standard with which to judge the goodness of our life.
To counteract the claims of the sophists, and to dispel some serious teleological, metaphysical, and even theological concerns, a proper counter argument must be made against Parmenides.
Enter Aristotle.
Aristotle lays out his argument against the Parmenidean problem in book 1, chapter 8 of his Physics. Aristotle first lays out the problem of change as expressed by Parmenides.
“What is cannot come to be (since it already is), while nothing can come to be from what is not.” –Aristotle (Physics)

To avoid the Pamenidean dilemma, the philosopher does something uniquely Aristotelian. He draws an important distinction.

And here we come back to our reader mail briefly. Our subscriber wrote into us suggesting that, perhaps, some thing comes to be from its opposite. And in a way, Aristotle agrees.
Change consists of a pair of contrasting or opposite properties and a subject that gains one property while losing another. Change consists of three things: an underlying subject, a form (a positive property), and a lack or privation of that form.
Aristotle uses the example of…

A. An unmusical man who becomes musical


B. A shapeless pile of bronze that becomes a statue.

In the case of A, the subject is the man, the aristotleform is “musical” and the privation of the form is “unmusical”. In the case of B, the subject is “bronze”, the form is “statue” and the privation is “shapelessness”.
Change occurs when the privations (unmusical and shapelessness) are replaced by the forms “musical” and “statue”. Throughout this process, the subjects of “man” and “bronze” remain in existence. They simply partake of different accidental (non-essential) properties.

Parmenides might ask us, “Where did the musical man come from? From being or nonbeing?” Aristotle might respond that he came from both, and at the same time neither.
The unmusical man has a potential to become the musical man. However, until the privation of “unmusical” is destroyed and replaced with the form of “musical”, the musical man subsists in a state of potential existence, not actualized existence.

If this topic still seems a bit hazy, then don’t worry. It’s not necessarily the easiest topic to grasp. I would encourage you to write in and we can discuss it more. Until next time, keep philosophizing my friends. We will speak soon.

Ten Things the Ancients Did Better than Us

by on June 20, 2018

Just a couple of decades ago, the people of ancient civilizations were viewed as simple, primitive people. However, numerous discoveries since then have revealed a number of surprising facts about ancient cultures, namely that many of them possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and more. With this knowledge they forged steel stronger than anything else seen until the Industrial Revolution, created a recipe for concrete so durable that their buildings would endure for millennia longer than the constructions of today, cut stones and assembled walls so precisely that attempts at modern-day replications have failed. Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient civilizations. Here we feature ten of them.
1. Aqueducts and hydro technology

Old Canals

Who would have thought that 21 st century governments would be looking to 1,500-year-old technology for guidance on how to solve water access problems? But that is exactly what is happening in Lima, Peru.
Peru has been facing a severe water crisis as chronic problems, such as polluted water supplies, and environmental change combine to undermine the water security of the entire country. However, a new plan has been put forward by Lima’s water utility company, Sedapal, to revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the Wari culture as early as 500 AD, in order to supply the population with clean, unpolluted water.
The Wari built an advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season via canals. The canals transported the water to places where it could feed into springs further down the mountain, in order to maintain the flow of the rivers during the dry season.
Many ancient civilizations are known for their advanced construction of cisterns, canals, aqueducts, and water channelling technology, including the Persians, Nabataeans, Romans, Greeks, Harrapans, and many more.
2. Steel
Over 2,000 years ago, ancient people in the Levant were forging swords made of steel so advanced that blacksmiths would not come close to creating anything of equal quality until modern times. The metal was so strong that the swords could slice straight through objects made of other metals.
The steel, known as Damascus steel, was produced out of a raw material, known as Wootz steel, from Asia. Other materials were added during the steel’s production to create chemical reactions at the quantum level. It was first used around 300 BC, but was produced en masse in the Middle East between 1100 and 1700 AD.
The secret of making the Middle East’s Damascus Steel only re-emerged under the inspection of scanning electron microscopes in modern laboratories.
3. Concrete

Roman Concrete

Today’s concrete structures are typically designed to last between 100 and 120 years. However, the Romans built structures from concrete 2,000 years ago that have maintained their structural integrity to this day. So what was their secret?
The Romans made concrete by mixing lime, volcanic rock, and seawater. The combination of the three instantly triggered a chemical reaction in which the lime incorporated molecules into its structure and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together. The ancient seawater concrete contains the ideal crystalline structure of Tobermorite, which has a greater strength and durability than the modern equivalent.
As well as being more durable, Roman concrete was also more environmentally-friendly compared to today’s concrete. Conventional modern cement requires heating a mix of limestone and clay to 1,450 degrees Celsius which releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. In contrast, Roman cement used much less lime and made it from baking limestone at 900 degrees Celsius, requiring much less fuel.
4. Road-building

Ancient Road

These days, we’d be lucky to get a decent highway built within a year. But it was not always this way. Ancient people recognized the importance of roads and networks linking together cities and settlements across regions and countries… and they built them fast!
Qhapaq Nan, otherwise known as the Main Andean Road, is a huge network of roads once used by the mighty Inca Empire that extends over more than 30,000 kilometres. It was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power, connecting production, administrative, and ceremonial centres of pre-Inca Andean culture. The Incas of Cuzco achieved this unique infrastructure on a grand scale in less than a century, extending their vast network across what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The Romans too are known as expert road builders. About 1.7 million square miles of territory was covered by the Roman roads, which were made with gravel, dirt, and bricks made from granite and hard lava. Many ancient roads are still used today.
5. Stone Cutting

Stone Cutting Marvels

Around the world, we can find numerous examples of ancient stone-cutting so precise that they rival creations of the modern day produced with advanced machinery. One prime example can be found at Puma Punku, an ancient archaeological site in Bolivia – dated by some historians to 15,000-years-old – that contains such incredible stonework that it looks as if the stones were cut using a diamond tool. Enormous blocks weighing up to 800 tons, consist of perfectly straight edges that lock perfectly into each other and contain no chisel marks. Attempts to replicate the precision of the stonework have failed.
6. Agriculture

Floating Gardens

Human sacrifice is typically the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think about the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures. However, there is much more to these civilizations than this practice. One of their innovations was the chinampa agricultural system, the so-called ‘floating gardens’ which can be found on the shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico.
A chinampa plot was constructed by staking out a rectangular enclosure into the marshy lakebed. The enclosure would then be fenced in by joining the stakes with wattle. After that, the fenced in area would be filled with mud and decaying vegetation. In order to prevent the roots from becoming water-logged, it was important that the fill brought the chinampa plot above the lake level. Canals surrounding the chinampa plots formed an illusion that these agricultural lands were floating on water, hence its misattribution as ‘floating gardens’. To further stabilise these plots of land, willows were planted around the perimeter. This is due to the dense root system which, over time, anchored the retaining walls of the structure and reduced the effects of erosion. In order to ensure that the chinampas produced good harvests throughout the year, it was vital that the supply of water was well managed. During the rainy season, flooding would have been a problem. Hence, a sophisticated drainage system, which included dams, sluice gates and canals, were put in place to counter this problem. By using human excrement to fertilise the crops, the Aztecs were also able to create a healthier living environment as the city’s wastewater would have also been treated.
The system of agriculture and waste water treatment seen in the floating gardens of Mexico, was so advanced that there have been attempts (unsuccessfully) to implement it in modern times.
7. Walls

Ancient Incan Walls

The Inca civilization is well-known for its advanced masonry work, much of which can still be seen today in Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman in Peru. Their large dry stone walls display huge blocks that had been carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar and with levels of precision unmatched anywhere else in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward (to prevent damage in the event of an earthquake) have puzzled scientists for decades. The method used to match precisely the shape of a stone with the adjacent stones is still unknown and attempts to recreate the technique have all failed.
8. City planning
In the last century, numerous ancient cities have been unearthed that have astounded scientists and urban planners alike.
When archaeologists discovered the 5,000-year-old site of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, what they found was unprecedented in the region – the city demonstrated an exceptional level of civic planning and amenities. The houses were furnished with brick-built bathrooms and many had toilets. Wastewater from these was led into well-built brick sewers that ran along the centre of the streets, covered with bricks or stone slabs. Cisterns and wells finely constructed of wedge-shaped bricks held public supplies of drinking water. Back in its day, the city would have been home to around 40,000 inhabitants.
In the same era, but on another continent, another great city was being constructed – Caral. Located in the Supe Valley in Peru, Caral is a 5,000-year-old city that consisted of huge monuments, including pyramids, plazas, amphitheatres, temples, and residential areas. They had extensive agriculture, ate a varied diet, developed the use of textiles, used a complex system for calculating and recording, built water supply, and developed an intricate irrigation system.
Architects are currently looking to Caral for inspiration in city planning. Japanese architects intend to incorporate building designs that they implemented to protect their people from earthquakes. The people of Caral suspended their houses in baskets filled with stones that dissipated earth movement and prevented collapse.
9. Astronomy
From star constellations painted on ancient Greek ceramics to Native American rock art depicting solstices , star charts in ancient Japanese tombs , Australian Aboriginal dreamtime stories reflecting known astronomical events , and a 10,000-year-old megalithic calendar in Scotland, there is no doubt that ancient civilizations around the world possessed an extraordinary understanding of the cosmos and its movements. But just how they were able to so precisely and accurately record cosmological events without the technology we possess today still eludes scientists in many cases.
What is certain is that recent discoveries have revealed just how advanced ancient cultures were when it came to astronomical knowledge, and that they were far from the primitive people they were once thought to be.
10. Weapons
While there is no doubt that modern-day weapons are far more superior to their ancient counterparts in their ability to unleash mass death and destruction, there exist a number of powerful ancient weapons that still elude scientists as to their construction and capabilities.
Greek mathematician, engineer, inventor, and astronomer, Archimedes (287 – 212 BC) is reported to have created a heat ray weapon (sometimes called the ‘death ray’) to defend against ships attacking Syracuse, an historic city in Sicily. According to 2nd century AD author Lucian and centuries later, Anthemius of Tralles, the weapon was made of large reflectors (possibly made from polished bronze or copper), which were used to focus sunlight onto approaching ships, causing them to catch fire.
Although its existence has been hotly debated among historians, a number of tests have accurately proven that such a weapon is possible. In 1973, the Greek scientists Ioannis Sakkas set up 70 mirrors with a copper coating, which were pointed at a plywood model of a Roman warship at a distance of 50 meters. When the mirrors were focused accurately, the ship burst into flames within seconds.
By April Holloway, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins

The Smelliest Women of Ancient Greece

by on June 5, 2018

he Lemnians by William Russell Flint. Abandoned by their husbands in favor of slave girls captured in nearby Thrace, the women of Lemnos responded by slaughtering first their husbands then all the men on the island. ( CC BY NC-ND 2.0 )

We all know Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, made sure that she was worshipped by punishing those who ignored her altars. One brief appearance of this wrath in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts turned into a particularly fragrant episode.
The Ladies of Lemnos
Jason and company were sailing on the Argo when they washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Lemnos at a time when that isle was in the grip of a harrowing problem. Aphrodite had decided to curse the women of Lemnos for neglecting her shrines. In punishment, the ladies were made to smell particularly foul. As a result, the men of Lemnos decided to repudiate their wives in favor of pretty and relatively odor-free slave-girls imported from Thrace. In revenge, the Lemnian women wrought havoc, killing every man they could get their hands on—not only those who’d broken their vows, but any and every male, presumably children too.

Portrait of Hypsipylé, first wife of Jason, from Octavien de Saint-Gelais ( Public Domain )

he only woman to flout this convention was the queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, who felt bad for her old father, King Thoas. She entombed him in a hollow chest and set him out to sea, sort of like a reverse Moses, so he could hopefully wash up to safety somewhere else. In the meantime, the Lemnian women became farmers and warriors, assuming men’s traditional roles, but cast a wary eye on the sea in case the people of Thrace sailed over to avenge their captured women.
Hypsiplye saves her father

Hypsipyle saves her father Thoas by Français ( Public Domain )

The Heroes Arrive
Instead of the feared Thracians’ arrival, the Argo docked, and Hypsipyle met the Greek heroes on the beach. To make sure the newcomers didn’t suddenly decide to attack, she proposed inviting them to a feast. At one point, Hypsipyle’s wise old nanny advised that the Lemnian women, in case the Thracians did eventually decide to pursue vengeance, get themselves some new warriors on the island—the Argonauts! These proven soldiers could father their future children and keep the people of Lemnos safe.
When Hypsipyle had to explain why every lady on Lemnos was single, she lied that the Lemnian women forced their guys out once they took up with the Thracians. Jason was quite taken with Hypsipyle, and Aphrodite made him fall for her pretty hard; soon, they were shacking up together. Within time, every man on the Argo but Heracles had found a lady love on Lemnos, and their journey—to recover the Golden Fleece—was ever-more delayed. They kept finding reasons to avoid sailing on and leaving their new paramours behind…
Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts by Lorenzo Costa ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

More Divine Intervention
That is, until finally Heracles got up the courage to yell at them. He was the only Argonaut who had not got caught up in the lovefest on Lemnos, as he had remained on the Argo lamenting the loss of his adopted son, Hylas. Heracles exclaimed scornfully that they wouldn’t win glory by bedding strange women and the gods wouldn’t drop the fleece, object of their quests, in their laps. Jason and his cohort were thus shamed into leaving. Hypsipyle started crying, but said Jason could come back to her once he got the Golden Fleece if he so desired. If he never returned and she discovered she was pregnant in the meantime, she requested that he tell her what to do with the baby. Jason replied that, if she was pregnant and the baby was a boy, to send the child to his hometown of Iolcus, so that the offspring could care for Jason’s parents, if they were still alive.
Ovid’s Letters
In Ovid’s Heroides—reconstructed love letters from the women of mythology to the men who’d done them wrong—Hypsipyle remonstrated with Jason for never returning to her. Why, she asked, did she have to hear of his exploits through the grapevine rather than from Jason himself? And Jason had slept with Medea, a “barbarian poisoner,” rather than marry Hypsipyle, a good Greek girl? Hypsipyle cried, “Alas! where is the faith that was promised me? Where the bonds of wedlock, and the marriage torch, more fit to set ablaze my funeral pile?” She declared herself better than Medea, who had abandoned her family; in fact, Hypsipyle had saved her own dad. After all, Jason had stayed with her for two whole summers; she had welcomed him into her home and into her heart and bed; and that was all she got? He told her he’d come back eventually…but he never delivered.
Medea with Jason

Jason and Medea by Charles-Andre van Loo. Medea by some reports killed two of the children born with Jason when he left her for another ( Public Domain )

Jason’s Lemnos Legacy
The only good thing that came from sleeping with treacherous Jason was somewhat of a surprise. Hysipyle gave birth to twins; as Hypsipyle sniped, “The ways of deceit they know not; for the rest, they are like their father.” She cursed Medea and Jason—and that turned out great for those two, right? The resultant twins were Euneus and his brother, whose name is variously given as Nebrophonus or Deiphilus or Thoas. Euneus became king of Lemnos and popped up in Homer’s Iliad as the generous ruler of Lemnos who gave the Greeks some fine wine. He also ransomed one of Priam’s sons from Achilles with a mixing bowl for wine.
Queen Hypsipyle’s Fall
Hypsipyle was eventually sold into slavery after the Lemnian women discovered she’d spared her own father’s life. She became a nurse to the baby son of Lycus, king of Nemea. An oracle had stated that the child (alternately named Opheltes or Archemorus) should never be put down on the ground until he could toddle. But seven heroes—the guys who eventually attacked Thebes—approached and needed water when Hypsipyle and the infant prince were outside; afraid to inadvertently fulfill the prophecy, Hypsipyle put the baby in a bed of parsley (technically not the ground) near a spring. But a dragon or snake popped its head out of the water and gulped the baby down. The heroes saved Hypsipyle from being killed in punishment by Lycus.
By Carly Silver, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins

Enhance Your Memory with this Ancient Greek Memorization Technique

by on May 29, 2018

By Wu Mingren, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne was the personification of memory. In ancient Greece, prior to being written down, stories were recounted orally. Due to that, memory played an important part in the life of an ancient Greek storyteller. Thus, it is not too surprising that the concept of memory was given the form of the goddess Mnemosyne. In addition, the Greeks also invented ways to improve their memories. One of these was the Method of Loci, which was used for a long time in the Western world.
Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory
Mnemosyne was a Titaness / Titanide, who was one of the 12 children of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth). Her siblings include Cronus and his wife, Rhea, Oceanus and his wife, Tethys, Iapetus, and Themis. Mnemosyne was also believed to be the mother of the Muses.
Mnemosyne

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s depiction of Mnemosyne. ( Public Domain )

According to Greek mythology, Zeus (who was Mnemosyne’s nephew) slept with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive days. As a result of this union, the Muses were born. These were the nine goddesses responsible for providing inspiration to those involve in literature, science, and the arts. The nine Muses and their respective domains are as follows: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (music), Erato (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (hymns), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy) and Urania (astronomy).
The Muses

Sarcophagus known as the “Muses Sarcophagus”, representing the nine Muses and their attributes. Marble, first half of the 2nd century AD, found by the Via Ostiense. ( Public Domain ) The Muses were the daughters of the memory goddess Mnemosyne.

A River and Palace for Memories
Additionally, Mnemosyne was the name given to a river in the Underworld. The ancient Greeks believes that before the souls of the dead are reincarnated, they would be required to drink water from an Underworld river known as Lethe. The name of this river means ‘forgetfulness’, and drinking from it would cause a soul to forget about their past lives. Conversely, the river Mnemosyne, which flowed parallel to Lethe, caused one to remember. According to the writer Pausanias, drinking from two fountains of water, one named Lethe, and the other Mnemosyne, was part of the rituals at the “oracle of Trophonios (Trophonius) at Lebadeia in Boiotia (Boeotia)”.
One of the methods invented by the ancient Greeks to improve their memories was the Method of Loci. This technique is known alternatively as the Memory Journey, the Memory Palace, or the Mind Palace Technique. According to the Roman orator Cicero, this technique was discovered by a Greek lyric poet by the name of Simonides of Ceos. Cicero goes on to relate a story in which the sophist was invited to present a lyric poem at a banquet in Thessaly. Shortly after he presented the poem, Simonides was called outside, during which the roof of the banqueting hall suddenly collapsed. The other guests were crushed to death, many of their bodies mangled beyond recognition.
Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, by Bertel Thorvaldsen as copy from roman original, in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen. ( Public Domain ) Cicero wrote the method of loci memory technique was was discovered by a Greek lyric poet by the name of Simonides of Ceos.

This made it difficult for the identification of the dead, which was required for their proper burial. By consulting his visual memory of where the guests had been seated around the banquet table, Simonides was able to identify the dead. It was from this experience that Simonides realized that it would be possible to remember anything by associating it with a mental image of a location, thereby developing the Method of Loci.
Visualization to Enhance Memorization
The Method of Loci relies on mentally visualizing the things that one intends to remember. These objects are placed in a particular order in various locations along a familiar route through a place, e.g. a city, house, workplace, etc. A mental journey with a starting and an ending point is made. Therefore, when you wish to remember, for example, a shopping list, or the points of a speech, you only need to go on this mental journey in order to remember each element. This memorization technique may be further enhanced by making the images more vivid. For instance, the mental images may be accompanied by mental smells and sounds.
The Method of Loci memorization technique was popular in the ancient world and was used up until the middle of the 17th century. It was eventually superseded by phonetic and peg systems. However, recent research has shown that the memory palace technique can be very effective.
As the Guardian reported:
“After spending six weeks cultivating an internal “memory palace”, people more than doubled the number of words they could retain in a short time period and their performance remained impressive four months later […] after just 40 days of training, people’s brain activity shifted to more closely resemble that seen in some of the world’s highest ranked memory champions, suggesting that memory training can alter the brain’s wiring in subtle but powerful ways.”
So, it may be worthwhile to create your own memory palace after all.

The Realm of Poseidon: A Mythical Voyage Around the Aegean

by on May 23, 2018

By Peter Marshall, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins

“Poseidon
the great god
I begin to sing, he who moves the earth
and the desolate sea…
You are dark-haired
you are blessed
you have a kind heart.
Help those who sail upon
The sea
In ships.”
~Homeric Hymn to Poseidon

Gods and Legends
Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea, the shaker of the land responsible for earthquakes, and the god of horses. Usually living in the sea, he could make the waters either calm or stormy depending on his volatile moods. As a patron deity of Athens, Poseidon competed with Athena, who planted the sacred olive tree, by establishing a magical well of salt water on the Acropolis.
Poseidon and Athena

Poseidon and Athena battle for control of Athens – Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo (1512). ( Public Domain )

If any boat was to survive in Poseidon’s Realm, its crew would have to appease him, usually in the form of sacrifices. The ancient Greeks would kill bulls on beaches or temples and offer up the sacrifices to the god; I preferred in my sailing voyage around the Aegean to make a libation to his memory and presence, usually in the form of the first glass of wine which I poured in the waters of Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’.
Poseidon—Neptune to the Romans—was one of the three main gods of ancient Greece. He was the brother to Zeus, the most powerful god and ruler of the Heavens, and to Hades, the god of the Underworld where a soul goes to spend a ghostly existence after death. As with the other gods and goddesses, they intervened into human affairs and often took the form of what humans called fate.
Zeus, Poseidon and Hades

The Greek Trinity: Zeus, Poseidon and Hades — gods of heavens, sea, and underworld. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

When Odysseus, for instance, tried to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, Homer tells us in his epic poem The Odyssey, it took him many years because he had angered Poseidon after blinding one of his sons, the one-eyed monster Cyclops Polyphemus for eating his crew and for keeping him captive in a cave. On the other hand, Odysseus was helped on his way by the intervention of the goddess Athena who wanted the Trojans defeated.
The gods and goddesses normally lived on the summit of Mount Olympus (the tallest mountain in Greece, and only climbed by humans at the beginning of the last century, and by myself this century). Although in some ways idealized, they were all-too-human, quarrelling with each other, committing adultery, laughing as well as being downhearted. Zeus would often have arguments with his wife Hera, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, particularly because of his many infidelities.
Despite the cities along the coast of the Eastern Aegean being the birthplace of philosophy and science, with one philosopher saying we can know nothing of the gods and the afterlife, most Greeks firmly believed in their gods. They held Delos in the center of the Aegean to be a sacred island, the birthplace of Apollo, the god of light, music and knowledge, and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon. And they readily consulted oracles, especially at Delphi, in their attempts to see into the future.
Heraion Temple

The priestess of the oracle at ancient Delphi, Greece. ( Public Domain )

But Apollo was also the brother of Dionysius, the god of wine and ecstasy. Many festivals of plays and songs were put on his honour. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for one saw the birth of Greek tragedy to a combination of ‘Apollonian’ spirit giving form to ‘Dionysian’ energy.
Aegean Voyage
Mythology was an important part of my voyage around the Aegean as it helps to understand ancient Greeks. I set off in a small sailing boat with a traveling companion and traveling at roughly the same speed as the ancient boats, I drew a great circle around the Aegean.
My voyage in space reflected my voyage in time, for I investigated the various stages in ancient Greek history, from the Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, Classical and the Hellenic. I also wanted to test my hunch that Greek civilization cannot be properly understood except from the point of view of the sea. It was central to their lives; Plato described accurately the city states like ‘frogs around a pond’. With a mountainous hinterland and poor soil, they inevitably looked to the sea for foreign trade and new colonies.
The only time they stopped fighting against each other was when they declared a temporary truce for their Olympic games every four years and when they were united against a common foe. Twice they had to face the Persians who had at the time the most powerful empire the world had ever known, under Xerxes I, the ‘King of Kings’. They brought vast armies and huge fleets to conquer the troublesome and squabbling peoples on their western border.
However, believing themselves to be free, the greatly outnumbered Greeks managed to push back the far greater force which would have enslaved them and changed the nature of Europe forever.
Map of the Aegean Sea

Historic map (1528) of Aegean Sea by geographer Piri Reis. ( Public Domain )

After sailing for six seasons in my small sailing boat, covering over 5,000 miles, I visited many ancient sites both famous and obscure and met many Greeks and Turks on the way. I suffered a near shipwreck and sinking. But more than sailing narrative and personal quest, I returned with a remarkable portrayal of the Greeks and a fuller understanding of their history, mythology and culture.
It is certainly worth studying the art, sculpture, literature, philosophy and architecture of ancient Greece—not only because the people are valuable and fascinating in themselves—but because the culture forms the seabed of Western civilization. I have witnessed the unforgettable portrait of arguably the most beautiful and magical sea in the world.
Peter Marshall is the author of Poseidon’s Realm: A Voyage around the Aegean the recently published by Zena. ISBN 9780951106969. He has written 16 books which have been translated into as many languages. His website is www.petermarshall.net

The Helots: Slave Warriors of Ancient Sparta

by on May 18, 2018

By Ḏḥwty, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
The ancient Greek city state of Sparta had a social hierarchy that was different from many of its neighbors. The top of the social pyramid was occupied by the two kings, whose powers were checked by a ‘council of elders’. These elders were chosen from the next class, the Spartiates. Below this aristocratic class was a middle class which was called the Perioeci. The lowest class, which was also the largest, in Spartan society was held a group known as the Helots.
According to the Greek geographer Pausanias, the Helots hailed from a city called Helos. This city is said to have been conquered by the Spartans, and its inhabitants became their first slaves. Subsequent peoples enslaved by the Spartans were also called Helots. The Greek historian, Thucydides, however, gives a different account of the origins of the Helots. According to this writer, the Helots were the descendants of the Messenians who were enslaved by the Spartans during the First Messenian War in the 8th century BC. Another account of the origins of the Helots can be found in Strabo’s Geography. According to this writer, the peoples who were subjected to Spartan rule were initially accorded equal rights. During the reign of Agis I, however, these rights were revoked, and the subjects forced to pay a tribute. All complied, except the people of Helus, who revolted. They were crushed in a war, and reduced to slavery.

Map of Sparta

Whilst they are considered as slaves, it has been pointed out that they were somewhat different from other slaves in the neighbouring Greek city states. It is claimed that in Athens, for instance, slaves did not have families and communities of their own. The Helots, by contrast, had their own families and communities. Additionally, the Helots were not privately owned, but belonged to the state. According to Strabo, “the Lacedaemonians held the Helots as state-slave in a way, having assigned to them certain settlements to live in and special services to perform.”
As the male citizens of Sparta devoted their lives to athletic and military training, war, politics, and hunting, they could not afford to spend time on agricultural activities. The task of producing food was left to the Helots. Although the Helots were, generally speaking, peasants, they may be employed for other jobs, such as servants or grooms, as well. Additionally, the Helots could be conscripted into military duties at times of war. For instance, the Greek historian Herodotus records that each of the 5000 Spartiate at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC was protected by seven light-armed Helots. Thus, there was a total of 35,000 Helots at that battle.
Although the Helots were crucial for the functioning of Spartan society, the other classes had an uneasy relationship with them. Given that the Helots greatly outnumbered their Spartan masters, the possibility of them revolting against their repressive rulers was ever present. The first major Helot revolt took place around 665 BC, and is known as the Second Messenian War (The First Messenian War had ended around 40 years prior to this conflict). The Helots seized on the occasion of Sparta’s defeat by Argos at the Battle of Hysiae to launch a revolt. It took the Spartans nearly 20 years to put down the rebellion.
Painting of Leonidas

“Leonidas at Thermopylae” by Jacques Louis David. All 300 Spartans along with the Helot slave warriors fought to their deaths. Persia won the battle, but lost the war.

Given the precarious state of things, the Spartans took precautions to prevent the Helots from revolting. During the Persian Wars, for instance, the Spartans were not too eager to send their hoplites abroad to fight for the freedom of Greece. This was due to the fear that the Helots would revolt when the Spartan army was fighting away from home. Despite these and other precautions, several revolts by the Helots took place over the centuries. When an earthquake struck the Eurotas Valley in 464 BC, the Helots seized this opportunity to revolt. This was the largest revolt recorded. The Helots fortified Mount Ithome, which was besieged by Sparta. The siege only ended five years later when both sides agreed to a truce. The surviving Helots were taken by Athens and settled on Naupactus on the Corinthian Gulf.
Photo of the location of Ancient Sparta

The Site where Ancient Sparta used to Stand. Situated on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese, Greece. Photo by Ronny Siegel, 2013.

Spartan treatment of Helots improved overtime, perhaps as a means of appeasing them. For instance, Helots could hope to be emancipated, and it is known that groups of Helots were sometimes liberated. Nevertheless, the system collapsed in the 4 th century BC. In 371 BC, the Spartans suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Leuctra. The victorious Thebans then invaded the Peloponnese, and the Helots of Messenia were liberated. The last Helots (the Helots of Laconia) were emancipated at the end of the 3 rd century BC by the reformer kings Cleomenes III and Nabis.

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