Friday, July 29, 2011

Greek Cave Finger Talk - Alchemy

When Theon had done, I think it was Eustrophus of Athens who addressed us: 'Do you see with what a will Theon backs Dialectic? He has only to put on the lion's skin! Now then for you who put down under number all things in one mass, all natures and principles divine as well as human, and take it to be leader and lord in all that is beautiful and honourable! It is n time for you to keep quiet; offer to the god a first-fruits of your dear Mathematics, if you think that "E" rises above the other letters, not in its own right by power or shape, or by its meaning as a word, but as the honoured symbol of an absolutely great and sovereign number, the "Pempad*", from which the Wise Men took their verb "to count".17 Eustrophus was not jesting when he said this to us; he said it because I was at the time passionately devoted to Mathematics, though soon to find the value of the maxim, 'NOTHING TOO MUCH', having joined the Academy. So I said that Eustrophus' solution of the problem by number was excellent. 'For since,' I continued, 'when all number is divided into even and odd, unity alone is in its effect common to both, and therefore, if added to an odd number makes it even, and vice versa; and since even numbers start with two, odd numbers with three, and five is produced by combination of these, it has rightly received honour as the product of first principles, and it has further been called "Marriage", because even resembles the female, odd the male. For when we divide the several numbers into equal segments, the even parts asunder perfectly, and leaves inside a sort of recipient principle or space; if the odd is treated the same way, a middle part is always left over, which is generative. Hence the odd is the more generative, and when brought into combination invariably prevails; in no combination does it give an even result, but in all cases an odd. Moreover, when each is applied to itself and added, the difference is shown. Even with even never gives odd, or passes out of its proper nature; it wants the strength to produce anything different. Odd numbers with odd yield even numbers in plenty because of their unfailing fertility. The other powers of numbers and their distinctions cannot be now pursued in detail. However, the Pythagoreans called five "Marriage", as produced by the union of the first male number and the first female. From another point of view it has been called "Nature", because when multiplied into itself it ends at last in itself. For as Nature takes a grain of wheat, and in the intermediate stages of growth gives forms and shapes in abundance, through which she brings her work to perfection, and, after them all, shows us again a grain of wheat, thus restoring the beginning in the end of the whole process, so it is with numbers. When other numbers are multiplied into themselves they end in different numbers after being squared; only those formed of five or six recover and preserve themselves every time. Thus six times six gives thirty-six, five times five twenty-five. And again, a number formed of six does this only once, in the single case of being squared. Five has the same property in multiplication, and also a special property of its own when added to itself; it produces alternately itself or ten, and that to infinity. For this number mimics the principle which orders all things. As Heraclitus tells us that Nature successively produces the universe out of herself and herself out of the universe, bartering "fire for things and things for fire, as goods for gold and gold for goods", even so it is with the Pempad*. In union with itself, it does not by its nature produce anything imperfect or foreign. All its changes are defined; it either produces itself or the Decad, either the homogeneous or the perfect.
- Plutarch, "On the E at Delphi"

*"...Under such conditions, we who repose in the Theory of Numbers all affairs together, natures and principles of things divine and human alike, and make this theory far above all else our guide and authority in all that is beautiful and valuable, should not be likely to hold our peace, but to offer the god our first fruits of our beloved mathematics, believing, as we do, that, taken by itself, E in not unlike all the Letters either in power or in form or as a spoken word, but it has come to be held in honor as a symbol of a great and sovereign number, the pempad, from which the wise gave the name 'pemapzein" to counting which is done in fives."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That's the Way it Is...

Those that expected thee, man, to come to bestow the gift of the golden Cyprus-born ...

... the gift of the violet-crownad ... becometh a most grievous burden unto man, unless the Cyprus-born grant deliverance from trouble.
- Theognis of Megara (1381-1385)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mercy, Reprised!?

PORTIA: Do you confess the bond (of marriage or social contract?)?


PORTIA: Then must the Jew be merciful.

SHYLOCK: On what compulsion must I? tell me that.

PORTIA: The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

SHYLOCK: My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.
- William Shakespeare, "Merchant of Venice"
The anger of the injured creditor, the community, gives him back again to the wild outlawed condition, from which he was earlier protected. It pushes him away from itself—and now every form of hostility can vent itself on him. At this stage of cultural behaviour “punishment” is simply the copy, the mimus, of the normal conduct towards the hated, disarmed enemy who has been thrown down, who has forfeited not only all legal rights and protection but also all mercy; hence it is a case of the rights of war and the victory celebration of vae victis [woe to the conquered] in all its ruthlessness and cruelty:—which accounts for the fact that war itself (including the warlike cult of sacrifice) has given us all the forms in which punishment has appeared in history.


As it acquires more power, a community no longer considers the crimes of the single individual so serious, because it no longer is entitled to consider him as dangerous and unsettling for the existence of the totality as much as it did before. The wrongdoer is no longer “outlawed” and thrown out, and the common anger is no longer permitted to vent itself on him without restraint to the same extent as earlier— instead the wrongdoer from now on is carefully protected by the community against this anger, especially from that of the immediately injured person, and is taken into protective custody. The compromise with the anger of those particularly affected by the wrong doing, and thus the effort to localize the case and to avert a wider or even a general participation and unrest, the attempts to find equivalents and to settle the whole business (the compositio), above all the desire, appearing with ever-increasing clarity, to consider every crime as, in some sense or other, capable of being paid off, and thus, at least to a certain extent, to separate the criminal and his crime from each other—those are the characteristics stamped more and more clearly on the further development of criminal law. If the power and the self-confidence of a community keep growing, the criminal law also grows constantly milder. Every weakening and deeper jeopardizing of the community brings its harsher forms of criminal law to light once again. The “creditor” has always became proportionally more humane as he has become richer. Finally the amount of his wealth even becomes measured by how much damage he can sustain without suffering from it. It would not be impossible to imagine a society with a consciousness of its own power which allowed itself the most privileged luxury which it can have—letting its criminals go without punishment. “Why should I really bother about my parasites?” it could then say. “May they live and prosper; for that I am still sufficiently strong!” . . . Justice, which started with “Everything is capable of being paid for; everything must be paid off” ends at that point, by shutting its eyes and letting the person incapable of payment go free—it ends, as every good thing on earth ends, by doing away with itself. This self-negation of justice: we know what a beautiful name it calls itself—mercy. It goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or even better, his beyond the law (ubermensch/over man?).
- Nietzsche, "Genealogy of Morals"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Isabella and Meeko

Happy he that hath dear children, whole-hoovad steeds, hunting hounds, and friends in foreign parts
- Theognis of Megara (1253-1254)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Still Searching for the Green Flash

Cares of motley plumage have their portion in mankind, wailing for life and substance.
- Theognis of Megara (729-730)

Monday, July 11, 2011

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemas?

Shakespeare, "Hamlet"
HAMLET - ...What's the news?

ROSENCRANTZ - None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.

HAMLET - Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true. Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

GUILDENSTERN - Prison, my lord!

HAMLET - Denmark's a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ - Then is the world one.

HAMLET - A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ - We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET - Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ - Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.

HAMLET - O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

GUILDENSTERN - Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

HAMLET - A dream itself is but a shadow.

ROSENCRANTZ - Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.

HAMLET - Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.

ROSENCRANTZ GUILDENSTERN - We'll wait upon you.HAMLET - No such matter: I will not sort you with the rest of my servants, for, to speak to you like an honest man, I am most dreadfully attended. But, in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?

ROSENCRANTZ - To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.

HAMLET - Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I thank you: and sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, deal justly with me: come, come; nay, speak.

GUILDENSTERN - What should we say, my lord?

HAMLET - Why, any thing, but to the purpose. You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour: I know the good king and queen have sent for you.

ROSENCRANTZ - To what end, my lord?

HAMLET - That you must teach me. But let me conjure you, by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved love, and by what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for, or no?

ROSENCRANTZ - [Aside to GUILDENSTERN] What say you?

HAMLET - [Aside] Nay, then, I have an eye of you.--If you love me, hold not off.

GUILDENSTERN - My lord, we were sent for...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back to the Future

I would not have any new pursuit arise for me in the stead of delightful art; rather may I have this for mine, evermore rejoicing in lyre and dance and song, and keeping my wit high in the company of the good.
- Theognis of Megara (789-792)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bitter Sweetness

There's nothing a man possesseth of himself better than understanding, Cyrnus, nor bitterer than lack of understanding.
-Theognis of Megara (895-896)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Light (of Nike?) Behind the Veil of Faith

Veiled Vestal Virgin - Raffaele Monti (~1847)
'O Vesta, grant me thy favour! In thy service now I open my lips, if it is lawful for me to come to thy sacred rites. I was wrapped up in prayer; I felt the heavenly deity, and the glad ground gleamed with a purple light. Not indeed that I saw thee, O goddess (far from me be the lies of poets!), nor was it meet that a man should look upon thee; but my ignorance was enlightened and my errors corrected without the help of an instructor. They say that Rome had forty times celebrated the Parilia when the goddess, Guardian of Fire, was received in her temple; it was the work of that peaceful king, than whom no man of more god-fearing temper was born in Sabine land. The buildings which you now see roofed with bronze you might then have seen roofed with thatch, and the walls were woven of tough osiers. This little spot, which now supports the Hall of Vesta, was then the great palace of unshorn Numa. Yet the shape of the temple, as it now exists, is said to have been its shape of old, and it is based on a sound reason. Vesta is the same as the Earth; under both of them is a perpetual fire; the earth and the hearth are symbols of the home. The earth is like a ball, resting on no prop; so great a weight hangs on the air beneath it. Its own power of rotation keeps it orb balanced; it has no angle which could press on any part; and since it is placed in the middle of the world (litt. 'things') and touches no side more or less, if it were not convex, it would be nearer to some part than to another, and the universe would not have the earth as its central weight. The form of the temple is similar: there is no projecting angle in it; a dome protects it from the showers of rain. You ask why the goddess is tended by virgin ministers. Of that also I will discover the true causes. They say that Juno and Ceres were born of Ops by Saturn’s seed; the third daughter was Vesta. The other two married; both are reported to have had offspring; of the three one remained, who refused to submit to a husband. What wonder if a virgin delights in a virgin minister and allows only chaste hands to touch her sacred things? Conceive of Vesta as naught but the living flame, and you see that no bodies are born of flame. Rightly, therefore, is she a virgin who neither gives nor takes seeds, and she loves companions in her virginity. Long did I foolishly think that there were images of Vesta: afterwards I learned that there are none under her curved dome. An undying fire is hidden in that temple; but there is no effigy of Vesta nor of the fire.'
- Ovid, "Fasti"