Thinking About The Afterlife In Ancient Greek Mythology


So, like, imagining some Hero who’s gone to the underworld for whatever fool thing ancient heroes were always going into the underworld for. And they’ve got to get out past Cerberus, the three-headed dog guardian of the afterlife, right? So what I’m thinking now is the Hero trying to get past Cerberus by warning, you know, if we fight I’m going to kill you. Wouldn’t Cerberus just have to laugh because, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to send me right here where I already am? I’m going to be trapped staying within sight of me?”

Anyway please send me $200 million to make this movie thank you.

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Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.

My Excuse For Today


Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not keeping up with like anything that I ought to be. But I’m very busy workshopping a joke where the punch line is “and that one sentence completely changed everything I ever thought about Heraclitus!” That I’m having trouble figuring out how to frame it is definitely not because it’s too minor a jest to use as anything but an offhand remark in a professional setting. I know there’s some setup that’ll make it a killer joke when I’m just chatting with, say, the guy at Penn Station subs taking my order for a grilled artichoke and mushroom. It’s out there somewhere. I know I’m in fighting form to get this joke worked out. Just yesterday I was able to deliver “Oh, no, that’s Tiamat of Samos you’re thinking of. This is Tiamat of Ephesus”. That’s a great joke about the pre-Socratic philosophers plus dragons marred only by how I couldn’t think of Ephesus right away and had to say “that other place”. But that’s still the level I’m working at and that’s why I know it’s going to be worth it getting this Heraclitus setup figured out. Oh, Miletus would also have worked there. Thank you. Also Philosophers and Dragons should be a thing so I’ll thank somebody to work on that now. I’m busy with my project.

In Which I Am Insulted By My Reading


So I was enjoying some of my light early-summer reading, Carl B Boyer’s The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, 1939’s feel-good hit of the mathematical history book trade. And early on in the second chapter he had this:

Pythagorean deduction a priori having met with remarkable success in its field, an attempt (unwarranted, it is now recognized) was made to apply it to the description of the world of events, in which Ionian hylozoistic interpretations a posteriori had made very little headway.

Well, I mean, good grief, how did Dr Boyer even figure that sentence was needed? Is there anyone who goes around saying, “boy, but the Ionian hylozoistic interpretation a posteriori is a fantastic description of the world of events”? We’re not savages. My father — Dad, back me up on this one — I remember sitting me down, before he ever took us up to see Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan for the first time, pointing out the unwarranted nature of applying Pythagorean deduction to the world of events. I don’t even know who those parentheses are for. It’s like he has no conception of his audience. Ionian hylozoistic interpretations, sheesh!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor was consumed today with a hypothetical question. Consider there must be some part of the United States government that works out plans just in case an extraterrestrial alien is found on Earth; it’s a remote possibility, but one of such enormous historic import that at least a working plan ought to be in mind. Anyway, they surely have some name to designate the lifeform and what it might do and who’ll be responsible for showing it a good time. Well, what if in the 1980s they designated the thing as “Alien Life Form” and then the sitcom came along and made it just impossible to use that name and be taken seriously? Huh? Anyway, when they were all done pondering that secret government agency having to change a name they found the index had risen 23 points, which has got to be the most it’s ever done in one day but who can tell?

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Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Things I Don’t Understand About Another Ancient Greek


My dear love was looking up information about the ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton for good reasons that I’m sure existed. The interest in Milo was pretty casual up to the point of discovering that he was affiliated in some way with Pythagoras of Samos, the Pythagoras famous for siding with squares and making people laugh over his bean issues, assuming he and his followers had any particular bean issues and people didn’t just make that up so people would laugh about the Pythagoreans. You probably have problems like that too. Famous figures of Ancient Greece usually have hilarious stories attached to them, but when they intersect with Pythagoras — whom you’ll remember as a man who allegedly claimed to have a golden thigh and the ability to write on the Moon — the crazy-funny level just leaps up and usually off the charts and lands in a beanfield where it dies of embarrassment.

For example: it’s apparently argued whether Milo had anything to do with the famous Pythagoras of Samos, because he might have just been associated with another Pythagoras of Samos who happened to be an athletic trainer. See, Milo was a seven-time Olympic athlete, so he’d have good reason to bother with athletic-type people. This is assuming that Pythagoras of Samos the Athletic Trainer wasn’t also Pythagoras of Samos the Loopy Philosopher/Mathematician/Cult Leader.

But as Olympic athletes go, Milo was apparently one of them, with a win in boys’ wrestling and then five men’s wrestling titles. Apparently he was beaten at his seventh Olympics by a young wrestler who’d developed a style of “arm’s length” wrestling. My love and I aren’t sure exactly what that style is. It makes it sound like he was beaten by slap-fighting. I’m not surprised he didn’t return to the games after being beaten by that; I wouldn’t blame him if he died of embarrassment. But maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he was bested by an opponent who stood at arm’s length and held out his arms and kept pointing out “I’m not touching you” until Milo stormed off in disgust. Again, I wouldn’t fault him for not returning with something to foil this tactic, like, telling his opponent’s moms on them.

But being unable to believe the slapping and not-touching in the Olympics was the least of his accomplishments. Apparently he was a military leader who convinced the Crotoniates to lead an army to defend the Sybarites against Telys, tyrant of Sybaris. Now to be fair, by which I mean dismissive, that’s just the sort of thing you did in those days. You just weren’t part of Ancient Greek society unless you were setting up a tyrant or overthrowing a tyrant. And it was important to cities, too. Not getting the occasional tyrant to be overthrown marked a city as the seriously hick part of the Peloponnese, the way you today might look askance at a metro region that can’t even get an Arena Football team. Some up-and-coming cities would rent out a battlefield and set up themselves while overthrowing them and put themselves on the map that way.

But not everyone did this work in style; according to Didorus, and if you can’t trust him who can you trust, said he lead the Crotonites into battle while draped in a lion’s skin, wielding a club in a Hercules-like manner, and wearing his Olympic crowns. The lion skin I don’t wonder about, but: his crowns? All five of them? How? I know they weren’t, like, the crowns the Queen of Britain wears — remember, Pythagoras of Samos and the ancient Greeks lived literally more than three centuries before Queen Elizabeth II — and were more kind of wreaths of flowers of the kind you wear when you’re a charming bride. But that’s still, five. Put five crowns of anything on your head and you’re going to have them flying off all the time, unless you keep one hand clinging to your scalp so as to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s got to throw off his club-wielding. This is the price for not being able to pick just one crown.

Of course, who says he wore them all on his head? Maybe he put one on his head, and one on each arm, and one around each thigh? That would be quite practical as long as he didn’t have to share a tight seat, such as on a roller coaster, with someone. But why would he? Chairs wouldn’t be invented for dozens of years until after his death, the date of which is not actually known.

According to further legend, he died when he attempted to split a tree down the middle with his bare hands, which got stuck, which sounds like a worse way to die than just “of embarrassment following an Olympic slap-fighting loss”. But apparently while his hands were stuck he was set upon by wolves, who ate him, which raises a further question: what, he couldn’t tear some wolves limb-from-limb using just his feet? There is a painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvée (1743 – 1807) which purports to show Milo at his wolf-induced death, arguably fighting off the wolves with his feet, although it really looks to me more like he’s working on advanced belly rubs. I have to point out that there’s little evidence Suvée ever met Milo and none that he interviewed any of the wolves involved.

There’s much more to the legend of Milo of Croton, of course, and I may come back to it, but for now I think it fair to say: Ancient Greece. Like, what the heck, guys? You know?

Socrates and the Aftermath of the Aftermath


Another bit of the aftermath of that whole Battle of Arginusae thing: like I learned, the generals who were responsible for the victory over Sparta there were tried for failing to rescue so many Athenian boatmen. Fair enough. Wikipedia’s article reports how “all six generals [ there had been eight, but two of them ran away ] were found guilty and executed including Pericles the Younger. The Athenians soon came to regret their decision in the case of the generals, and charges were brought against the principal instigators of the executions. These men escaped before they could be brought to trial”.

The thing is, this happened all the time in ancient Athens. You could barely get the citizens together to express regret for the last time they had someone executed without their figuring they had to have somebody executed. Every gathering went like this:

Antisthenes: Boy, we were stupid to have Socrates killed.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: It was Meletus, wasn’t it? Let’s kill Meletus!

Crowd: Yeah!

Meletus: Ulp!

[ Two weeks later: ]

Next Guy: Man, we were idiots to kill Meletus.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: Me. Sorry, it was mine.

Next Guy: Let’s kill him!

Crowd: Yeah!

Antisthenes: Ulp!

Founders of Western Civilization and yet nobody pointed out they’re always sorry two weeks later. None of them ever gets the idea, “hey, if he really needs killing, he’ll still need it a month from now, so no rush”. I’m guessing this is what happens when your government consists of getting a couple hundred guys together where they have to shout to be heard at all while making sure they have all the wine they can drink.

Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish


Say what you like about Pythagoras of Samos, and you mostly can because nearly all his leading followers have gone and died from embarrassment over being asked to explain what precisely the thing with the beans is about, but here’s a bit of legend that really caught me. It’s from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I never heard of either: “Pythagoras is said to have had a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.”

Think of the stories that sentence implies. The obvious question is, was it the left or the right thigh? And was it the whole thigh or just one side? I’d think you’d want the gold to be the outer thigh, so as to make it easier to show off, but maybe Pythagoras didn’t get to pick. For that matter, why a golden thigh?

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