Tag Archives: 2022

On Homer’s Iliad Book II

As I proposed last time, Achilles performs the greatest act in the Iliad by not killing Agamemnon in Book I. He then takes himself out of the action for a while. We are not going to see him again till Book IX, when he receives the embassy of Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus (chosen by Nestor in lines 168–9).

Benches and bare tree on wet concrete wharf by the Bosphorus under a cloudy sky
Kireçburnu, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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On Homer’s Iliad Book I

In Book I of the Iliad, Achilles restrains an impulse to run a sword through Agamemnon.

That may be the greatest act in the whole epic. I say so, having recently completed a reading of Njal’s Saga, which features a lot of impulsive killing. Now I am embarking on the Iliad again, a book at a time. Here I take up Book I and some comparisons with the saga.

I wrote here about Homer’s epic book by book between April, 2017, and September, 2019. I was reading Chapman’s Elizabethan translation. In my account of Book I from then, there are details that do not otherwise stand out to me now, when I am reading mainly Murray’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library, and comparisons with Njal’s Saga are in mind.

Bench on concrete wharf, looking out across a bay to the hills beyond; coast guard vessel in view
Sarıyer, Istanbul (European side)
Loeb Iliad, volume I
November 25, 2022

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The Ideal

Index to this series

The noun “idea” came to English in the sixteenth century, via Latin, from Plato’s ἰδέα: so the dictionaries tell me. An older version, “idee,” came from the French idée. The adjective “ideal” came via the French idéal from the Latin ideālis, but this seems to have been a native coinage, derived from no Greek term. Leo Strauss corroborates this in a passage that I quoted in “Nature”: “ ‘ideal’ is not a Platonic term.” Nonetheless, in translations of the Republic that are still in print, Benjamin Jowett and Paul Shorey use the word “ideal.” This may blur the distinction between two activities:

  • Making something, such as a meal or a bookshelf, according to a recipe or plan.
  • Creating something brand-new.

I looked at the first creation myth of Genesis in my previous post, whose title quoted the Bible on God’s judgment of what he had created: “It Was Good.” The goodness of the world, I suggested, did not lie in its fitting a plan, since a plan would have had to be spoken into existence, and this is just how the world itself came to be.

I don’t know about God, but if we have a basis for calling something good, we might call this basis an ideal. However, I also don’t know whether this is what Plato actually has in mind when his translators use the term “ideal.”

Bookshelves on one wall, window on another
Hacıosman, Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
November 12, 2022

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“It Was Good”

In the first creation myth in the first book of the Hebrew Bible, God is always looking back at what he has been doing, to see whether it is any good. It always is, but he cannot have known in advance that it was going to be, and this is why he has to check his work.

So it seems to me. In any case, when we create things, part of the job is checking our work.

The new Turkish translation of Collingwood’s Religion and Philosophy
with introduction by yours truly

We do create things. This blog post is an example. So is your response, if you come up with one. So is an electric car, or a vaccine.

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Sacrifice and Simulation

Executive summary. An experiment has been performed to detect whether we are living in a simulation. The experiment is to tell Abraham to sacrifice his son. Whatever he does, he breaks a law. Thus there is more to the world than can be understood by natural science.

Beach, sparkling sea, mountains, clouds, sky
Altınova, Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Türkiye
Looking towards Lesbos, Greece
September 20, 2022

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Ways of Thinking

This is a report from five years ago on an art exhibit in Istanbul called “Doublethink.” I had an amusing encounter with one of the artists, and I had a conversation with the curator, who like George Orwell had attended Eton College. I wrote my report in three emails, given here with their timestamps. Because I mention some sculptures at the Nesin Mathematics Village, I have added the best photographs that I could find of them among the pictures that I have taken at the Village. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have documented the sculptures as such.

January 21, 2016
See “Nesin Matematik Köyü, Ocak (January) 2016

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This is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. After reading this 1853 novel a second time in the summer of 2018, I put some passages I liked into a LaTeX file. I added some commentary and came up with a document more than 90 A5 pages long. I recently reread it and was reminded how much I had enjoyed the novel. I thought some of my commentary could be adapted to stand alone as a blog post—this one.

Man in a field, sack over left shoulder, casts seeds with his right hand
The Sower,” 1850
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Charles Bell’s Axiomatic Drama

Here is an annotated transcription of a 1981 manuscript by Charles Greenleaf Bell (1916–2010) called “The Axiomatic Drama of Classical Physics.” A theme is what Heraclitus observed, as in fragment B49a of Diels, LXXXI of Bywater, and D65a of Laks and Most:

We step and we do not step into the same rivers, we are and we are not.
ποταμοῖς τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν.

Bell reviews the mathematics, and the thought behind it, of

  1. free fall,
  2. the pendulum,
  3. the Carnot heat engine.

In a postlude called “The Uses of Paradox,” Bell notes:

Forty-five years ago I decided that when reason drives a sheer impasse into an activity which in fact goes on, we have to think of the polar cleavage as both real and unreal.

I like that reference to “an activity which in fact goes on.” In youth it may be hard to recognize that there are activities that do go on. We do things then, but that they will get anywhere may be no more than a dream. In any case, Bell himself goes on:

… that is a job as huge and demanding as Aristotle’s, and for me at 70, just begun.

“Look,” my friends say, “Bell’s been doing the same thing since he was 25. About that time he had a vision of Paradox as paradise, and he’s been stuck there ever since.”

Bell’s picture next to Aristotle’s Physics
The back of Bell’s Five Chambered Heart with
the front of the OCT of Aristotle’s Physics

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Index to this series

In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates frequently mentions τέχνη (technê), which is art in the archaic sense: skill or craft. The concern of this post is how one develops a skill, and what it means to have one in the first place.

Books quoted or mentioned in the text, by Midgley, Weil, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Byrne, Wittgenstein, Arendt, and Alexander

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On Playing Zpordle

After Wordle appeared, a number of variants came out. One of the least popular may be Zpordle, or ℤp-ordle. I imagine it could be more popular, if people knew it did not require advanced mathematics. It still involves numbers, to which some people declare an allergy. Nonetheless, I think Zpordle can be explained in elementary-school terms, and that is what I shall try to do here.

Zpordle screenshot
Screenshot of the Zpordle game won on May 27, 2022

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