Are We Downhearted?

Since deciding to renounce blogging on climate science a week ago, I see that Alex has come to a similar decision
https://alexjc38.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/pause-button/
I’ve continued to stalk at theConversation, for instance at
http://theconversation.com/is-it-time-to-take-science-out-of-the-climate-change-debate-36371
but also on articles about jazz
http://theconversation.com/the-forgotten-voices-of-race-records-pullman-porters-the-rev-tt-rose-and-the-man-with-a-clarinet-37907
and Herodotus.
http://theconversation.com/brian-williams-herodotus-and-eyewitness-reporting-37878
Who knows how many converts may come over when mild-mannered musicologists and classicists discover that among their (alas, rather rare) fans is a rabid denialist of climate change?
Jazz fans are only too aware of the lacunae in their knowledge due to the wanton destruction of evidence. You don’t have to be a mad mediaeval psychopath to destroy precious works of art. Think of Bill Cotton Jnr, head of light entertainment at the BBC in the seventies, who reused tapes of recordings of jazz greats like Charlie Mingus (recording tape was expensive).
Herodotus, whose belief in the existence of hairy gold digging ants has been justified by modern research
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus#Reliability
was sceptical when scepticism was justified in his eyes. For example when he rejected the obviously absurd claim that the midday sun could be seen in the north:
“He also passes on dismissive reports from Phoenician sailors that, while circumnavigating Africa, they “saw the sun on the right side while sailing westwards’. Owing to this brief mention, which is included almost as an afterthought, it has been argued that Africa was indeed circumnavigated by ancient seafarers, for this is precisely where the sun ought to have been.”
Oh dear. That shows that sceptics are sometimes wrong. Are we downhearted?

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4 Responses to Are We Downhearted?

  1. j ferguson says:

    It’s been 50 years since I read The Histories. My memories may be defective. And of course I read it in English, a language I think unknown in Herodotus’ time. It is still worth reading.

    I contribute these comments, imprecise though they may be, in the hope that someone will read The Histories and provide clarification.

    Early in the book is some speculation on how the Greeks and Persians might have found themselves at odds. Included is a line to the effect that “so far, nothing more momentous than a little woman stealing had occurred.” This in reference to activities which were all the rage at the time an indulged in by Persian and Greek alike.

    Buried in there somewhere is the report that the semen of black men was black. This was unlikely to be based on observation or first hand experience, so to speak.

    But to get what I think is the most reliable view of how he worked, he reports form his visit to Egypt three possible reasons for the Nile’s rising in the Spring. He wrote that these three were beliefs held by different priests he discussed the risings with. They included the reason believed today, namely the melting of snow in the South. He then goes on to say that he found this implausible and selected one of the other reasons as the most likely.

    But he reported all three.

    Isn’t this a practice recommended to us by Feynman?

  2. J ferguson
    Yes. The woman-stealing is on page two of my Penguin Classics edition (Trad. Aubrey de Sélincourt) which has the huge advantage of an index. First the Greeks (Jason) stole Medea. (My sympathy for her as a wronged maiden was dampened when I read the Argonautica and learned that at the age of sixteen she was already out at night digging up corpses to make magic potions.) Then, according to Herodotus, “some forty or fifty years afterwards Paris, the son or Priam, was inspired by these stories to steal a wife for himself out of Greece, being confident that he would not have to pay for the venture any more than the Greeks had done. And that was how he came to carry off Helen.”
    In book two Herodotus repeats the story told by Stesichorus for which he was blinded by Helen (now a goddess) to the effect that she was never taken to Troy but was retained in Egypt by the Pharaoh Proteus.
    The Greeks had a funny attitude to Helen. On the one hand she was the heroine of their great national epic, in which they fervently believed. On the other hand she was born from an egg laid by a Queen of Sparta raped by a swan. (Did you know that she invented the game of dice, and that she’s buried on an island off the Rumanian coast alongside her lover Achilles?) The great Australian classicist Gilbert Murray suggested that Helen was not a person but a cult statue. I have a theory that she was a gold pharaonic sarcophagus like that of Tutankhamen, carried off by Greek pirates on a raid up the Nile and stolen by Paris.
    Many of the different versions of the story of Helen are recounted by the American poet Hilda Dolittle in her long poem “Helen in Egypt”.
    Beroul, an English bishop in the reign of Henry II, wrote a version of the Trojan War (in Norman French of course) at a time when no-one in Western Europe had ever read Homer. He describes how before the gates of Troy stood four great automata – magically moving statues. Modern excavations of Troy (I can’t remember if it was by Schliemann or more recently) describe four columns before the gates of Troy, no doubt holding cult statues… (What would Feynman think?)

    The black semen story recalls my first year philosophy course on the perils of inductive reasoning, which were illustrated by the hypothesis that “all swans are white”. (Of course, the fact that the inhabitants of Australia were themselves black might have led a philosophically-minded explorer of the southern hemisphere to make a correct induction).
    I can’t find it in Herodotus in the section where he discusses Africa. Google only came up with this (translated from French):
    “GOAT SEMEN (Black metal – Peru) have recently brought out their album “Ego Sum Sathanas”, via Hells Headbangers Records.”

  3. Lewis Deane says:

    Dialectic.

    .I.

    You deal only with the hard present,
    Something I envy: your record’s written
    By another, no one cares at the time
    To stop you, drink doesn’t kill you or,
    If it does, it’s at the end, a full stop
    To who you are. We die, some of us,
    Still incomplete and some whose life is nothing
    But the presence of failure. I write this
    Like a man who sits in the comfort
    Of possibilities, the cobalt
    Of a gun eyeing his talk of sophistries,
    Entertained passion, solitude,
    A neat cushion to back me up, stinking fear.
    I don’t register what’s there.

    Unlike you: you have the gun, I think.
    As an aspect of that script I haven’t grasped
    You turn this B movie into something more:
    Like Marriott in ‘Farewell, My Lovely’
    I’m the patsy, the limbo of certain guilts
    Whose weaknesses ditch me in the end;
    A clobbered beauty, corrupted by such
    Expectation my body is forced beyond
    What feeble reach I had into those other lives,
    A sub plot that’s their harder climb.

    .II.

    Offended by the wrong words and never
    Catching your welcome I retell mostly
    A monologue of what could be done
    Given conditions, appropriate sun,
    Five mile wind, compliant interlocutors,
    The usual list, verbatim anaesthesia
    Of the irrepressible ego. Can’t be done.

    Everyone expects, seconds before
    The end, some kind of recognition:
    Just the usual mechanics of the gun.
    Except: I knew you before, before
    The days of ‘hard drinking’ and searching out
    Other people’s lives: a time when you were
    Merely possible, not always there,
    Treated as a friend of what was future

  4. Dear Lewis
    I haven’t seen “Farewell My Lovely” so I’m afraid I think I may have missed an important part of your message. I said I’d stop posting, and it was largely in order to read more – partly sociology etcetera, but also poetry, and in particular Pound, who I know is someone who counts for you.
    I’ve come back, in my normal vein, but I wonder whether a different, more Poundian approach might not be more efficatious.
    (To avoid any possible misunderstandings – in our current local elections I’ve been campaigning for our local communist candidate against the National Front)
    which is why I appreciate your poetic interventions, even though I’m not sure that I always understand them…

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