The Democratic and Sacred Nature of Agriculture

By , January 13, 2015 11:06 AM

Click on the title to view/download the complete paper The Democratic and Sacred Nature of Agriculture

Archimedes: The Greatest Scientist Who Ever Lived

By , May 30, 2014 8:15 PM

The scientist who personifies the greatest achievements of Greek and Western science was Archimedes. He applied mathematics for the understanding of the natural world and the cosmos.

In one of his books, Ψαμμιτης (Psammites), or The Sand-Reckoner, Archimedes attempted to measure the size of the universe by calculating the number of the grains of sand necessary to fill the cosmos (sphere of the fixed stars). That number turned out to be a huge one: something like 10 to the 63 power.

Archimedes correctly measured the angle of seeing the sun in the sky: 32 to 27 sixtieths of a degree. “The diameter of the sun,” he said in The Sand-Reckoner, “is about 30 times greater than the diameter of the moon and not greater…. [T]he diameter of the sun is greater than the side of the chiliagon [a thousand-sided polygon] inscribed in the greatest circle in the [sphere of the] universe.”

Archimedes was the greatest Greek mathematician of the ancient world and, with little doubt, the greatest scientist who ever lived. He was born in Syracuse, Sicily, in 287 B.C.E. He was also a philosopher, an astronomer, a physicist, an engineer and an inventor. In fact, like Aristotle before him, he set the foundations of Greek and Western science. In a metaphorical sense, all Western science is a series of footnotes to Archimedes.

In 1964, Marshall Clagett, the American historian who studied the influence of Archimedes on the thought of the Middle Ages, had this to say:

The importance of the role played by Archimedes in the history of science can scarcely be exaggerated. He was emulated and admired in his own day and at successive periods in later times. His name appears on the pages of the works of the great figures that fashioned the beginnings of modern mechanics…. Galileo mentions Archimedes by actual count over one hundred times and in almost Homeric hyperbole, using such expressions as suprahumanus Archimedes, inimitablilis Archimedes, divinissimus Archimedes, and so on. Archimedes’ significance for these founders of early modern science lay in the use of mathematics in the treatment of physical problems as well as in the originality and fertility of his mathematical techniques.

Archimedes invented a variety of machines and fields of science like statics, hydrostatics, combinatorics, and mathematical physics. In fact, he is the grandfather of the Antikythera mechanism, the world’s first “computer,” constructed in Rhodes in the second century B.C.E.

The writings of Archimedes were essential for the rebirth and evolution of science. The scientists of the Renaissance, and not merely Galileo, venerated Archimedes. They made him their model. Since the Renaissance, scientists have been looking up to Archimedes.

Reviel Netz, professor of classics at Stanford University and translator of the works of Archimedes, is convinced Archimedes sparked calculus and mathematical physics. The “text of Archimedes,” he said, “is with us, simply, as modern science.”

In June 2010, at an international conference on the legacy and influence of Archimedes, in the homeland of Archimedes, Syracuse, two distinguished scientists, Stephanos Paipetis from Greece and Marco Ceccarelli from Italy, summed up the general consensus of the 60 contributors as follows:

Archimedes’ works are still of interest everywhere and, indeed, an in-depth knowledge of this glorious [Archimedean] past can be a great source of inspiration in developing the present and in shaping the future with new ideas in teaching, research, and technological applications.

I had the pleasure of listening to scientists reconfirming this admiration for Archimedes. The conference, “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes,” took place May 23, 2014, in the beautiful grounds of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

The conference complemented an exhibition of the so-called Archimedes palimpsest, a 13th-century Christian prayer book written over the erased treatises of Archimedes. Experts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, spent close to 10 years deciphering and reading the erased works of Archimedes.

We heard from Will Noel, who had the good sense of convincing the “owner” of the palimpsest to give his precious possession to the Walters Museum for preservation and recovering of the hidden treatises of Archimedes. Then Abigail Quandt explained how she spent four years alone in taking apart the disintegrating Christian prayer book.

Finally, Reviel Netz spoke about Archimedes. Netz, born in Israel, loves Archimedes. He talked and walked in front of his audience, confident of his intimate knowledge of the mind of this Greek genius. He rightly equated Archimedes to modern science.

We are fortunate that 50 to 70 percent of what Archimedes wrote made it to our times. The rest of the classical treasures, especially books, were not as lucky. Much less survived.

Imagine the Christians using the books of Archimedes and Euripides and numerous other Greek scientists, dramatists, poets, and philosophers to write their hymns! It is not right to call this crime recycling. It’s murder.

This crime is hiding in every palimpsest, which in Greek means a book created on the scratched or erased pages of a Greek text. Only 1 percent of what the Greeks wrote survived to our era. And while the Christians of Greece are responsible for saving this 1 percent of Greek literature from destruction, Christianity is responsible for the burning and wiping out of 99 percent of the Greek literary legacy.

Just think of where we would have been if we had all that priceless treasure.

Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Archimedes calculated the number of the grains of sand necessary to fill the cosmos to “something like 1,063.” That figure should have been 10 to the 63 power. The post has been updated accordingly.

The Blessed Olive Tree that Never Dies

By , March 29, 2014 4:31 PM
Hundreds of years old Olive trees in Astros, Peloponnese, Greece

Hundreds of years old Olive trees in Astros, Peloponnese, Greece

By Evaggelos Vallianatos, Scholar; Author

The olive tree was a gift of the gods to the Greeks. Goddess Athena planted the first olive tree on the acropolis at the center of Attica. The grateful Greek inhabitants of Attica honored the goddess by naming their polis Athena (Athens). The affection was mutual. Athena adopted and protected Athens. The citizens of Athens venerated Athena with elaborate Olympic-like games and festivals. They also built and dedicated their greatest temple, the Parthenon, to Athena.

The sacred olive tree flourished throughout Greece and the Mediterranean. Its olives and oil have been nutritional and medical food for millennia.

Greeks ate olives and oil in cooking. They used oil for their lamps, lighting their homes and temples and altars. The Greeks also made perfumes from oil. Some of those perfumes, exported all over the Mediterranean in the delicate and beautiful glass containers known as “aryballoi,” were aphrodisiacs. But olive oil was fundamental for sports and bathing. Athletes rubbed themselves with oil, their bodies becoming like shining statues of gods. Women bathed and anointed their bodies with oil. Greeks in Athens and Olympia also used olive wreaths to crown their victorious athletes.

Laws of the great seventh-century BCE Athenian legislator Solon punished the destroyers of olive trees with death. Solon was convinced the sacred olive and its oil could heal just about everything. The fifth century BCE tragic poet Sophocles praised the “blessed tree that never dies.” The gray-leafed tree, he wrote, nourishes people — and Zeus and Athena guard it with sleepless eyes.

The olive tree remains a blessing in Greece. Its fruit and oil are at the heart of Greek survival, diet, trade, and culture.

During WWII rural people with olives did not go hungry. My father hid his wheat flour and olive oil from the German and Italian occupiers. He buried large stone containers full of wheat flour and oil. He sent some oil and flour to relatives in Athens and those relatives did not starve.

When I was a child, we used olive oil to light our home. Our oil lamps did not differ much from those of Homeric Greece.

As a teenager, I used to load two-handled jars full of water on our donkey. I then drove the donkey where my father had planted a few olive trees and I watered them.

Decades later, I inherited those and other mature olive trees, some of them centuries old. But with the death of my father, and with me being in America, my agrarian dreams shattered. A person from my village mismanaged my olive trees pretty badly. He used to give my old mother two gallons of oil per year. The same trees used to give my father more than two hundred gallons of oil per year.

When I visited the village and, with my sister Georgia, walked in my olive groves, I felt the olive trees did not recognize me. Most trees were in a state of neglect. Others were on the verge of destruction. I kept urging Georgia to protect them.

Georgia in Greek means agriculture. So my sister Georgia always promised to fulfill my wishes: protect the olive trees. But, being a city girl, she never did and not because she did not want to. She had her own family and it was not easy to spend time in the village.

My olive trees, like the olive trees of Greece, are witness of Greek history. As Greece was forced to abandon the blessed gods for alien Christianity, goddess Athena was exiled and the Parthenon became a Christian church, a Moslem mosque, and a ruined building. Athena’s olive trees lost their sacredness and immortality. They became simply a source of olives and oil.

In his 1996 book, Olives, Mort Rosenblum wrote, “the [olive] trees [of Delphi] were a telling monument to modern times — a shift from glory to grubbiness — and only they seemed to bridge the time between past and present.”

Indeed, they do. Olives are “symbols of everything Greek since Athena.” Yet Greeks today fail to give olives what they deserve: enough work and care for the shining of the nutritional and healing virtues of this noble fruit. Greek farmers lose lots of wealth by selling most of their oil to Italian merchants.

This is shortsighted not merely because it’s a bad business decision. Greek olive oil is nearly perfect in taste, purity, and dietary and medicinal values. Here’s a product of nature, health, and Greek civilization that under Greek care and, why not, love, could make a difference in Greece — and the world.

Tom Mueller is right about olive oil made by nature. In his 2012 book, Extra Virginity, he says “oil is how life is: fruity, pungent, with a hint of complex bitterness — extra virginity’s elusive triad.”

This article is also at HuffingtonPost

The Garden of Alkinoos – in America

By , January 2, 2014 4:02 PM

The Garden of Alkinoos – in America, By Evaggelos Vallianatos, was published in Huffington Post.

Homer and Hesiod spoke with passion about the agrarian nature of Greek civilization. They wrote their immortal epics sometimes in the eighth century BCE.

In book eighteen of the “Iliad” Homer sings how god Hephaistos sculpted a new shield for Achilleus, the greatest Greek hero in the Trojan War….Full Article

Archimedes moved the world because he always knew where he stood

By , May 4, 2011 7:58 PM

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”


Archimedes moved the world because he always knew where he stood
By Evaggelos Vallianatos.

Published in The National Herald, April 30 – May 6, 2011.

Read full article.

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