Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saint Crispin's Day festivities

Last night we had our annual bash -- a bonfire/cookout/St Crispin's Day feast/Henry V/Medieval everything party. Some guests come in costumes and we give a prize to the crowd's favorite. We set up an archery range and take turns shooting. We play Medieval music, several of the menfolk put on the first part of Act IV, Scene II of Shakespeare's Henry V, the part with The Famous Speech, and this year we sang Non nobis Domine at the suggestion of one of our guests.

But the highlight of the festivities is always the dragon tail we serve.

We neglected to take a prettied-up picture of it

Creepy, isn't it?

Work in progress

Eldest Daughter has made it for us every year and I usually decorate it, but this year my youngest son asked to be in charge of decorating, so we bought him some fondant and told him to go to YouTube and figure out how to work with it, since we've never used it before.

I think it turned out really well.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Arithmetic for young children, classical style

This summer I visited the Parthenon in Nashville. While there I bought a book by Jacob Klein, entitled Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra (translated by Eva Brann). I’ve only read a little of the beginning of it, but it’s given me another piece of the puzzle I’ve been trying to put together for the last couple of years—how was math taught to children prior to the revolutionary changes that were made in the 1800s?

Since the fall of 2014 I’ve been slowly (ever so slowly!) working my way through the Introduction to Arithmetic written by Nicomachus of Gerasa, who was born in the first century after Christ, and along the way I’ve also been reading through the supplemental materials that are available in this PDF version of Nicomachus, where I found the following passage:

Arithmetic is fundamentally associated by modern readers, particularly by scientists and mathematicians, with the art of computation. For the ancient Greeks after Pythagoras, however, arithmetic was primarily a philosophical study, having no necessary connection with practical affairs. Indeed the Greeks gave a separate name to the arithmetic of business, λογιστικη [logistic, or calculation]; of this division of the science no Greek treatise has been transmitted to us. In general the philosophers and mathematicians of Greece undoubtedly considered it beneath their dignity to treat of this branch, which probably formed a part of the elementary instruction of children.

“Studies in Greek Mathematics” by Frank Egleston Robbins and Louis Charles Karpinski

This was my first clue that what we call arithmetic today isn’t necessarily the same thing as what Plato called arithmetic, and that brings me to chapter two of the Klein book, which summarizes the very few references in classical literature to teaching arithmetic—excuse me, calculation—to children. One of the books mentioned was Plato’s Laws, so I looked up the passage in my copy of the book:

All freemen I conceive, should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as a pleasure and amusement. They have to distribute apples and garlands, using the same number sometimes for a larger and sometimes for a lesser number of persons; and they arrange pugilists and wrestlers as they pair together by lot or remain over, and show how their turns come in natural order. Another mode of amusing them is to distribute vessels, sometimes of gold, brass, silver, and the like, intermixed with one another, sometimes of one metal only; as I was saying they adapt to their amusement the numbers in common use, and in this way make more intelligible to their pupils the arrangements and movements of armies and expeditions, and in the management of a household they make people more useful to themselves, and more wide awake; and again in measurements of things which have length, and breadth, and depth, they free us from that natural ignorance of all these things which is so ludicrous and disgraceful.

Plato, Laws, Book VII [819] (emphasis added)

The second chapter of Klein also quotes a passage from a commentary on Plato’s Gorgias by Olympiodorus the Younger (c. 495-570) where he says in passing that “even little children know how to multiply.” And in chapter three Klein reiterates that children must be taught calculation through play, “thus making it possible for children to acquire correctness in counting and in combining numbers painlessly.”

This is such an exciting line of inquiry! I wish all my kids were babies again so I could start over.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lord Peter and Christendom

[Originally posted on this date in 2003]

Early this summer I ordered a boxful of books from Carmon which contained, among other things, Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors, the first of her books I've ever read. Since then, I've read four more Lord Peter novels plus a collection of Lord Peter short stories. There are still about a half a dozen others that I haven't read yet, and I'm enjoying them so much I would be glad to own her complete works.

As he spoke, the sound of a church clock, muffled by the snow, came borne upon the wind; it chimed the first quarter.

"Thank God!" said Wimsey. "Where there is a church, there is civilization."+

Even though the Lord Peter stories are mysteries, some of them involving murder, what Miss Sayers wrote about was Christian civilization. Born near the end of Queen Victoria's reign, Miss Sayers lived through the revolutionary social changes of the early 20th century, and a recurring theme in her stories is the contrast between the coarseness of modern behavior the more genteel manners of the past.

"How about a punt at 3:o'clock from Magdalen Bridge?"

"There'll be an awful crowd on the river. The Cherwell's not what is was, especially on a Sunday. More like Bank Holiday at Margate, with gramophones and bathing-dresses and everybody barging into everybody else."

"Never mind. Let's go and do our bit of barging along with the happy populace...."

Harriet smiled to herself as she went to change for the river. If Peter was keen on keeping up decayed traditions he would find plenty of opportunity by keeping to a pre-War standard of watermanship, manners and dress. Especially dress. A pair of grubby shorts or a faded regulation suit rolled negligently about the waist was the modern version of Cherwell fashions for men; for women, a sun-bathing constume with (for the tender-footed) a pair of gaily-coloured beach-sandals. Harriet shook her head at the sunshine, which was now hot as well as bright. Even for the sake of startling Peter, she was not prepared to offer a display of grilled back and mosquito-bitten legs. She would go seemly and comfortable.

The Dean, meeting her under the beeches, gazed with exaggerated surprise at her dazzling display of white linen and pipe-clay.

"If this were twenty years ago I should say you were going on the river."

"I am. Hand in hand with a statelier past."

The Dean groaned gently. "I'm afraid you are making yourself conspicuous. That kind of thing is not done. You are clothed, clean and cool. On a Sunday afternoon, too. I am ashamed of you...."

She was punctual at the bridge, but found Peter there before her. His obsolete politeness in this respect was emphasized by the presence of Miss Flaxman and another Shrewsburian, who were sitting on the raft, apparantly waiting for their escort, and looking rather hot and irritable.*

But Peter and Harriet are only pretending.

"You will find the tea-basket," said Wimsey, "behind you in the bows."

They had put in under the dappled shade of an overhanging willow a little down the left bank of the Isis. Here there was less crowd, and what there was could pass at a distance. Here, if anywhere, they might hope for comparative peace. It was, therefore, with more than ordinary irritation that Harriet, with the thermos yet in her hand, observed a heavily-laden punt approaching.

"Miss Shuster-Slatt and her party. Oh...! and she says she knows you."

The poles were firmly driven in at either end of the boat; escape was impossible. Ineluctably the American contingent advanced upon them. They were alongside. Miss Schuster-Slatt was crying out excitedly. It was Harriet's turn to blush for her friends. With incredible coyness Miss Schuster-Slatt apologized for her intrusion, effected introductions, was sure they were terribly in the way, reminded Lord Peter of their former encounter, recognized that he was far too pleasantly occupied to wish to be bothered with her, poured out a flood of alarming enthusiasm about the Propagation of the Fit, again drew strident attention to her own tactlessness, informed Lord Peter that Harriet was a lovely person and just too sympathetic, and favoured each of them with an advance copy of her new questionnaire. Wimsey listened and replied with imperturbable urbanity, while Harriet, wishing that the Isis would flood its banks and drown them all, envied his self-command. When at length Miss Schuster-Slatt removed herself and her party, the treacherous water wafted back her shrill voice from afar:

"Well, girls! Didn't I tell you he was just the perfect English aristocrat?"

At which point the much-tried Wimsey lay down among the tea-cups and became hysterical.*

The "good manners" of several generations ago were not just about wearing the right clothes and using the right words. The way men and women treated each other, the way parents regarded children, the way social superiors took care of their inferiors and inferiors defered to their superiors, was all a part of a culture that lived out Christianity, each esteeming the other better than himself. Christendom was not perfect then, but at least then we had an idea of what it meant to live as a people of God, and our standard was the world's standard.

Lord Peter lived with the disillusionment of post-WWI England. The political intrigues, the knowledge that the old security was gone and that another war could erupt at any time, the realization that the old way was dying and the "new cilization grow[ing] in on it like a jungle*" and that his nephew, the heir of the family estate, might be just as inclined to sell the property for the development of strip malls as to preserve his heritage, leads him to long for the peace, for the escape, of Oxford. I loathe haste and violence and all that ghastly, slippery cleverness. Unsound, unscholarly, insincere - nothing but propaganda and special pleading and 'what do we get out of this?' No time, no peace, no silence; nothing but conferences and newpapers and public speeches till one can't hear one's self think.... If only one could root one's self in here among the grass and stones and do something worth doing, even if it was only restoring a lost breathing for the love of the job and nothing else."

She was astonished to hear him speak with so much passion.

"But, Peter, you're saying exactly what I've been feeling all this time. But can it be done?"

"No; it can't be done. Though there are moments when one comes back and thinks it might."

" 'Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.' "

"Yes," said he bitterly, "and it goes on: 'But they said: we will not walk therein.' Rest? I had forgotten there was such a word."*

He longs for the university, not the Church, for though Lord Peter was raised in the Church, he admits that he is not devout, and this is why his search for rest ends in bitterness.

I haven't read enough of Miss Sayers' books to know if she offers a solution, but in the short story "Talboys," Lord Peter has settled down, married, and is the happy father of three children. The quiet domesticity of that story gives a clue to the answer.

I believe a large part of rebuilding a Christian civilization lies with families who live out Ephesians 4 at home, at work, wherever the Lord calls them.

O Almighty Father, thou King eternal, immortal, invisible, thou only wise God our Saviour; Hasten, we beseech thee, the coming upon earth of the kindgom of thy Son, our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, and draw the whole world of mankind into willing obedience to his blessed reign. Overcome all his enemies, and bring low every power that is exalted against him. Cast out all the evil things that cause wars and fightings among us, and let thy Spirit rule the hearts of men in righteousness and love. Repair the desolations of former days; rejoice the wilderness with beauty; and make glad the city with thy law. Establish every work that is founded on truth and equity, and fulfill all the good hopes and desires of thy people. Manifest thy will, Almighty Father, in the brotherhood of man, and bring in universal peace; through the victory of thy Son, Jesus Christ our LORD. Amen.#

+ The Nine Tailors
* Gaudy Night
# The Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book (1963)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Of the making of books there is no end . . .

. . . and apparently that’s true of the acquiring of books as well. Recently I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I found it was just what I needed to give direction to my heretofore dilatory efforts at decluttering.

Finished bookcases, this iteration, anyway. :-p

For the last two weeks I’ve been going through our books with the goal of having all my books on shelves (or at least on furniture) rather than in boxes in the attic and in piles on the floors of various rooms, which seems like a reasonable enough goal, given that I have more than a hundred and twenty feet of shelf space available, not counting shelves in the bedrooms, plus end tables and various other horizontal surfaces that normal people adorn with knick-knacks.

Untouched bookcases

To date I’ve gotten rid of nearly five hundred (500!) books, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to meet the goal after all.

Books everywhere!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Recipe from Cookery and Dining in Ancient Rome

I know that since reading about the Romans' habit of eating stuffed dormice a few years ago y'all have all been dying to try it for yourselves. Well, today I came across an authentic Roman recipe.



From the aforementioned cookbook by Apicius, Book VIII, Chapter IX.

The translator adds this helpful note:

Glis, dormouse, a special favorite of the ancients, has nothing to do with mice. The fat dormouse of the South of Europe is the size of a rat, arboreal rodent, living in trees.
Galen, III, de Alim.; Plinius, VIII, 57/82; Varro, III, describing the glirarium, place where the dormouse was raised for the table.
Petronius, Cap. 31, describes another way of preparing dormouse. Nonnus, Diæteticon, p. 194/5, says that Fluvius Hirpinus was the first man to raise dormouse in the glirarium.
Dormouse, as an article of diet, should not astonish Americans who relish squirrel, opossum, muskrat, “coon,” etc.

You're welcome.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

School out of doors

. . . while I'm reading The Song of Roland, my twelve year old daughter is decorating her sister's hair . . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

i thank You God for most this amazing

~ E.E. Cummings (1894-9162)

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hymn for the Third Sunday of Easter

The strife is o’er, the battle done
 ~ tr. from Latin by Francis Potts (1832-1909)

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.

The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:
all glory to our risen Head!

He closed the yawning gates of hell,
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!

Lord! by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!