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  • Burning Library: Intepretation of the Pythagorean Sayings April 23, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Burning Library: Intepretation of the Pythagorean Sayings

    Before we get to the lost book, wait  and reflect on its author, the younger Anaximander of Miletus. ‘Our’ Anixmander must not be confused with Anixmander the Elder, arguably the first recorded philosopher who, in the sixth century BC, put down the some lines about the origin of the universe that have, against all the odds, […]

    The Buddha in Sicily? April 13, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    The Buddha in Sicily?

    The following appears in a Greek fragment of Empedocles (obit c. 430 B.C.), a Greek Sicilian and the grandfather or godfather of sophism. The problem is that we lack context. All that we know is that he is writing here to a disciple, Pausanias about an important and knowledgeable individual in the past. There was […]

    Pythagoras and His Troubled Biography March 14, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Pythagoras and His Troubled Biography

    Pythagoras (c. 570-480 BC) is a shadowy figure who stands at the beginning of the Greek philosophical tradition: though we are not sure really whether he ‘did’ philosophy at all. He is also often sold as a kind of long-haired Greek guru: though others have argued that he had little interest in religious matters. Still […]

    The Longest Ancient Snakes October 3, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    The Longest Ancient Snakes

    How long were the longest ancient snakes? In 2004, Richard Stothers published a fascinating article ‘Ancient Scientific Basis of the ‘Great Serpent’ from Historical Evidence’, Isis 95, 220-238. Among many other bits of ancient flotsam and jetsom Stothers brought together a list of the longest snakes recorded in antiquity. The following snakes need to be looked […]

    Man vs Horse: Pheidippides and his Missing Mount April 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Man vs Horse: Pheidippides and his Missing Mount

    ***Inspired by Little Miss Beach and Tacitus at Empire*** http://detritusofempire.blogspot.it/ When Beach recently described, at table, Pheidippides’ heroic 300 mile round trip from Athens to Sparta little Miss Beach looked at her father contemptuously and asked ‘why didn’t he just get on a horse?’ Beach prepared to gently put his daughter down, not wanting to crush her […]

    Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History November 24, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History

    Western democracies run on a fairly limited model with relatively little variety from country to country. There follow three features that have disappeared from our contemporary democracies but that worked (and worked well) in the three most significant strands of historical democracies: ancient Greece, the medieval Italian communes and Viking ‘controlled anarchy’. Ostracisim Ancient Athens […]

    Love Goddess #11: Astarte’s Pierced Nipples September 15, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Love Goddess #11: Astarte's Pierced Nipples

    Astarte was one of those bitter-bitter eastern Mediterranean dieties, all smiles and pubic triangles until she wanted your elder son as a human sacrifice… Her name is arguably Punic and may have meant ‘womb’, but, again, fertility and bloodshed went together spectacularly well among the Phonecians so no baby rattles or wedding showers just yet. There […]

    Plato Meets the Meteorite: Solon, Egypt and Atlantis February 22, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Plato Meets the Meteorite: Solon, Egypt and Atlantis

    ***Dedicated to ANL who sent this in*** The story is well-known and comes in Plato’s Timaeus. Solon, the law-giver, has travelled to Egypt and there, in the city of Sais, he speaks to one old priest, who tell him how 9,000 years before a power named Atlantis had fought against Europe and Asia. These passages […]

    Water Thief Watcher January 25, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Water Thief Watcher

    In distant days I opened a tag on WCIH, ‘the worst careers in history’ and, before things fizzled out, I made the case for precolumbian sacrificial victims and the Galeotti. Here today is a new one to reopen the series, the Water Thief Watcher. Now for those without a degree in timekeeping the water thief […]

    The Origins of One-Foot September 30, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern
    The Origins of One-Foot

    ***Dedicated to Leif*** Humanity has the habit of peopling the edges of its maps with unusual creatures: the ‘there-be-dragons’ phenomenon. We have previously on this blog looked at dog-heads, for example, both in relation to India and Ethiopia. Dog-heads can be explained, as perhaps can unicorns and even dragons and cyclops. But how do you […]

    Ancient Laughter, Modern Bewilderment January 28, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Ancient Laughter, Modern Bewilderment

    Humour, it is sometimes said, is the most socially dependent aspect of literature. The gags that set William Shakespeare’s audience laughing now, very often, leave us shivering cold. Sometimes the generational shift is there under our eyes: the jokes in 1930s movies, Will Hay for example, appear fabulous to Beach but leave his students giving […]

    Cyclops Origins June 7, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Cyclops Origins

      Beachcombing has always had a bit of a thing about Cyclops. And who can blame him? After all, the encounter between old Round Eye and that smarty-pants pirate king from Ithica is what most children – genuine or grown – remember about the Odysseus: there is something so Roald Dahlish about the disgusting yet […]

    Bad Ass One-Liners from the Epic Tradition May 21, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Bad Ass One-Liners from the Epic Tradition

    There is, across the world, an epic literature, sometimes in prose more often in poetry, celebrating the deeds of men who lived, in happier times, caught between the gods and the earth. The ‘shapers’ who sang the heroic ages of the world – in pre-Christian Scandinavia, Homeric Greece, prehistoric India… – had none of our […]

    Sink or Swim: Infanticide and ‘Baptism’ on the Ancient Rhine April 25, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Sink or Swim: Infanticide and 'Baptism' on the Ancient Rhine

    Portentous day in the Beachcombing household as Tiny Miss B, the new arrival, was baptised with a select group of friends and in-laws looking on. Unlike Little Miss B – a chip off the Beachcombing block, who screamed her way through her welcoming into the church – the younger Beachcombing, who takes, instead, after her […]

    Human Sacrifice and the Athenians January 29, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Human Sacrifice and the Athenians

      Human sacrifice does survive in literate cultures – the Aztecs, various medieval Indian states… But in Europe, at least, it melted away at about the time of the first extensive surviving texts. The result is that Greeks or Romans or Gaels or Germanic types rarely end up putting a knife into a sacrificial victim: […]

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