Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I will be valid and sound iff I work hard at it

X=I will be valid
Y=I will be sound
Z=I work hard at it

1. (X Y) Z

2. Z

3. (X Y)

Instead of writing, I am refreshing, while on vacation, my formal logic with a series of lectures put online by Rick Grush of UC San Diego, and with an old textbook that I still have. This was sparked by the purchase of a sharp-looking copy of The Development of Logic by William and Martha Kneale, which at this point is sharing with me all sorts of useful tidbits about Aristotle's technical vocabulary. I wish there were more lectures like this available openly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scribal fancies

There are lists of psychological and mechanical mistakes that can explain errors or omissions in our textual tradition, even assuming that the scribe was working diligently. I like to imagine, however, whenever I come across such a textual problem, a young monk tucked away in the corner of a stone monastery, at a wooden desk, bathed in dull candlelight, with a half-blank canvas under his pen, and a thick manuscript to the side. As he comes to a line on the delicate features of a beautiful woman, or the innocence of a flower, his mind quickly leaps to a pretty girl he saw in a field past which he had walked early that morning. Just as quickly he turns it again to the page before him, eager to push away that thought, but it is not gone: it lingers in a repeated word or a missed line. It remains to this day, that delicate thought, preserved through time, unbeknownst to him, hidden to us although it is right before our eyes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pindar's House

The great Emathian conqueror bidd spare
The house of Pindarus when temple and towre
Went to the ground.

These lines are from Milton's 8th sonnet. The "Emathian conqueror" is Alexander the Great, who, when his troops were about to destroy Thebes, gave orders that Pindar's house should be left intact. It is not really surprising that Alexander would admire Pindar. His poetry urges great men to accomplish great deeds, and chides those who would stay close to home and fade into oblivion. Alexander should have paid more attention, however, to Pindar's warning that men should not strive too far, lest they overreach human boundaries. Alexander's sights were set on no less than the entire world, and he only stopped because he did not have the necessary support from his men. What is even worse, he petitioned (or maybe paid) an oracle to declare that he was the son of Zeus and therefore partly divine. Pindar clearly warned men not to seek godly things: μὴ ματεύσῃ θεὸς γενέσθαι.

For more on the story of Alexander and Pindar's house, see Slater 1971, "Pindar's House," in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, and also Plutarch.Alex.11, Arrian.Hist.Alex.1.9.10, Pliny.Nat.Hist.7.29, and Dio Chrysostom.2.33.