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Memetic disappointment

I saw this fantastic meme on Facebook:

I love it because what he says is brilliant and because he said it some 1900 years ago. But as with many of these graphics, there are a few problems.

The guy in the image is not Aurelius. It’s Caracalla. Wrong emperor.

Even worse is that the quote doesn’t belong to Aurelius at all. According to Wikiquote,

No printed sources exist for this prior to 2009, and this seems to have been an attribution which arose on the internet, as indicated by web searches and rationales provided at “Marcus Aurelius and source checking” at Three Shouts on a Hilltop (14 June 2011)

It’s so disappointing, but I’d rather know than spread incorrect information.

Badass diplomacy

I’m reading a terrific book about ancient Rome. I hope to discuss it more in the future, once I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, this nicely self-contained passage astonished me.

The style of this imperium is vividly summed up in the story of the last encounter between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans. The king was invading Egypt for the second time, and the Egyptians had asked the Romans for help. A Roman envoy, Gaius Popilius Laenas, was dispatched and met Antiochus outside Alexandria. After his long familiarity with the Romans, the king no doubt expected a rather civil meeting. Instead, Laenas handed him a decree of the senate instructing him to withdraw from Egypt immediately. When Antiochus asked for time to consult his advisors, Laenas picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dust around him. There was to be no stepping out of that circle before he had given his answer. Stunned, Antiochus meekly agreed to the senate’s demands. This was an empire of obedience.

Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, 2015

Rome had an empire and an army of such size and efficiency that the mere written demand, delivered by a no-nonsense envoy, that this Greek king and his army go home succeeded with no fuss. And having occurred in 168 BCE, Rome was still a republic. There was not yet a single leader with a Caesar-sized personality and reputation to cow Epiphanes.

The Royal ‘we’

A new book, and some new knowledge! In this case, why a monarch will use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when referring to themselves.

Since mediaeval times, the King had been seen as two bodies in one: a mortal entity and “the King’s person,” representing unending royal authority; monarchs therefore referred to themselves in the plural form as “we.”

Alison Weir, Henry VIII: The King and His Court, 2001

Disney and the dinosaur

Disney has a few motion picture out called The Good Dinosaur. The picture posits the question,

What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Pixar Animation Studios takes you on an epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.1

Spot (top) and Arlo (bottom)…and never the twain shall meet.2

The problem is that the extinction of the dinosaurs opened up a plethora of environmental niches that other creatures then filled. While the dinosaurs were around, mammals eked out an existence in the background because the dinosaurs had a lock on those niches. It took the removal of the dinosaurs for our ancestors to have a chance to expand their physical/environmental ranges. Put simply, had the dinosaurs not gone extinct, the odds of our being here now alongside dinosaurs are not even worth considering. It never would have happened.

I shouldn’t be surprised as Disney has a great love of re-writing both history and myth in the most unnecessarily ridiculous ways.


  1. From http://movies.disney.com/the-good-dinosaur, retrieved December 17, 2015
  2. Photo from: ibid

Temper, temper…

I’m re-reading Stuart Isacoff’s excellent book, Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization. My nephew mentioned he was reading it and it blew his mind, just as it did mine. Since we would be travelling by car for over an hour (each way) to the concert we attended Friday, I thought it would be interesting to discuss so I dove back in to refresh my memory.

Briefly, the way we tune keyboard instruments today is not the way they were tuned in the past. Indeed, our equal temperament “was once regarded as a crime against God and nature,” according to Isacoff.

Back in the day, keyboards used Pythagorean tuning, in which all the fifths were tuned in perfect 3:2 ratios. But if you played thirds, they didn’t sound right. Further, the tuning was by key. If you wanted to play in a different key, you had to tune the instrument for the desired key or it sounded like an utter disaster. You simply can not tune perfect octaves, thirds, and fifths, all at the same time.

Our twelve note scale has the notes logarithmically equally spaced between perfect octaves, but even this is a compromise, as the thirds and fifths are slightly dissonant. We’ve just grown used to it, and it seems a reasonable compromise to avoid a different tuning for every key! Reasonable today, but not in the past when the 3:2 ratio of the perfect fifths was a sign of the perfection of god’s construction of the universe! Not using perfect fifths was sacrilege.

I highly recommend the book. I know very little musical theory, but this didn’t dampen my enjoyment in the least.

Isacoff used two words, antonyms, that I didn’t realize are related in a musical sense. You know dissonant. I did not know its opposite is concordant.

concordant adjective. 1 Agreeing ; harmonious ; unanimous ; consistent . l15.

I’ve known the word to mean ‘agreement,’ but not in a musical sense. Interesting.


Book cover ©2001, 2003 by Stuart Isacoff.

Definitions from the electronic Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

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