Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

For the Week of 9/17/08

Assignment 3



A depiction of Pythagoras listening to the pitches of hammers of

 various weights at a forge from a book on music theory from 1496.

Information for the Dürer show I mentioned is here:

It is a suggested donation of $4 for students.  Suggested means you could also pay a penny if you would rather.

Museum of Biblical Art

1865 Broadway at 61st Street

New York, NY

MOBIA is open six days a week
Tuesday - Wednesday: 10 am - 6 pm
Thursday: 10 am - 8 pm
Friday - Sunday: 10 am - 6 pm.


If you go to this here is a list of possible things you could pay particular attention to:

books and bindings, shoes, clothing, writing tools, tools in general, weapons, freaks of nature, suns and moons, how Albrecht Dürer signs his prints. I looked closely at shoes this time around.


Examples of what you could do for some points:


Draw up show design you see in the prints and imagine how they might be constructed and what materials they might require. Are they task specific or are they just generic shoes?  Similar things could be done with the clothing or the furniture or the architecture or weapons… These sorts of tasks make you look closely at the prints.  Even better is to draw a copy of a print.

You could also do a comparative study of the rhino as he depicted it and a real rhino.

You could analyze tree and or animal species in a few of his prints.

You could make up a story to go with the print called Melancholia that incorporates as many of the objects found in it as you can.

Do a comparative analysis of the Judases in the various prints.  What makes him Judas beyond just the bag of money?

You could also do something on the differences between engraving, woodcut, and etching and printing processes in general.


Anyone who needs a digital image of any of the prints they see at the show can email me, and I’ll send you whatever you need (within reason).

I’ll grant some extra credit to those who take on something from this show.  You’ll receive a reasonable amount in relation to the amount of work you put into it.

Greco-Roman-Egyptian Cosmology

The following links are to notes on things I may lecture on. You may try to follow along with these notes if you like.  I may not follow them very closely myself. 



I intend to lecture on Plato’s Er’s Cosmos, Eratosthenes, Galenic pneumatic theory, and a little on Lucretius.

Look over this web page.


Read: McClellan and Dorn, pp. 65-95. 30pp

Read this essay I wrote on Plato’s “Myth of Er” from the Republic. This story is found in last few pages of the Republic (I posted Cornford’s  translation of this story/myth last week in the eLibrary as an optional reading if you want to look at it: Plato_RepublicExcerpts-Cornford100.pdf).

Newsome_Er_Cosmos-Draft-660KB.pdf – 7pp

Read Navon, pp. 33-50.  This is a synopsis of a text written by a Hellenistic fellow who is known by the name of pseudo-Timaeus Locrius. He was a NeoPythagorean writer who lived somewhere between the 1st c. BC and the 3rd c. AD.  (The original Timaeus was from the 5th c. BC and was the namesake of Plato’s most famous book, Timaeus.)  This reading summarizes much of what I would normally want you to read from Plato’s Timaeus, but this reading is a bit more compact and less cryptic.  It also gives you a sense that these ideas were not just invented by Plato, but were a part of a large tradition of Pythagorean thought, which Plato was a part of.  The monochord (modified guitar) demonstration I did last week referred to some of this philosophy.

Navon-PythagoreanWritingsExcerpts-1.9MB.pdf.  17pp

Read pp. 11-37  (lines 62 to the end of Book I) in Lucretius’On the Nature of the Universe. (you bought this book for this class).  26pp.

Write a 1 to 2-page single-spaced essay on some interesting aspect you find in these readings and/or this site.  Do not write an essay generally describing the overall reading.  Instead, latch onto a particular issue and respond to it. Cite sources. If you have not cited a source you can expect a lower grade pretty much automatically.  Use illustrations or similar if you think it will help. [I want to know what you thought about the materials I assigned.  I want to know what you thought while reading the materials.  I want to know if you found any similarities with other readings too. Engage the readings either generally or in detail.]  If you can think of a way to engage the material that is more multi-media or graphic, go for it, but you must still cite sources and make an effort that is roughly the equivalent of at least a 1 to 2 page single-spaced paper.  Reminder: prove to me that you read the readings by engaging them. 

–The Department of Redundancy Department.


Here are some cryptic essay ideas. If these help, great, if they confuse, ignore them.

Number, harmony, mythology, structure, form, matter, eccentric, epicycle, equant, seasons, diurnal, annual, phases of moon, interval, analogy, metaphor, model of the universe or a calculation tool?, spheres and circles, adamant, drinking and smoking and goody twoshoes, weaving, spinning, wool, Homer, astronomy and astrology, Galenic physiology, humors, pneuma and spiritus and spirits and soul and intelligence and image and dreams and visions and reality… etc.


I’ll lecture on this excerpt (pp. 125-131) on Galen: Lindberg_OnGalenExcerpt-1.5MB.pdf. Galen was probably the most important medical practitioner and theorist in history.  His anatomy was influential from the 2nd century AD until the 16th century.  His influence and longevity closely parallel the influence and longevity of Ptolemy. 



Advice on how to read: In general I suggest that you jot stuff down in the margins as you read. (Or jot down the page number and a comment on a separate sheet of paper.)  If you think of some movie you saw, jot it down, if you thought of what you had for lunch… jot it down.  Start to let your mind make connections, not just obvious ones, but ones that may be a bit more cryptic.  Generally speaking, this stuff cannot be skimmed.   The devil is generally in the details.  If you are already familiar with a text, skimming it will refresh your memory.  But stuff like Lucretius requires full attention on the first pass otherwise you probably won’t retain much.  Try to have enough time to get into it.  Otherwise it is just painful and/or dull and meaningless.  Then school is a bore and you become a bore and a drone… etc.  School is what you make of it.


Here are the citations for the above works:


Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science : The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. To A.D. 1450. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.


Lucretius Carus, Titus, R. E. Latham, and John Godwin. On the Nature of the Universe. Translated by R. E. Latham and with Introduction and Notes by John Godwin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.


McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History : An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Navon, Robert. The Pythagorean Writings: Hellenistic Texts from the 1st Cent. B.C.-3d Cent. A.D. On Life, Morality, and the World : Comprising a Selection of the Neo-Pythagorean Fragments, Texts, and Testimonia of the Hellenistic Period, Including Those of Philolaus and Archytas.  Great Works of Philosophy Series; Vol. 3. Kew Gardens, N.Y.: Selene Books, 1986.


Newsome, Daniel. "Harmonic Structures in Kepler’s World." Excerpt from Draft of Dissertation Chapter, CUNY Graduate Center, 2004.



Here are some interesting images from the Greco-Roman world.


The Boxer

Roman bronze copy from the 1st c. BC of a Greek sculpture from ca. 225 BC by Apollonius(?)

Roman National Museum, Rome.  (Capitoline Museum-Termi Museum)

Most Greek sculptures you see in museums are actually Roman copies of Greek sculptures.  The Roman stylistic deviations from the originals are the subject of much scholarly discussion.


This detail shows cuts around his eyes and on his shoulder and his broken nose. Roman boxing was pretty brutal compared to the modern equivalent.  Look at the gloves he is using.  They would maximize damage, not minimize it.


[This image of the “gloves” is from another sculpture ???]


As I was looking for better images of the Boxer, I came across this article in a journal on medical history:



 “The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and
Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics
and Their Relation to Lipodermos,
Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration,
and the Kynodesme”



This is a wall painting from Pompeii from the 1st century AD.  Notice how the tools these carpenters are using are basically identical to tools that are still used by fine craftsmen today (as seen below).  It looks like the fellows using the saw are making planks.  They are certainly rip-sawing, which means sawing with the grain.  I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 planes, some that look very much like the one seen in this picture, and I own 2 saws of this design.  I used them frequently back when I made my living in wood. Nothing is nicer to the touch than a finely tuned and sharpened plane.  Especially nice are the ones with all-wood bodies.  For me, it is very interesting to see people from 2000 years ago using the same tools I do.


This Roman relief is from the late 1st century AD. 

The saw and the compass are standard symbols of the carpentry.

There are two styles of frame saw visible in this as well as calipers (compass) and a square and a mallet and probably other tools if you bother to look closely.  (This relief has been damaged.  I very much doubt that the carpenters from the 1st c. were headless and/or leggless.  Although many carpenters from today are missing a finger or two.)



Here is a modern wood-bodied plane.  It functions identically to the Roman one seen above. 

Also shown is a modern frame saw and another from the late 17th c. of a slightly different design.



This wall painting from Pompeii shows a woman tuning a lyre from some other stringed instrument which I do not recognize.  It is dated to ca. 35 AD. 


Also from Pompeii, this wall painting from ca. 60 AD, is of a woman painting a picture of a sculpture which is in the upper right-hand corner of this picture.  She has her painting tools in that box near her right hand and the painting she is working on is at her feet.  I personally find it a bit strange that she is working off the floor.  I usually have found an easel to be easier.  I also find it a bit strange to set the paint box on that cylinder.  Seems a bit precarious to me.

This is an model of the cosmos along Ptolemaic lines that I saw in the Vatican recently.  It didn’t have a label, so I can only guess that it is from the 15th or 16th century, but it could be later or perhaps earlier.  I think I see the equant or the eccentric demonstrated here.  If you can see the same thing, I suggest you write about it in your essay.

This is Raphael’s famous “School of Athens” from the early 16th century.  It is the entire wall of a room at the Vatican.  You can see a doorway in the lower left corner for scale.  Below is a detail with some labels added.  You will notice that we have recently discussed several of these fellows.  In fact, Pythagoras has a diagram at his feet about all that music theory we discussed last week. We will discuss Averroes, perhaps the most influential Islamic philosopher, in a few weeks.




Review Material[s]- Posted 10/10/08





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Brian Greene - The Origins of the Universe: A Crash Course – the super collider is up an running.