Author: Darin

Galilean Moon Crackers

Wandering through Trader Joe’s this morning, I stumbled across an excellent and under explored career for historians of science: marketing and advertising.

Picking up some snacks, I noticed the Cheddar Rocket Crackers. In typical Trader Joe’s fashion, the package combined a bit of a goofy aesthetic with retro images.

Trader Joe’s retro-History of Science style advertising on these Cheddar Rocket Crackers is great.

Brilliant! Why, I thought, not use other history of science related themes to sell products. I glanced in my basket and noticed a perfect candidate for some history of science. Trader Joe’s, you’ve totally missed an opportunity with your Half Moon Cookies.

Trader Joe’s Half Moon Cookies are good, but they could be so much better with a better name.

You should label them Galilean Moon Cookies. I’ve corrected your packaging to help you see what this should look like and so you understand that it is a better name for these cookies.

Trader Joe’s Galilean Moon Cookies are much, much better than those half moon knockoffs.

Feel free to contact me, Trader Joe’s, if you want me to explain how other products would benefit from a history of science makeover, e.g., your Electric Buzz Coffee Cups are crying out for some history of science attention.

More Ὁ Καρπός Fun

Here is the next group of ten aphorisms, 21–30, from the copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in BNF gr. 2180. Idiosyncrasies continue to be the norm. As is common in this text, along with the orthographic tendency to reflect pronunciation, these aphorisms often lack words and include numerous errors (usually in grammatical case). Interestingly, the later reader who added the Latin gloss tended to add the correct case. Along with the Latin translations he adds, it seems like he was copying the Latin from another text rather than translating directly from the Greek.[1]

Folio 91v from BNF gr. 2180, aphorisms 18–34.

Here is an initial translation.

Translation of Aphorisms 21–30 from BNF 2180
Aphorism BNF gr. 2180 Translation
κα’ Τῆϲ [σελήνης] οὔσηϲ ἐν τῷ [Σκορπίῳ] ἢ ἐν [Ἰχθύσι] καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντοϲ ἀστέρει ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, ἀγαθὸν καθαρσίοισ χρᾶσθαι· εἰ δὲ συνάπτει ἀστέρι ὑπὲρ γῆν ὄντι, ἐμέσει τὸ καθάρσιον ὁ πιών. When the moon is in Scorpio or in Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star that is under the earth, the purge will work well; but if it is in conjunction with a star that is above the earth, he having drunk the purgative will vomit it up.
κβ’ Μὴ χρῶ μήτε μὴν κόψεισ ἱμάτιον τῆσ [σελήνης] οὔσηϲ ἐν τῷ λέοντι. εἰ δὲ κεκακομένη ἐστὶν, μεῖζον τὸ κακὸν, καὶ χείριστον τὸ ἐνεργουμενον. Do not use or above all cut clothes when the moon is in Leo. And if it becomes unpropitious, the ill effect is greater, and the work will be worse.
κγ’ Ὁ σχηματισμὸϲ τῆσ [σελήνης] πρὸσ τοὺϲ ἀστέραϲ εὐκίνητον τὸν γενώμενον ποίει, καὶ εἴ μὲν δυνατοὶ ὑπάρχουσιν οἱ ἀστέρεσ, δηλοῦσιν ἐπιτευτικὴν τὴν κίνησιν. εἰ δ᾽ ἀσθενεῖσ, ἄπρακτον. The configuration of the moon to the stars makes the Native easily moved [fickle? changeable?], and if the stars are powerful, they indicate a favorable change. But if weak, unfavorable.
κδ’ Ἡ ἔκλειψις τῶν φώτων ἐν τοῖϲ κέντροισ τοῖϲ γενεθληακοῖς γινωμένοιϲ ἢ τοῖϲ τῶν ἐναλαγῶν τῶν ἐτῶν ^βλαβερά λάμβανε δὲ τὸν τόπον ἐκ τῆϲ μεταξὺ διαστάσεωϲ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου καὶ τοῦ τόπου τῆϲ ἐκλείψεωϲ. καὶ ὥσπερ λαμβάνεισ τοὺϲ χρόνουϲ ἀπὸ τῆσ ὥραϲ τῆσ ἐκλείψεωσ, οὕτωϲ καὶ τοὺς μῆναϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τόπου τῆϲ σεληνιακῆσ ἐκλείψεως. The eclipse of the luminaries occurring in cardinal points of the nativity or in those of the revolutions of the years is harmful. But take the place from the interval between the ascendent and the place of the eclipse. And just as you take the time from the hour of the eclipse, thus also the month from the place of the lunar eclipse.
κε’ Ποίει τὸν περίπατον τοῦ ἐπικρατήτοροϲ, ὅτε ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ μεσουρανήμα, διὰ τῶν ἀναφορῶν τῆϲ ὀρθῆϲ σφαίραϲ, ὅτε δέ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ, διὰ τῶν ἀναφορῶν τοῦ κλίματοϲ. Make the progression of the ruling planet, when it is at the zenith, by the rising of the right sphere, when it is at the ascendent, by the rising of the clime.
κϛ’ Κρύπτηται πάλιν τὸ πρᾶγμα, ὅταν ὁ δηλὸν αὐτὸσ ἀστὴρ συνοδεύει τῷ ἡλίῳ ἢ ὑπὸ γῆν ἢ ἐν ἀνοικείῳ τόπῳ. φανερὸν δέ ἅρα τὸ πρᾶγμα, ὅταν δὲ ἐκ ταπεινώματοϲ ἀναφέρηται ἐπὶ τὸ ὕψωμα καὶ ὑπάρχει ἐν οἰκείῳ τόπῳ. The matter is again concealed, whenever the star signifying it is itself in conjunction with the sun either under the earth or not in its own domicile. But the matter is manifest, whenever it is brought back from its dejection to its exaltation and is in its own house.
κζ’ Ἡ Ἀφροδίτῃ περιποιεῖται τὸ γεννωμένῳ ἡδονὴν, οὗ κυριεύει τὸ ζῴδιον, ἐν ᾧ ὑπάρχει· τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀστέρων νόει. Venus preserves for the Native pleasure [in that part of the body] that the sign in which it [Venus] is rules. And understand the same thing for the remaining stars.
κη’ Ὅτε οὐ δυνηθεῖς ποῖησαι συνοδεύειν τὴν [σελήνην] δυσίν ἄστροις, ποίησον ταύτην συνοδέβειν τινὶ ἀπλανὴ κρᾶσιν ἔχοντι τουτῶν. When you are not able make the moon conjoin with the two stars, make it conjoin with a fixed one having their disposition.
κθ’ Οἱ ἀπλανεῖϲ ἀστέρεσ παρέχουσιν εὐτυχίαϲ ἀλόγων καὶ παραδόξων, ἀλλ’ ὡϲ ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖστον ἐπισφραγίζουσιν ταύταϲ δυϲτυχίαϲ εἰ μὴ καὶ οἱ πλανηται τη εὐτυχια συνοδευσιν. The fixed stars bestow unexpected and surprising successes, but for the most part they confirm these ill fortunes unless the planets conform to the success.
λ’ Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. As for the proclamations of kings[2], if the ascendent of the king’s son’s birth is suitable, such a son will become the successor of the kingdom. [3]

Looking at aphorism 30, we can see how this copy is unique and lacking some helpful words, at least when compared to the edition.

Aphorism 30 from BNF gr. 2180 and the Critical Edition
BNF gr. 2180 Edition Translation
Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖς ἀναγορεύσεσι τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆς ἀναγορεύσεως τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆς γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδὸς τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσεται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχος τῆς βασιλείας. As for the proclamations of the kings, if the ascendent of the time of the proclamation harmonizes with the ascendent of time of the birth of the emperor’s son, then such a son will become successor of the kingdom.

The version in the edition helps make sense of the aphorism. As it turns out, aphorism 30 varies quite a lot from copy to copy. A quick look at three other copies, two 15th-century copies and a 16th-century copy, all differ from each other in notable ways:

Variants of Aphorism 30 in Four Different Manuscripts
BNF gr. 2180 Harley MS 5597 BNF gr. 2027 BNF Coislin 338
Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσι τῶν βασιλέων εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὁρωσκόπος τῆς ἀναγορεύσεως τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ βασιλείας ἐκεὶνης. ἐιδὲ ἐν ταῖσ ἀπαρχαῖσ τοῦ γένουσ ἀναγορεύουσι τῶν βασιλέων καὶ εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆσ ἀναγορευσεως τῶ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδόσ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται διάδοχοσ οὗτος τῆς βασιλείας. ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖσ ἀπαρχαῖσ ἀναγορεύσεσι τοῦ γένους τῶν βασιλέων, καὶ εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆσ ἀναγορευσεως τῶ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδόσ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχος τοῦ βασιλέως.

Such variations and the inferences needed to make sense of the aphorism raise questions about the authority and use of the edition. What goal does the edition hope to achieve? Many early readers encountered a text that was at times very different from the version in the critical edition. And watching our reader gloss BNF gr. 2180, at times those differences caused him to understand that aphorism in markedly different (if not incompatible) ways. What do we lose by relying on the edition? To be sure, we can only in lucky instances know which edition an early reader encountered (this is certainly true in the manuscript tradition and probably more common than we acknowledge during the early printed period). Such worries are not new. And I don’t have solutions to the problems those worries present. But I think it’s worth remembering that editions are problematic. I also think it’s worth remembering that we should not defer to editions merely because they are handy (and easy to read in modern type) or because by invoking the name of some erudite scholar and the imprimatur of an expensive press project some authority.

  1. At the moment this is no more than a hunch. Time and energy permitting, I’ll compare his Latin with typical printed copies to see if they correspond to each other. It is, of course, possible that he was copying from a manuscript copy, in which case finding it seems rather improbable.  ↩

  2. Here “ἀναγόρευσις/ἀναγορεύω” (i.e., “proclamation”) should probably be understood as the time when the king (or emperor) was officially named or crowned.  ↩

  3. This translates the aphorism as it is, which varies markedly from the version in the edition.  ↩

Flat Earth Belief ≠ Neo-Medievalism

Paula Simons has no patience for people who believe that the earth is flat, and she is particularly upset, it seems, that Edmonton is hosting the first Flat Earth International Conference: “No Getting Around the Absurdity of Edmonton’s Flat Earth Conference.” She dismisses “flat earthers” as delusional conspiracy theorists, reasonably benign if you don’t think too long on the broader consequences that generally accompany conspiracy theories, e.g. dogmatic rejection of evidence as evidence; unassailable, baroque,[1] labyrinthine theories (probably with minotaurs lurking in the center); rejection of expertise as nothing more than some state sponsored system of oppression seeking to silence free thinking and expression. Such conspiracy theories, she rightly worries, are facilitated by the dissemination of information (false and true) on the internet.

We need only to poke a few buttons on our portable phones to find the most reliable, credible scientific data, in real time…. Alongside all the “real” information?[sic] We have an equal mass of junk knowledge. Just as it’s never been easier to find the truth, it’s never been easier to spread a lie. Or a fairy tale.

Her observation is as true for “credible scientific data” as it is for credible historical information. And here is where Simons goes horribly off the rails. Aping uncritically a common “fairy tale” she claims that since 2015 “flat earthers” have been using the internet to promote “neo-medievalism.”

I’ve said this before, a bunch of times, but just to be clear here: the belief in a flat earth is NOT a medieval belief. And so the current beliefs about a flat earth are not “renaissance” or any other sort of revival of earlier beliefs.

People in the middle ages did not believe in a flat earth nor did they subscribe to uncritical, irrational conspiracy theories about the natural world. Moreover, they did not, during the Middle Ages, reject “science,” though their science certainly looked different from ours. I fail to see, then, how the flat earther conspiracy Simons worries about has anything in common with the middle ages. Like so many people before her who have relied on “junk knowledge,” Simons is “spread[ing] a lie” that has the quality of truthiness but not of truth. The flat earth conspiracy is not an example of neo-medievalism except insofar as people ignorant of the Middle Ages invoke the period as a slur to attack opinions they dislike (Simons claim that it’s a neo-medievalism tells us more about her prejudices and ignorance than it does about either the flat earthers or the middle ages).

If you are going to criticize people for not respecting expertise, for ignoring credible and real information, for spreading lies and fairy tales, then you have an obligation to respect expertise, to seek credible and real information, and not to spread lies and fairy tales. To be sure, Simons parroting of the medieval origins of a flat earth is “relatively benign,” but ultimately undermines her efforts to defend expertise and jeopardizes her attack on “flat earthers.” If she can’t get her facts right, why should anybody listen to her?


As a sort of postscript, I’m intrigued by her childhood experiences.

She opens by saying

So. When I was a kid, if you called someone a “flat earther” that meant that they were kind of, you know, deluded, silly. I mean, to call someone a “flat earther” was to suggest that they believe in the most impossible thing imaginable …

She must have grown up in a rough neighborhood, slinging insults like “flat earther” around. I’m imagining roving bands of hooligans with heliocentric tattoos, perhaps the Semmelweis and the Koch gangs embroiled in a biological turf war, while disaffected Mendelians lurked in doorways and alleys armed with peashooters. She probably also called kids Lamarckians and Tychonics and maybe even phlogistonists.

  1. Note, I intentionally did not use the adjective Byzantine, since that wrongly denigrates the Byzantine period/empire.  ↩

Who was Englishman John Digges?

No, really, who was John Digges? Apparently he witnessed the supernova in 1572 and helped “shred” the “hidebound view of the universe” and championed the “skepticism about Bible-infused group-think in the Middle Ages” that was the Ptolemaic system. John Digges also viewed the supernova as proof that the fixed stars weren’t fixed on some “kind of inert cap over the world.”

Oh wait. There was no John Digges. There was a John Dee. There was a Thomas Digges. They both might have witnessed the supernova in 1572. But that supernova had nothing to do with the fixity of the stars or a “Bible-infused group-think” (it certainly raised questions about other issues, e.g., the perfection of the heavens).

I want the author to realize this “photo” is a joke, but I fear he hasn’t.

It’s hard to take this polemic, “Was God Necessary for Creation? Science Says No,” seriously when it shreds history and seems to suffer from some rabid new-aethist-infused group-think. Most of the pseudo-history is totally pointless, adding nothing to the post.

The original photo linked in the article is clearly a joke. Note the description: “This is a vintage photo taken 13,730,8119,213 years ago. It is of course a scan of the original print, since digital photography had not been invented yet.…”

The core bit of the author’s rant is:

today science is able to convincingly demonstrate by peering into the tiniest of realms that in an infinite cosmos something can actually—and naturally—explode into being. Out of—as far as can be divined—absolutely nothing.1

Millennia of claims about spontaneous generation (either from rotting matter or from assumed sterile conditions) suggest that we will likely realize that no, something did not, in fact, come from nothing.2

Even a cursory encounter with history would have helped the author avoid some rather obvious errors. But that would require recognizing that history is a domain of expertise, not something this author apparently acknowledges.

Maybe we can just all agree to leave the history to historians.3

  1. Even John Digges would recognize the flaw in the logic that leads from this “finding” to the conclusion that science has proven that a god was not involved in the original creation of matter.  ↩

  2. For an excellent, readable history of ideas about spontaneous generation, see Daryn Lehoux’s Creatures Born of Mud and Slime: The Wonder and Complexity of Spontaneous Generation (JHU Press, 2017)  ↩

  3. I keep wanting this post to be sarcasm, to be a joke. But if it is, the author is so incredibly deadpan that I can’t detect the sarcasm. The egregiously erroneous history is not, alas, evidence of a joke—too many well educated, accomplished people regularly get history horribly and inexcusably wrong.  ↩

Aphorisms 11–20 from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός

Here are aphorisms 11–20 from the copy of Ptolemy’s “Ὁ Καρπός” in BnF gr. 2180. As to be expected, there are a number of idiosyncrasies here, some going well beyond the orthographic changes (which are unsurprising really). In some cases, this copy of the text includes additional clauses that raise interesting questions. For example, the “τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου” at the end of aphorism 11. How are we to understand the distinction between the common “τοῦ προκειμένου πράγματοϲ” and the added “τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου” in this copy? Did the copiest understand a semantic difference between “πράγματοϲ” and “ἔργου”? And why did the later reader who glossed so much of the text ignore aphorism 15?

The first seventeen aphorisms from a 15th-century copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός.
Translation of Aphorisms 11–20 from BnF 2180
Aphorism BnF 2180 Translation
ια’ Μὴ πρώτερον ἐπιλέξεισ ἡμέραν καὶ ὥραν, πρὶν ἤ διαγνώναι τὴν ποιώτητα τοῦ προκειμένου πράγματοϲ, τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου. Do not first select the day and hour before you discern the quality of the proposed matter, of the present action.
ιβ’ Ἡ φηλία καὶ τὸ μῖσοϲ κολύουσιν τὸ ὐπροβαίνειν ἀληθὴ τὸ ἀποτελέσμα, ἐλαττοῦσιν γὰρ τὰ μέγιστα καὶ μεγαλύνουσιν τὰ σμικρώτατα. Love and hate impede arriving at true astrological judgements, for they diminish strong things and magnify very weak things.
ιγ’ Ὅτε δηλώσει ἡ οὐρανία θέσει τι, χρῶ συνεργοῖϲ καὶ τοῖϲ φθαρτικοῖϲ ἄστροιϲ ἤτοι τοῖσ δευτερίοισ. When the celestial disposition signifies something, use the cooperating and the destructive stars, that is the secondary ones.
ιδ’ Ὢ ὁπόσα σφάληται ὁ ἐπιστήμων, ὅτε ὁ ἕβδομοϲ τόποϲ καὶ ὁ κύριοϲ αὐτοῦ ὦσιν κεκακομένοι. Oh, how many things baffle/frustrate the man wise in astrology, when the seventh house and its lord have been rendered unpropitious.
ιε’ Ὁ ὡροσκόποϲ τῶν ἐχθρῶν τοῦ βασιλέως ἢ τῆς βασιλείας εἰσὶν τὰ ἀποκεκληκότα ζῴδια ἀπὸ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου αὐταῖς, οἱ δὲ ὡροσκόποι τῶν κυρίων εἰσὶν τὰ κέντρα, καὶ οἱ ὡροσκόποῦντεσ τῶν δὲ ἐν αὐτοῖϲ ἀπὸστρεφωμένων εἰσὶν αἱ ἐπαναφοραί. τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν δογμάτων. The ascendent of the enemies of the king or the kingdom are the cadent signs from their ascendent, and the ascendent of their rulers are the cardinals, and the ascendents of those who dwell in them (what I read as ἀποστρεφομενων should probably be ἀναστρεφομενων) are the succedents. And the same thing in beliefs.
ιϛ’ Ὅτε κυριεύσουσιν οἱ ἀγαθοποιοὶ τὸν η’ τόπον, ἐπάγουσιν τὴν βλάβην ἀπὸ ἀνδρῶν ἀγα[θῶν], εἰ δὲ ἀγαθύνονται, ἀπαλάττουσι ταύτηϲ. When the benefics rule the eighth house they cause damage to good men, but if they are made good, they depart from this.
ιζ’ Ὅτε ἀποτελεῖσ περὶ τινοϲ ζωῆς γέροντοϲ, μὴ πρότερον ἀποτελέσεις, πρὶν ἂν καταμετρήσεις, πόσα ἐνδέχεται τοῦτον ἔτει ζῆσαι. When you forecast about a particular life of an old man, do not first forecast before you have measured how long it is possible that this one still lives.
ιη’ Ὅτε οἱ δύο φωστῆρεσ ἐν ἑνὶ λεπτῷ ὥσιν, ὡροσκοπεῖ δὲ καὶ ἀγαθοποιόϲ, ἐν πᾶσιν ἔσται εὐτυχὲισ τοῖϲ ἀνὰ χεῖρα ὁ γινόμενοϲ· ὡϲ αύτωϲ καὶ εἰ διαμετροῦσιν ἀλλήλοιϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου καὶ τοῦ δύνοντοϲ. εἰ δὲ κακοποιόϲ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ, νόει τὸ ἐναντίον. When the two luminaries [i.e., the sun and moon] are in a single minute, and also the benefic is the ascendent, the Native will be fortunate in all things that come his way. Just as also if they oppose each other from the ascendent and from the descendent. But if a malefic is on the ascendent, suspect the opposite.
ιθ’ Ἀμβλύνηται ἡ τοῦ καθαρσίου ἐνέργεια τῆσ [σελήνης] συνοδευούσησ τῷ Διί. The action/effect of purification loses is dulled when the moon is in conjunction with Jupiter.
κ’ Μὴ ἅψῃ μόριον σιδήρω ἡ σελήνη ἐπεχούσα τὼ ζῴδιον, ὃ κυριεύει τοῦ μορίου ἐκείνου. Do not touch a part of the body with iron when the moon is in the sign that rules that part of the body.

As always, I reserve the right to change these translations when I learn that I made a mistake. For example, I might revise aphorism 9 because there is, apparently, some debate about the meaning of the term “οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ” (see “Ὁ Καρπός, Aphorisms 6–10”). Relying on classical sources, Liddell and Scott translate “στοιχειοματικοὶ” as “casters of nativities.” According to C. Blum, later sources indicate a shift in meaning to one that implies a more magical practice. Something closer to “making amulets” or “making talismans.” I haven’t finished the article, so I don’t know yet if the arguments it persuasive.

In honor of aphorism 20, warning against bleeding when the moon is in the sign that rules that part of the body, here’s a zodiacal man from later in that same codex with the standard mapping of signs onto the body, starting with Aries at the top of the head and ending with Pisces at the feet.

A zodiacal man maps the twelve signs onto parts of the body, starting at the head and working to the feet. From BnF 2180, f. 108r