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Astronomers have discovered nearly 6,000 planets in the last 20 years. And Neanderthals had red hair and freckles.

We are living in a great age of natural science.

In “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” John Keats described the wonder he felt on reading the translations of The Iliad and the Odyssey published in 1616 by Shakespeare’s contemporary George Chapman (1559-1634):

	Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
		When a new planet swims into his ken;
	Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
		He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
	Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
		Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

It was Balboa, not Cortes, who was the first Spanish explorer to see the Pacific from Central America (Keats was corrected but let the line stand). The “watcher of the skies” who delights “when a new planet swims into his ken” was the astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781.
More… “Our Silver Age of Natural Science”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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First Tupac, then Michael Jackson, and now… Patsy Cline? Country music gets its first holographic performer. (BBC)

Michael Lind recently lamented the disappearance of the classics from modern American culture. Now, a fascinating and wide-ranging argument for “classics for the people” – or, more specifically, greater access to ancient Greek studies in British schools:

The Greeks, more even than the Romans, show us how to question received opinion and authority. The earliest myths reveal mankind actively disputing the terms on which the Olympian gods want to rule them, and the philanthropic god Prometheus rebelling against Zeus in order to steal fire – a divine prerogative – and give it to mortal men. Sophocles’ Antigone refuses to accept her tyrannical uncle’s arbitrary edict, draws crucial distinctions between moral decency and contingent legislation, and buries her brother anyway. Aristophanes, in his democratic comedies, subjected politicians who wielded power to satire of eye-watering savagery. Socrates dedicated his life to proving the difference between the truth and received opinion, the unexamined life being, in his view, not worth living. No wonder Hobbes thought that reading Greek and Roman authors should be banned by any self-respecting tyrant, in Leviathan arguing that they foment revolution under the slogan of liberty, instilling in people a habit “of favouring uproars, lawlessly controlling the actions of their sovereigns, and then controlling those controllers”.

More… “Classics, Catholics, and Patsy Cline”

Diane Pizzuto is the art director and managing editor of The Smart Set.

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