Thursday, October 19, 2017

Aeolian Harp

A musical instrument designed to be played by the wind

The Aeolian Harp, invented in Germany in the seventeenth century, is an instrument in which strings are made to vibrate by the movement of the air, without any human interference. It is named after Aeolus, an abiguous figure from Greek mythology who was thought to be the master of the four winds.

He appears most famously in a story of the hero Odysseus, who is said to have arrived at a mysterious floating island where Aeolus reigned along with his six sons and daughters (who were, disturbingly, all married to each other).

Strange domestic arrangements notwithstanding, Aeolus entertained the hero kindly, and gave him a gift to help him on his way home: a magical bag in which all the winds were trapped, fastened ith silver string. By only letting out the favourable West ind, Odysseus was able to make swift progress, and before long, the shores of his beloved homeland were in sight.

But some of Odysseus. men greedy for loot, decide to see what their captain was keeping in his mysterious bag and, whle he slept, they untied the silver string. Immediately, the winds that were trapped insid rushed out in allmighty squall, which blew Odysseus all the way back to Aeolus' island.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

To be under the Aegis

To be under someone's protection or authority

In Greek myhology, the aegis was a very mysterious garment associated with Zeus and his daughter Athena. Sometimes the aegis is represented as a sort of cloak. At other times, it is a shield or a fringed breastplate. Some accounts have it made out of goatskin (perhaps the skin of the magical she-goat Amalthea) while others claim it was made of gold. In Athena's hands, the aegis is sometimes a mantle woven out of hissing snakes.

At any rate, the aegis was believed to be a tool of incredible power. Zeus could bring down thunderstorms and strike terror into mortals just by shaking it, and Athena wore it in battle in order to terrify her enemies. Set on the front of the aegis was the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa, which was so horrible to look at that anyone who saw it turned to stone.

To be covered by the aegis of the gods was to have some friends in seriously high places, and that sense of protection, coupled with high authority, survives today.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Achilles Heel

A person's weak spot or volnerability

Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess sing

Homer, Iliad, i 1-2, trans Alexander Pope

The story of Achilles is central to the plot of the Iliad, Homer's epic poem of the Trojan War and Greek literature's earliest and perhaps finest work. The poem tells what happens when Achilles Quarrels with Agamemnon, his commander-in-chief, and withdraws from the fighting around Troy.

Deprived of their best fighter, the Greek army is pushed back by the Trojans until Achilles' beloved friend Patroclus enters the battle wearing th hero's famous armour. The Trojans, thinking that Achilles has returned, begin to flee, but the Trojan Hero Hector kills Patroclus and stems the tide. Devasted by his friend's death, Achilles vows revenge and defeats the unfortunate Hector under the walls of Troy.

At this point, the Iliad ends, but Achilles become such a huge figure in the Greek world that later writers (like modern fans who write home - made sequels to The Lord of The Rings) kept adding to the mythology around him. It was the Roman poet Statius who introduced the story that the baby Achilles had been dipped in the River Styx. This, Statius wrote, made him involnerable except at the heel by which his mother had held him.

In Statius' version, Achilles is finally killed by a poisoned arrow that strikes the vulnerable spot, and ever since, any fatal weakness has been called an 'Achilles heel'.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

An academy

The world's first academy was founded in Athens at the beginning of the fourth century BC by the philosopher Plato, perhaps one of the greatest and most influential thinker of ancient Greece. It started as a simple association of like - minded intellectuals which was named after its meeting place near the grove of the hero Academus on the outskirts of the city.

Through the Academy, Plato taught young Athenian aristocrats (including the equally influential philosopher Aristotle) the arts of philosophy, geometry and mathematics. Even after Plato's death the academy continued as a centre of learning, developing ideas which would become the foundation of Western philosophy and which would have a profound influence on the development of Christian ideology hundreds of years later.

In modern English, the world 'academic' has come to imply 'out of touch', 'pointless' or 'obscure'. This of course is terribly unfair on the original Academics, whose philosophies lie at the very heart of later Western thought. 
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