Last Judgement. Fresco in the Sistene Chapel by Michelangelo.
IN THE MIDST OF ALL assuredly dwells the Sun. For in this most beautiful who would place this luminary in any other or better position from which he can illuminate the whole at once? Indeed, some rightly call Him the Light of the World, others, the Mind or ruler of the Universe: Trismegistus names him the visible God, Sophocles’ Electra calls him the all-seeing. So indeed the Sun remains, as if in his kingly dominion, governing the family of Heavenly bodies which circles around him.
The most interesting talk of the NAM historical session was the excellently titled Michelangelo Code. Valerie Shrimplin based her talk on part of her PhD thesis Sun Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgement’ available from Truman State University Press. It tackles something that initially doesn’t seem to be a problem. She also covers this in her paper of the same title in the Sixteenth Century Journal (Vol 21.4 1990 pp 607–44 JSTOR) which I’ve lifted the above quote from. The text above seems a reasonable description of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. In fact it’s from De Revolutionibus, by Nicholas Copernicus describing his heliocentric cosmology. Did Michelangelo paint Copernicus’s heavens in the Sistine Chapel?
It seems unlikely. De Revolutionibus was published two years after Michelangelo finished the chapel. After Copernicus’s death heliocentricism became controversial. It could be accepted as a mathematical device, but as a representation of reality, which is how Michelangelo uses it, it would later be seen as heresy. The accepted explanation is that Michelangelo came to place Christ in a central position independently, but this is an odd explanation when you look at other depictions of the Last Judgement and what it is supposed to do.
I had a slight worry a few weeks back. I found a book that tackled a large swathe of alternative archaeology telling the truth about it. The subtitle was The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology and Hidden History. It was a surprise because I keep kicking around an idea of writing my own disinformation guide. I flipped it open the contents page and found that it’s probably an uncritical trip through alternative archaeologies greatest hits. So it’s not quite what I want to do.
A fractal by Auntie K.
Here’s a post I’ve been trying to write for months. Discussion on Sharon Howard’s site and at the Hall of Ma’at has given me another prod into having a go. It’s not that I have a problem identifying what to say, it’s a matter of trying to say it politely. What do you do when someone spouts demonstrable nonsense at an academic conference or in a paper? For instance I’ve been told far too many times by different people that a person is a fractal of society. Now there are many responses to that, but my first is always that I’d like to ask “How have you calculated the Hausdorff dimension?”
Yet I can’t help feeling that would be a bit rude. My usual action has been to leave it. If there’s no value in what they’re saying then I thought no-one would apply it in their own work.
The talk should now be live on Leicester’s Breeze site. You’ll need to accept the security certificate, but if you have broadband then it should run after that. This version is 17 minutes long. It’s not exactly the same as the talk I’ve given today but it’s close. I improvise wildly during the talk looking at when I’m confusing people. The lack of eye-contact made the recorded version quite a trial. Some slides took many many attempts. Every stumble over a word now sounds like a yawning chasm.
If you’d like to hear others from the i-Science centre give seminars then don’t say so here. There’s an email address on the final slide. Email there and the centre have more evidence than my possibly overenthusiastic word that more seminars should be going up online.
I’m having to write this up early, so a late flurry of votes on Slooh might change the final tally, but at the moment the results are:
||Votes @ Slooh
This is interesting for me because I think it’s Hercules and the published identification is Boötes. I added the option of Orion as an afterthought because I thought it would be useful to see if people are bringing their own familiarity with constellations to interpretations.
To see why G.L. Huxley thinks it’s Boötes you need to turn the sherd upside down. If you do this then the scrawl in the middle becomes Arcturus. The pentagram on the right is eta Bootis and the pentagram on the left is zeta Bootis. Another reason the Huxley gives for this being Arcturus is that it’s the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere and that there’s a Beta for Boötes on the sherd.
The Beta is backwards, which might be a problem, but probably not. This is a sherd from around 500 BC, which is at the early stages of literacy in the Greek world. At this stage there was no consensus about which way round the letters should go and Pithekoussai, the site where this sherd was found, did have a retrograde alphabet, so this matches nicely what we know about the culture. From an astronomical perspective it’s more difficult.
This is the final post on the topic till Thursday. Following advice in the comments, I’ve put up this diagram on the Slooh forum which should have some eager amateur astronomers. I don’t know what the feedback will be like, so I’ve decided to put up the poll here too. If the poll is active then over on the right you should see the an astronomical graffito from Pithekoussai. If you’re familiar with constellations then I’d appreciate it if you could select the most likely constellation from the options given. You’re welcome do discuss what you think it is, but I’d be grateful if you vote before you read the comments as I’d like your opinion, rather than your opinion of someone else’s opinion.
On Thursday morning I’m giving the talk at NAM, and the plan is to hyperlink to this site and the Slooh site to see if there’s an obvious winner. I have a growing feeling it’s going to torpedo my pet theory which might make the concluding comments interesting. Sadly you won’t get to see my embarrassment, but there is a consolation. You’ll be able to see a version on the web from midday Thursday.
Natalie Bennett asked why aren’t academics using things like Skype to create their own podcasts? Clanger got it right in the comments noting that the biggest barrier: “most of all, you need to understand what it is.” I hadn’t paid it any attention because I simply thought of it as telephony and I hate being telephoned. After some investigation I found that for various reasons it can’t happen yet at Leicester. However, we do have a Breeze server which we can use. If you have a Flash plug-in (well over 95% of people do) then you should be able to watch a PowerPoint slide show with me narrating over it.
Depending on feedback there may be more seminars to follow. We try to have monthly seminars for a general science audience which could be recorded as they’re given. I can’t promise anything soon though as I’m the most junior member of the i-sci department (just below the lab mouse) and by the time it’s agreed to produce more it’ll be summer and we’ll all be off on fieldwork.
Blackwell’s have made an issue of the Oxford Journal for Archaeology accessible to the public. This is a particularly good one for me as it includes a paper by A. Richardson, The Orientation of Roman Camps and Forts. In some ways it’s slightly annoying as it was something I planned to look at after completing my thesis, but it’s a good illustration of work that could be done by anyone with an interest in ancient astronomy.