[LMB] OT: Romans

Eric Oppen ravenclaweric at gmail.com
Wed Aug 28 02:09:22 BST 2019


I wonder how the ancient world would have been different if cheap, sturdy
paper (particularly compared to expensive parchment and crumble-prone
papyrus), printing, and codex books (as opposed to clumsy scrolls) had been
introduced around the time of Alexander the Great.

On Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 6:35 PM Parish, James <jparish at siue.edu> wrote:

> Beatrice Otter wrote (much snipped):
> > Then came Petrarch in the 1300s.  Petrarch saw the Glorious Past of
> > Rome through extremely rose-tinted glasses.  Petrarch looked at the
> > ruins of the glorious buildings, and how big the Empire had been at
> > its height compared to how small the warring Italian principalities
> > were, and wished he'd been born in the height of the Empire.  He was
> > Miniver Cheevy, except he didn't just "shrugged and called it fate/and
> > kept on drinking," he set out to do something about it.  He was going
> > to be a Poet Laureate just like they'd had in Roman days.  (He crowned
> > himself.)  He wrote all this stuff about how glorious Rome had been,
> > and how shitty everything was in his day, so they should all try and
> > be like the ancients.  (Actually, by the 1300s the average standard of
> > living in the Italian peninsula was higher than it had been during the
> > height of Rome; the only people for whom the Roman Empire had been
> > better than the middle ages were the very top elite, the "1%" of their
> > day.)  The rest of the Italian elite hopped on the bandwagon because
> > every little principality was small and in danger of being squashed by
> > France and Spain and other great powers, and saying "hey, you don't
> > want to destroy us, you want to take our culture and history and make
> > it your own, and come here and spend lots of money as tourists!" was
> > one of the few self-protective strategies they had that actually
> > worked even a little bit.
>
> It might be worth mentioning that, by Petrarch's time, several
> innovations were already accelerating the pace of progress, some of
> which made Petrarch's work possible: the invention of eyeglasses around
> 1200 (the impact of this on the lifetime output of artisans and
> craftsmen can't be overstated), the construction of the first European
> paper factories in Italy at about the same time (books suddenly became
> much cheaper), and (mentioned previously) the adoption of Hindu-Arabic
> numerals.
>
> On that last point: Roman numerals were not, generally, used for
> computation; various calculating tools- the abacus, the dustboard, and
> others - were the real competition to H-A. There had been several
> attempts to introduce H-A to Europe before then, in one case championed
> by a Pope (Sylvester II), but the big advantage of H-A over the abacus
> and such had to do with error-checking, which required preservation of
> intermediate computations. Until the arrival of paper, this advantage
> had little weight; it was too expensive to keep scratch work on parchment.
>
> (I love this stuff.)
>
> Jim Parish
>
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