Monday, 30 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part nine

Calabria, Taras, ca. 281-272 BC, stater, Vlasto 1016 (this coin)
Campano-Tarentine series
Now and again I identify finds for a British metal-detecting forum. These finds are almost always examples of early Celtic art because even Celtic coin finds are usually correctly identified by its metal detectorist members by the time I get there. Early Celtic art is understood by very few people at all. Imagine my surprise when I saw an example of the coin type on the right up for identification. As my first specialty about fifty years ago was ancient Greek coins, I knew what it was at once.

A metal detectorist usually finds quite a range of finds in any area with a long history, and a nice example of early Celtic art will almost never have anything even remotely connected with it nearby. Instead, there will be (typically) a fragment of a Medieval shoe buckle; a twentieth century penny; a watch key; a badly corroded late Roman coin... Not only that, but  the twentieth century penny might well be at a greater depth than the Roman coin. Agricultural machinery acts like a giant food-processor! The most extreme case of that phenomenon I have seen was when I fourteen years old, and it was not on a ploughed field but actually at an archaeological site: I was walking with Malcolm Hay (my best friend at the time, and the one who got me interested in Greek coins) through the grounds of Prittlewell Priory in Essex when we saw an archaeological excavation underway that was very close to a modern building. We found this quite hilarious because, even at the age of fourteen, we were aware that putting in a foundation for a building disturbs quite a lot of ground around said building. This fact finally dawned on the excavators after they started finding beer bottle caps and a few other remains of the builder's lunches at Palaeolithic depths. This was also the first time that I started wondering about the observational abilities of some archaeologists. I am still wondering about that, more than fifty years later.

There was nothing that the finder of the Greek stater could connect with his find in that area and I told him of  a couple of possibilities: the coin might have been a souvenir brought back from Italy by a Celtic warrior who had served In Pyrrhus' army. The closest tribe whom we know did serve at Taras was the continental Ambiani who were also the first of the Belgae to mint their own coins following the design of a gold stater of Taras (with the head of Amphitrite or Hera on the obverse), or the coin might have been lost by a collector who had just purchased it and was taking a short cut across the field on his way home (its paper envelope which was used before the modern plastic "flips", having long turned to pulp). Or could it have been something from a burglary which was thrown away as it was too identifiable? One could come up with any number of possibilities. Metal detecting might be an excellent pastime for the fiction writer looking for ideas for a new story!

Evidently, there was some sort of an alliance between Taras and Neapolis in Campania to explain this unusual type, but its details are uncertain. There are a few possibilities, though: one is described here, and this nineteenth century encyclopaedia might give other clues. Merely recounting what happened in the past, like entries in a ledger is a sterile activity, but cultures and their objects can inspire and culture is an ever-changing and ever-inspiring phenomenon that, by its very nature, has no boundaries (what would have Picasso's  career have been like if he had seen no African masks brought back from French Africa?). Keats, certainly, was so inspired.

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 27 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part eight

(post-production processing: JH)
Come hither, leaving the island of Pelops,
strong sons of Zeus and Leda;
appear with kindly heart,
Kastor and Polydeukes,

who go on swift horses
over the broad earth and all the sea,
and easily rescue men
from chilling death,

leaping on the peaks of their well-benched ships,
brilliant from afar as you run up the fore-stays,
bringing light to the black ship
in the night of trouble.

Alkaios of Mytilene, Fragment 34 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) early 6th century BC.

This episode contains just a few of the many references to the Dioscuri by Jung. These span eastern and western mythologies and religions. The source of all of these is the unconscious, but as impressions are received by the conscious, through dreams, altered psychological states and so forth, they can adopt cultural trappings. Our age, on the Mythos/Logos, scale is further to its Logos end than it has ever been in the history of humanity. Religion has lost much of its highly important metaphorical content and has become materialized. With that comes the insanity of religious wars (Joseph Campbell said "People are killing each other over their choices of metaphors.), and culture has been kidnapped by nationalism.

Rather than dwelling on such insanity, I want to focus more on the mortal and immortal as expressed in the core mythology of the Dioscuri.
"The year 531 is characterized astronomically by a conjunction of [Jupiter] and [Saturn] in Gemini. This sign stands for a pair of brothers, and they too have a somewhat antithetical nature. The Greeks interpreted them as the Dioscuri (‘boys of Zeus’), the sons of Leda who were begotten by the swan and hatched out of an egg. Pollux was immortal, but Castor shared the human lot. Another interpretation takes them as representing Apollo and Heracles or Apollo and Dionysus. Both interpretations suggest a certain polarity. Astronomically, at any rate, the air sign Gemini stands in a quartile and therefore unfavourable aspect to the conjunction that took place in the year 7 B.C. The inner polarity of may perhaps shed light on the prophecy about the war of the tanninim, which Rashi interprets as fishes. From the dating of Christ’s birth it would appear, as said, that the sun was in Gemini. The motif of the brothers is found very early in connection with Christ, for instance among the Jewish Christians and Ebionites."
Jung, C. G., Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2): Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (p. 81). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
"Vollers compares Khidr and Elias on the one hand with Gilgamesh and his primitive brother Eabani or Enkidu, and on the other hand with the Dioscuri, one of whom was mortal and the other immortal. This relation applies equally to Jesus and John the Baptist, and Jesus and Peter. The last-named parallel can be explained only by comparison with the Mithraic mysteries, whose esoteric content is revealed to us in part by the surviving monuments."
Jung, C. G.,  Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation: 005 (Kindle Locations 3985-3989). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
"Another attempt at a solution seems to be the Dioscuri motif: two brothers who resemble one another, one mortal, the other immortal. This motif is found in Indian mythology as the two Asvins, though here they are not differentiated. It appears very clearly in Shvetashvatara Upanishad (4, 6) as the companion birds who “clasp the selfsame tree,” i.e., as the personal and suprapersonal atman. In the Mithraic cult, Mithras is the father, Sol the son, and yet both are one as δ μέγας θεòς Ἣλιος Μίθρας: “the great god Helios Mithras.” (Cf. Dieterich, p. 68.) That is to say, man does not change at death into his immortal part, but is mortal and immortal even in life, being both ego and self."
Jung, C. G., Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation: 005 (Kindle Locations 18508-18513). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
The Jungian mythologist Cark Kerényi, as the introduction to Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life presents an essay: Finite and Infinite Life in the Greek Language in which he discusses two Greek words for life: bios (βίος) and zoë (ζωή). The first is the individual life from conception to death, the second is life as its non-material substance. We might call it the life-force, but that modernism would be inaccurate as it exists apart from the material and thus cannot be expressed as energy. It does not, however, belong only to the mystical but should be a part of quantum physics. Wolfgang Pauli said that the Einsteinian "observer" should really be studied and defined as it is integral to physics, but it still remains at the periphery of quantum physics although it has certainly been brought closer with dual-aspect monism as explained by its most recent proponent, Harald Atmanspacher, and you can read this PDF of his Dual-Aspect Monism à la Pauli and Jung.

Mythological conflations can often be cultural "constellations" of archetypal imagery and on the coins of Taras, the imagery not just of the Dioscuri, but of Taras, himself and even his dolphin  are brought into this same theme of the mortal and immortal as you can see in this excerpt from Murray Stein, Jungian Psychoanalysis: Working in the Spirit of C.G. Jung

Have a transformative weekend, and I will be back with more coins of Taras on Monday.

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part seven

A Dioscuri (Dioskouroi) obverse type
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
Whenever you see the word "ritual" in archaeological writing you can be fairly certain that the writer knows next to nothing about mythology and religion. In such passages, any details or references will usually be completely absent. Archaeologists who are critical of such usage are of the opinion that the writer just does not understand what has been observed and is using the word because nothing else makes sense.
Numismatic writing fares a little better, but most often only by defining a deity and its attributes. There is a common western misconception that mythology was a way for more primitive people than ourselves to understand the world (but now we have science). All of the above are merely projections of the psychology of the individual onto the material.

Jungian psychology and mythology are thoroughly integrated and mythology might better be seen as the original psychology. The materialism of modern times often finds historicity and material truth essential to its religious beliefs; treats the mind as the brain and seeks chemical reasons for its psychological problems and uses other chemicals for their cure. Again, we see only psychological projection in these views. We might wonder what Freud was projecting when he attributed so much to infantile sexual repression.

So far, in this series, I have mentioned some rather strange mythology. It is important to understand, though, that ancient people had different ways of expressing their ideas and, in the west, ancient ideas about religion were far more sophisticated than ideas about religion in modern times. The key to beginning to understand this is to understand a little about syncretism, and I am afraid that the Wikipedia article on such is not going to help you very much. Syncretisms are the ways in which new beliefs are accepted by people who retain much earlier beliefs.  Using examples just from this series alone, I can give you some appreciation of what I like to call "the mythology code". The term "code" should sit well with people today as it appears often in popular culture. It should syncretize well!

Earlier and later deities in any area are often brought together through a stated family tie. The relationship might be parent and child or spousal. The newer deity could be father or son; mother or daughter, or even a more distant relative depending on what the culture thought had more authority. If the newer belief wanted to make a complete break with the older (in a society that had religious familial importances) then the castration or the killing of the relative was the way to establish this break. Joseph Campbell gives a good example with the story of Cain and Abel (the new herders replacing the earlier agriculturists).

The subject of the Dioscuri reveals much about modern, materialist, belief as it is expressed in the modern, and completely muddled concept: Interpetatio Romana, which references Tacitus, Germania chapter 43, but rarely gives the actually quote:
"The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with with an ancient worship. The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the deities are said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux. This indicates their character, but their name is the Alci. There are no images, and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly worshipped as young men and as brothers."
After you have read my introduction to the "mythology code", you will probably realize that Tacitus had far more knowledge about mythology and syncretism than those who created and use the term "Inerpretatio Romana". The phrase is modern and does not exist anywhere in classical literature. Some people have even imagined the phrase to have indicated a Roman policy! In Gaul, Roman names that are attached to indigenous deities were not even so attached by Romans. They were attached by the indigenous priesthood because of Augustus' prioritizing of the Roman deities: At the top of his list was Vesta, who was considered to be the most Roman of all, then came deities that were major, but who had obviously been syncretized such as Apollo (who retained his name from the Greek), Mars (Ares), who was obviously important to the Roman Army, and so on. Augustus, also initiated a cult of the emperor. Not because he imagined himself a god, but because previously, Roman soldiers swore an allegiance to their generals, and that would not have been a politically smart move for the new empire. I believe that Augustus was one of the most intelligent leaders in world history. The Gaulish priests, in the new empire could expect more perks if their temple was dedicated to a Romanized god than the indigenous one, and the higher up the list, the better (Vesta, however, was "off limits" of course). In the Roman Empire, foreign cults got little official financial support. The Gaulish priest would be given a large amount of land, some of which was to be leased to farmers in order to supplement the temple's income as was Augustus' policy. For archaeology, If there is no Roman temple then any Roman hoard cannot, possibly, be a religious offering (see my series on the Frome hoard).

I had intended to go straight into Jung's ideas about the Diocuri in this episode but realized, this morning, that without such an introduction as I have given here, it would make no sense to anyone at all who is not either a mythologist or a Jungian. Mythology is a phenomenally complex subject, but the rest of its complexity you will start to pick up as we go along. Tomorrow, however, we will examine the Jungian viewpoint of the Dioscuri and their syncretisms without further ado.

John's Coydog Community page

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part six

Taras stater of the 281-272 BC issue depicting a Pyrrhus elephant
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
[Admin. note: if anyone emailed my personal email yesterday (not the GMail listed on the blog), please resend as a Verizon pipe in Seattle to my ISP went down and some emails were lost. It did give me a chance to chat with William who is adding new features to the Celtic Coin Index Online, but these are still in development and not public yet.]

There are only two ancient objects which depict both a man riding a dolphin and an elephant. One of them (which does have other varieties, however) is this stater of Taras, and the other is the Gundestrup cauldron. That the connection is not made in all published papers on the Gundestrup cauldron almost boggles the mind. The reason, I believe, is due to the lack of interdisciplinary (antiquarian) approaches, mainly with archaeology. Slowly, the situation is starting to improve with the postmodern influence on the subject but many of the people who are publishing today were trained in the modernist manner of New Archaeology which reached its apex back in the seventies and cultural lag usually takes quite a few decades to pass. So far, it has reached the "fashionable" stage where postmodernism is presented in archaeology more as a showcase and not simply as a useful tool for understanding. It is limited, too, by another (purely academic) fad for really bad writing and composition as is satirized by the pomo-generator.

When Pyrrhus came to Italy on the invitation of Taras, he brought with him a number of war elephants and the symbol on the stater illustrated here refers to that event, as was noted by Evans in the nineteenth century and is still accepted as fact. My favourite account of Pyrrhus in Italy is in Plutarch's life of Pyrrhus and you can read Bill Thayer's presentation of the Loeb edition.  By the way, The complete Loeb Classics are currently available to individuals by subscription, but sadly, not yet by purchase. Hopefully, Harvard, Amazon or Google Play will one day rectify that situation.

Pyrrhus also used Celtic armies in Italy and this is why the Gundestrup cauldron uses so much imagery from his Italian campaigns (not just Taras). The cauldron, itself was made in Italy by Thracian artisans. The native schools of Thracian art had become unpopular and were being replaced by Greek artists from Italy and Sicily who brought their styles and influences with them. I believe that the cauldron was made for Celtic patrons in northern Italy, but the British Witham shield has some designs typical of southern Italian workshops (Jope, 2,000).

All that remains is to show you the Gundestrup plate with the elephants and its female Celtic figure with her arms in the gesture of grief (presumably for the many lives lost by Pyrrhus in his "Pyrrhic Victory"). Obviously, the elephants were drawn from a description of the animal, unlike the more realistic symbol on the stater.

Tomorrow, C. G. Jung and the Dioscuri of Taras.

John's Coydog Community page

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part five

Calabria, Taras, stater, 460-420 BC, Evans 1

Obverse: Horseman
Reverse: Taras astride dolphin over waves
Arthur J. Evans, M.A. F.S.A.
The "Horsemen" of Tarentum, London, 1889
The most famous coins of Taras are the horsemen staters and nothing I could say about them could compete with Arthur J. Evans' The Horsemen of Tarentum, published as a book in 1889. Happily, you can download the entire work with its plates, for free, from Goggle Play Books. Although written over a hundred years ago, the information has changed less than you might imagine.

This episode is mainly a "picture book" of a few of the coins that I think expresses the series best. I will, however focus on specific types in following episodes. All of the coins here are coins from Classical Numismatics Group Inc. and will have only the date range but the links will take you to the full descriptions. Similar coins can be purchased at any time without having to spend a fortune as many of them are quite common and they are very popular among collectors and dealers

The first coin is very difficult to find, but I include it because it is the first illustrated in Evans work and no example of it existed in Vlasto's collection: one of the few varieties he could never find The photo below is the reverse of the same type in the Altes Museum, Berlin, and is the only additional example I could find on the web.

The reverse of Evans 1
Altes Museum, Berlin.
Adapted from a photo by Sailko
I particularly like "the profusion of waves" as David R. Sear puts it in his listing in Greek Coins and their Values, Seaby, Volume 1, 1978, 321. Back in 1965-6 you could find me, most lunchtimes in his department at Seaby's in Great Portland Street, London when I was 15-16 years old, as I worked not far away. David was a mentor to many kids at that time, and of course, ancient coins were a lot less expensive than they are today! I still have many great memories of David at that time and (of course) his really beautiful assistant Helen Webster!

The horsemen of Taras can be anything from young boy jockeys at the equestrian games in that city to the Dioscuri and to armed warriors and the types often reflected the state of their society at any given time. They also have a wide range of attendant symbols and magistrate's names.

For the rest of this post, just enjoy the coin images and I will be back tomorrow, in this series, with elephants.

ca. 302-280 BC
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

ca. 340-325 BC
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

ca. 280-272 BC
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

ca. 302-290 BC
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

John's Coydog Community page

Monday, 23 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part four

from the Vlasto collection, but not illustrated in op. cit. (part one).
Obverse: Taras astride dolphin, arms outstretched,  scallop shell below.
Reverse: Head of a Nereid within circle.
description of type: JH.
This episode focuses on misunderstandings and mythological conflations. The head on the reverse is often described as Satyra (Satyræa). However, this is not a name and means only "the daughter of a satyr". In other words, a nymph. However (again), the sea-nymphs (Nereids) are all related to Poseidon, and one of these was the mother of Taras.

Pausanias says (Book X, 10.6):
"They say that Taras the hero was a son of Poseidon by a nymph of the country, and that after this hero were named both the city and the river. For the river, just like the city, is called Taras."
Earlier, Strabo says: (Book VI, 38.28):
"There is a tradition that Taras was born to Neptune by Satyræa, daughter of Minos."
There is only one of the Nereids attributed by name on a coin of Taras, and that appears on a gold coin of the late 4th century BC, and the name is given as Amphitrite (although Vlasto said it is Hera). Amphitrite really only means the goddess or queen of the sea, so you can see how both Amphitrite and Hera could have been used. I can find no other classical reference to clarify the matter so I am leaving her identity simply as a Nereid. It might well be true that Amphitrite was adopted, by name, by the people of Taras to have been the mother of Taras, and less likely that Amphitrite and Aphrodite were conflated at Taras (both were loved by Poseidon and there was a very important cult of Aphrodite at Taras as is indicated by the common scallop shell symbol on the coins).

The explanation for the circle around the head of the Nereid is illustrated by this passage in The Argonautika by Apollonius of Rhodes, Book IV, line 936:
"And as when in fair weather herds of dolphins come up from the depths and sport in circles round a ship as it speeds along, now seen in front, now behind, now again at the side and delight comes to the sailors; so the Nereids darted upward and circled in their ranks round the ship Argo, while Thetis guided its course."
While the dolphins circling the ship might well have delighted the sailors, I once was fishing off the coast of British Columbia when a number of porpoises circled our boat. They were hoping to steal any fish we were hooking at about 400 feet down. We had some pebbles in the boat, according to a local custom, to throw at the porpoises to try to get them to leave, but I really doubt that any porpoise was ever hit by one except by pure chance as they did not stay above the waves long enough for me to even aim my camera at any of them. Dogfish, too, were present hoping for a free meal. Never saw any Nereids, though.

Obverse: Taras as founder of the city (Oikist) seated holding distaff and kantharos.
Reverse: Taras astride dolphin, arms outstretched, scallop shell beneath.
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
The second coin is another from the Vlasto collection and is illustrated in the book ibid. When Pausanius, in the above passage called Taras a hero, it was the Oikist cult to which he was referring. I could have used a better condition coin of the type, but this variety is not just from the Vlasto collection but only three are known to exist.

Tomorrow, more from Taras.

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 20 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part three

Obverse: Taras seated on dolphin holding cuttlefish (sepia)
Reverse: Hippocamp with scallop shell below
Following the incuse coinage of Taras are two issues of staters with their fractions. Besides the now familiar image of the dolphin rider, the scallop shell figures largely in these types. A symbol associated with Aphrodite as it was on a scallop shell that the goddess, like Taras, first came ashore. There was an imprtant cult of Aphrodite at Taras. "Her birth was the consequence of a castration: Cronus severed Uranus' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite (hence her name, meaning "foam-arisen")"  Such myths indicate a syncretistic change from the religious beliefs of an earlier people to those of whom that have replaced them in some region. That change can then become a thing in of itself and be subjected to further syncretistic changes. A good example is Dionysos who is first a primordial animal deity and then, after being slain by the Titans, becomes the second-born (resurrected) god of the vine. Later, the myth is syncretized in the Christian resurrection. For more information see my posts Ancient Druids 1. and The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite, 7, The Dionysian.

Obverse: Taras seated on dolphin, beneath, scallop shell
Reverse: Wheel of four spokes

The fractions show the scallop shell,  wheel, dolphin, and hippocamp in isolation. There are also female heads, none of which (curiously) are currently identified as Aphrodite.

More on Monday, have a lovely weekend.

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part two

Calabria, Taras stater, 510-500 BC
Apollo Hyakinthios naked to left, hair bound with fillet, kneeling on left knee, right foot advanced, holding in right hand a hyacinth, and in left hand a tetracord chelys.
description: Michel P. Vlasto op. cit. part one

The complexities of mythology cannot be exaggerated, but whenever we have to add political and monetary history to this picture as is quite common in numismatics, it is no small wonder that the subject of numismatics can only be presented, academically, in an introductory fashion. No single work presents a complete picture of this coin, and the issues (including those of other cities) to which it is related. All I will do here, is to present samples of these very different viewpoints.

We will start with Apollo Hyakinthios: He exists only at Taras and his name is a conflation of a deity and a legendary prince. One of my favourite works on Greek mythology is the two-volume (avoid abridgements) The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. There should be little need to describe Apollo here. His main reference to Hyakinthios follows:
"There was also the case of the beautiful youth Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince, with whom not only the poet Thamyris fell in love – the first man who ever wooed one of his own sex – but Apollo himself, the first god to do so. Apollo did not find Thamyris a serious rival; having overheard his boast that he could surpass the Muses in song, he maliciously reported it to them, and they at once robbed Thamyris of his sight, his voice, and his memory for harping. But the West Wind had also taken a fancy to Hyacinthus, and became insanely jealous of Apollo, who was one day teaching the boy how to hurl a discus, when the West Wind caught it in mid-air, dashed it against Hyacinthus’s skull, and killed him. From his blood sprang the hyacinth flower, on which his initial letters are still to be traced."
Hyakinthios is also a conflation: Graves says "the mark on the Greek hyacinth concerns the Cretan Flower-hero Hyacinthus, also apparently called Narcissus." Graves continues:
"Dorian Apollo usurped Hyacinthus’s name at Tarentum, [Taras] where he had a hero tomb (Polybius: viii. 30); and at Amyclae, a Mycenaean city, another ‘tomb of Hyacinthus’ became the foundation of Apollo’s throne. Apollo was an immortal by this time, Hyacinthus reigned only for a season: his death by a discus recalls that of his nephew Acrisius."
We next must diverge slightly to the more familiar dolphin riders of Taras. John Francisco (an independent scholar and numismatist) in The Incuse Coinage of Tarentum and the Pythagorean Theme of Friendship says:
"The scene on the dolphin-rider stater is of a dolphin jumping left with a human rider on his back. The idea in antiquity of riding a dolphin was a popular one, in Herodotus, Arion the poet on his way back from Tarentum was saved by dolphins. Here though on the coin the rider was probably either the eponymous hero Taras, son of Poseidon, or Tarentum’s founder Phalanthos, who was reportedly saved by a dolphin. Aristotle (fr. 590 Rose) is the source for the former suggestion, Pausanias (X.13.10) the source for the later.
The identity whether Taras or Phalanthos (also mentioned in part one) is "time sensitive" and dependent on whether the Spartan foundation of the city or its later autonomous identity is to be emphasized. We see, also, that the story of Arion is also conflated with Phalanthos/Taras but I think that mythological "drift" rather than syncretism is the most likely reason. I have also seen the dolphin rider on the Gundestrup cauldron described as Arion, but his identity as Taras is certain. A lot of the confusion about the Gundestrup cauldron is due to a lack of mythological/iconographic knowledge (especially of the Greek), and the fact that, while made by Thracians, the artists were in Italy at the time. Its date is also wrong (it was made before 200 BC). (Hooker, forthcoming). To complicate matters even further, the tetracord chalys held by Apollo Hyakinthios is a form of lyre which uses a tortoise shell as a sound box and was also played by Arion. Lyres appear on many dolphin rider staters of different periods.

Numismatists also take into consideration the many weight standards under which Greek coins were struck and the connected political/historical  implications, there is wealth of pertinent discussion to these topics  in this discussion by "JBF" (John Francisco).

More tomorrow.

John's Coydog Community page

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part one

Italy, Calabria, Taras, Stater, ca. 510-500 BC Vlasto 68.
Obverse: Phalanthos riding dolphin, scallop shell below
Reverse: the same, incuse and reversed.
(click to enlarge)
I recently obtained The Collection of Tarentine Coins Formed By M. P. Vlasto, Compiled by Oscar E. Ravel, 2nd edition, 1977, Chicago. This is the standard reference for the coins of this city.

Michel P. Vlasto was a Greek collector and Taras (now Taranto, Italy) was the Greek Spartan colony founded in 706 BC.

Before the WWW, printed books were almost our only source for ancient coin images and modern publications had coin images on a 1:1 scale printed by the half-tone process which reduced the image to small dots. This combination often makes the identification of the exact dies very difficult and sometimes impossible (with very small coins).

A diobol (11 mm) similar to the one I bought as a child
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
A diobol of Taras showing the head of Athena and Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion was one of the very first Greek coins I bought as a child. Something similar would cost me more than $200 today, but they were fairly inexpensive back then.

The figure riding the dolphin on the featured coin, and the first stater type of the city, is sometimes identified as Philanthos, the Spartan (Pausanias), or as Taras (Aristotle). In either case, he was the legendary founder of the city who was rescued by a dolphin after his ship was wrecked near Delphi, and he founded the city where he made land.

Taras on the Gundestrup cauldron 

He also shows up again on the Gundestrup cauldron as the Celts (including the Ambiani) served in Pyrrhos' army during his Italian campaigns. One of these was defending the city of Taras. The Gundestrup cauldron has two other icons of these campaigns, and the earliest coin of the Ambiani is copied from a coin of Taras. They are extremely rare and no images can be found on the web.

Tomorrow, the rarest of the early Taras staters (Vlasto had three of them).

John's Coydog Community page

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part six

Immanuel Kant 1724-1804
In my two-part series, Physics and metaphysics, I gave a quote from Immanuel Kant about all that we know as reality comes to us from our senses. These ideas are clearly from the mind of an Introverted Intuitive (Kant was an INTJ or an INTP, and I am an INFJ). The very idea of virtual reality could hardly have come from any other personality type. More outward-looking materialist types might have considerable difficulty with the idea of a subjective universe. You can find them, often, among modernists but never among postmodernists. In an extreme form, the materialist espouses scientism rather than science and tends to objectify even people. Such individuals might find virtual reality very disturbing. They might accuse people with such an interest as avoiding reality and they would never, ever, experience virtual reality for themselves.

Fortunately for virtual reality developers, these people are a very tiny minority and most people whether introvert or extravert find the subject very interesting. In fact, the extravert is more likely to be the one who can resolve the engineering problems of VR.

 The opportunities for virtual reality are limited only by the extent of our imagination and it goes far beyond gaming: already, it is being used to show houses and apartments in order to save wasting time in viewing too many properties. It is ideal for visiting museums and contemplating art works without being subjected to to the push and shove of too many tourists (a problem with viewing the Mona Lisa, my daughter, Jasmin, tells me). The British Museum is the latest to use virtual reality and that includes the immersive headset variety, not just panning around on a webpage. With virtual reality you can check out a vacation destination before you contact the travel agent, and the same services would be of great value to the novelists who want verisimilitude in their descriptions. Then there is advertising, military, scientific, medical, psychological... the list goes on. It could possibly find its way into all aspects of life and change the world.

I am very grateful to my son-in-law, Nigel, for giving me the opportunity to experience the cutting-edge of virtual reality and it was an experience I will not forget. Perhaps, next year, I will have the Oculus Rift at home. What could be more ideal for a Canadian winter than turning up the thermostat, and pouring a nice cold drink before donning the headset and visiting a tropical paradise somewhere? Of course, interacting with the locals in VR is beyond our technology at the moment, but that is not a big problem for an introvert!

This was the concluding episode in this series. I will come up with something very different for tomorrow's post.

John's Coydog Community page

Monday, 16 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part five

Star Trek-inspired image of a holodeck
graphic: Jin Zan
While we continue to move toward the experience of being in a Star Trek holodeck, creating one that is the same as is shown by the Star Trek franchise would be impossible no matter how far into the future we look. The only exception would be if we can find another universe where the laws of physics, as we know them, do not exist. Star Trek is more accurately science fantasy than science fiction and we should really question its predictive value when we see that the original series could not even imagine that hand-held devices would soon become very slim and that their screens would no longer resemble something seen on an early DOS computer. Literature and even radio can succeed in creating a more believable future because they utilize our imagination to supply the visuals, and our imagination keeps to what we think to be realistic, even if  we experience the work a very long time after it was created.

Star Trek's original series was somewhat dated, even in its own time: I remember some of those hairstyles in the late fifties and early sixties. But it was aimed at an audience who still found them acceptable. Some space-opera productions have done a better job:Joss Wheadon's Firefly envisioned a future where even the English vernacular had changed and was interspersed with Chinese words.It did not last as long as its almost contemporarily created Star Trek Enterprise which, today, I find far more dated than Firefly.

Some visions of the future of virtual reality which cite Star Trek have their feet on the ground, while others are just involved in flights of fantasy. Business and politics, both, are not about any reality: they are aimed at the mediocrity of popular belief. The medium is the the message.

Current developers of virtual reality devices such as Oculus have to balance the desires of the public with technology that is either currently available, or which can be very shortly realized. It does no good to fantasize about two hundred years into the future unless the product, itself, is fantasy. Human space travel for longer distances, itself, might be just such a fantasy.

This series will wrap up tomorrow unless I have more ideas for it later today. You see, I have hard time predicting the future even for the following day, and that is just the way I like it.

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 13 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part four

Wassily Kandinsky, Der Blaue Reiter Almanac cover
I can only imagine what Wassily Kandinsky or August Macke would have done with virtual reality. Their Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group pushed the psychological limits of colour, sound and shape, and it extended into performance art with The Yellow Sound which (because of the outbreak of the First World War) none of them ever got to see. Its premier was at the Guggenheim in 1972! I can also only imagine how it would have been received in 1914! I read the English translation of Der Blaue Reiter Almanac in the late sixties, but the link goes to the original German edition as  the translation does not appear on the web, and it suffers greatly with a machine translation.

You can find a definition on the web for almost any phrase, but you will not find one for "perceptual engineering", only various applications of that phrase. This was not always the case and in the early days of the WWW it was spoken about because of various ideas about what the web might be able to do. In  essence, certain wavelengths whether in sound or light can have predictable effects on human psychology and physiology. Besides scaring people, it was also discovered that the current media technology could not accomplish such things, anyway.

This is not exactly true. Granted, no computer monitor can deliver a precise, pre-determined wavelength to your eyes, and I am not sure how accurate the wavelength needs to be to deliver the desired effect, or the even the ranges that would be required to create a partial result. Media and design does use such things: restaurant owners who like people to eat quickly and not linger over coffee will use red to create agitation, and Marion Cooper, an interior designer who had worked on a number of important buildings in various places once told me that she had cured a client's chronic headaches by convincing her to change a red ceiling to a different colour. We hear of "a  green room" in a talk show waiting room because green is calming. Also, we have to consider that colour perception is not exactly the same for each person.

I needed to "push the envelope" when I had to come up with a colour design suite for some printed maps that were to be used by emergency personnel in worst-case scenario flood maps in the case of dam breaches. What was especially good about the project was the fact that experimentation was possible because my maps (and various other graphics) were used in presentations to different groups, including First Nations people and dam workers. At first, I thought that an easy way to show potential flood levels would be to overlay a coloured flood on mosaicked aerial photographs. I already knew that depicting a realistic colour for flood waters would be psychologically harmful and had settled on a nice "swimming-pool blue" . What harm could that do? It struck so much fear in the mind of one chief's wife that the band actually successfully lobbied to have the government extend the land of the reservation to include some fertile land above the high water level because the Chief's own land was on the fertile flood plain and his wife was insisting that he move elsewhere. Oops.

I also learned how presentation could have very different effects depending on the cultural psychology of the audience: with dam workers, an unintelligible map (of the kind I was contracted to replace because of a government order for the company to do so) the workers sat silently during the presentation, and had no questions afterward. The presenters, who were engineers, thought that the presentation was thus successful. Actually, the workers had not understood a thing, but were too embarrassed to make that known (each person thinking that it was only himself that did not get it). After I replaced the maps, the dam workers had many important observations and suggestions to make such as "But there is a locked gate on that road, and that could be big problem!"

In a First Nations presentation, members of the audience would suddenly rise from their seats and leave the room without making any comment about the earlier maps. It was imagined that they did not understand maps in general. Actually it was because the maps were just too awful for anyone to understand and the First Nations people were less subject to the embarrassment exhibited by the dam workers.

Designing the colours I needed was extremely difficult because I actually had to work blind: no colour monitor or printer could duplicate what I was creating. Process colours were inadequate for the task so I had to design in RGB (red, green and blue wavelengths combine to create colourless light). I had to use a specific set of equipment  at the print shop and run colour tests for everything. It would not work, for example, if the printers decided to use a different printer even if it was of the same model as the one I ran the tests on.

My most successful colour was the base green for the maps . It took a long time to perfect it and anyone who saw the colour exhibited the same reaction: their voices became softer in tone and calmer as they spoke. It was similar to the voice of someone talking to a baby or a very young child. This was the psychology required in people who had just been woken up and put in charge of the rapid evacuation of a population because of a dam breach. More lives would be saved just because of a colour.

Because of the immersive nature and multimedia possibilities of virtual reality, the medium could well make important advances in art, emergency training and  other types (shhh!) of perceptual engineering.

I will be back on Monday with more in this series. Have an expressionist weekend!

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part three

headphones not included
photo: D. Coetzee, Berkeley University
For my point of departure, today, I am using Taylor Clark's How Palmer Luckey Created Oculus RiftThe link goes to the online article of the Smithsonian Magazine. Some of what I say might make little sense if you have not read this first, and it is the best account I have found, anywhere, of the story of  Palmer Luckey and his creation.

As an example of the value of this advice, I also noticed the "screen door effect" mentioned in the article, but I recall it it best from the darker scenes at the start of my experience. Whether I just got used to it or my senses compensated, I cannot say. Perhaps, too, the later samples had been subject to improvements.I do think, though, that this effect might well be worth some scientific study.

I became interested in how sensations can fool the body doing some research at the Foothills Hospital Medical Library here in Calgary many years ago. The paper was by a Tasmanian doctor: A.A. Robinson, Heart disease, cancer and vehicle travel, Medical Hypotheses, Elsvier, Volume 5, Issue 3, March 1979, Pages 323-328. You can read the first part and rent or purchase another, later, paper by the same author on this topic: The motor vehicle, stress and circulatory system, Stress Medicine, Vol. 4: 173-176, (1988). The problem is that evolution can foresee nothing so when you are going faster than is usual for any human body, it is responding to visual input and pumping all manner of chemicals through your system in an attempt to compensate for all of that extra energy you must be using. In turn, these chemicals might be leading to the manner of your eventual death and will probably hasten that event as well. I much prefer reading while riding on the bus, but you have to feel for the bus driver.

There might be, however, be a plus to the use of virtual reality from this effect: if you are exercising on a stationary machine then your eyes are telling your body that you are not going anywhere. How far would your exercise be improved if the chemicals  delivered to your system are commensurate with your effort plus the signals that your eyes are receiving from your virtual reality headset?

But we have other senses as well as sight: if you run past something making a sound, the sound volume increases as you approach it and diminishes as you go further past it. The Doppler effect also changes the sound, but you only (consciously) notice this with great speeds. The autonomic system evolved as it was far better survival for you to become less conscious of bodily functions and more conscious of  nearby predators or food sources.

There are also psychological ramifications with possible virtual reality research, but tabloid journalism is only interested in the bad and might give you the false impression that any bad result does not also have  very good applications. Furthermore, certain psychological types flourish with new experiences or changes in perceptions, while for others it is the cause of much harm. We all fool ourselves: we think that the moon is orbiting the earth and some people might be upset with the idea that the moon is just falling (because of gravity) through curved space. There is even one hypothesis that the third dimension is nothing but an illusion and everything exists in only two dimensions. String theory postulates even more dimensions as being real. About the only thing we can be sure of is that we do not know the true nature of reality and are bound by our narrow human perceptions and evolved sensations.

I will be expanding on the psychological ramifications of the future of virtual reality tomorrow, with something on art. Think about what I have said here, and if your field is the hard sciences, then also think about the uses of virtual reality from within your speciality. There is sure to be something there...

John's Coydog Community page