Posts Tagged With: History

Atomic Imagination

The year is 1932 and a promising hungarian physicist, Leó Szilárd, has just finished reading the “The World Set Free” by H.G. Wells. First published in 1914, it foretold the invention of atomic weapons decades before the idea of releasing large amounts of energy from atomic reactions was considered even possible. In fact, as late as 1933, the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford was quoted as saying “anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms is talking moonshine”. Continue reading

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The Roman Manifest

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of the Euro disintegration…. first issued as a physical currency almost thirteen years ago, the Euro quickly became more than anything else, the embodiment of the European Union dream. That same currency, full of symbolic value, is now on the brink of collapse. The financial crisis has washed away the appeal of the notion of closer integration in Europe and old national rivalries and grudges are quickly resurfacing. If the Euro breaks apart, it is hard to see how the European Union will be able to survive.

At this time of crisis, the European politicians would do well to look back into European history and see what they can learn from the past. In particular, the history of Rome provides extremely valuable principles to guide us through the present turmoil. Let us not forget that Rome, first as a republic and then as an empire, lies at the very foundation of Europe and lasted, at least in the west of the continent, for over a thousand years. What made Rome so successful? Continue reading

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A Ghost Library

In 1952 Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. published a series of books with the goal of presenting the so-called “Great Books” in a single package of 54 volumes. This was just one of endless attempts at defining the set or “canon” of books that exemplify the peak of human intellect. Confronted with those attempts, I am always left wondering about the ones that are not even considered because, although we are aware of their existence, they were destroyed by wars or human ignorance or even those for which no indirect references were preserved and have been utterly obliterated by the sands of time…
In many ways, we must realize that we are just cataloguing and ranking the remains of a shipwreck that we happen to encounter on the vast shore of human history.  A few examples can easily remind us of what is regrettably beyond our reach. Continue reading

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The Heavenly Kingdom and the Devils

Since Marco Polo wrote his “Description of the World” in the thirteenth century, millions of readers have been excited by the exotism and sophistication of the Heavenly Kingdom. I have always found fascinating how civilizations develop and interact with others. Few are as rich and complex as the Chinese.
In the case of China, one of the turning points in its history took place during the nineteenth century when a shift in the global balance of power saw it come into conflict with the emerging western empires.
Westerners had always found that while buying tea and silk from China was possible, selling goods to the their Chinese counterparts was far more difficult. There was little demand for western products. What did exist was a virtually limitless demand for silver, and a growing demand for opium. When the British conquered Bengal in the eighteenth century, thing changed dramatically at Canton (the main trading post with China at the time). The East India Company acquired the Bengal opium monopoly and sold the product at action in Calcutta. That change in the supply of opium was to have far reaching consequences. Continue reading

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Libertatem meam mecum porto

A friend asks me about the meaning of the motto ‘Libertatem meam mecum porto’ that I have used as a tag line for this blog so let me say a few words about it. The motto translates roughly as ‘I carry my freedom with me’ and I like it because, contrary to some naive interpretations of what freedom means, it conveys a sense that having freedom entails also carrying a burden, the burden of being responsible for your actions and decisions and being willing to pay the price for them. At least, that is how I interpret it. I first read it on an essay about Miguel Servet, (29 September 1511 – 27 October 1553) a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first one (at least in Europe) that correctly described the function of pulmonary circulation. Furthermore, he courageously took part in the heated religious debates of his time and was condemned by both Catholics and Protestants. Sadly, he was eventually arrested in Geneva and burnt at the stake as a heretic by order of the Protestant Geneva governing council.

Miguel Servet

Servet used the motto  ‘Libertatem meam mecum porto’  on some of his works like his edition of the Ptolemy’s Geography and his beautiful 1542 edition of the Sanctes Pagnino’stranslation of the Bible. Certainly a fascinating character that was not afraid of facing the consequences of his actions.

Ptolemy’s Geography

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