Them NanoRomans and the Lycurgus Cup

A few years ago, we mentioned in these pages a number of reports  which suggested the Romans were exploiting nano-technology (although they didn’t know it, of course … Them Nanoromans) … here’s another case via PhysOrg (tip o’ the pileus to John McMahon) … just the intro, then my eyes sort of glaze over (lack of caffeine + plenty of specialized vocabulary):

Utilizing optical characteristics first demonstrated by the ancient Romans, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a novel, ultra-sensitive tool for chemical, DNA, and protein analysis. “With this device, the nanoplasmonic spectroscopy sensing, for the first time, becomes colorimetric sensing, requiring only naked eyes or ordinary visible color photography,” explained Logan Liu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering at Illinois. “It can be used for chemical imaging, biomolecular imaging, and integration to portable microfluidics devices for lab-on-chip-applications. His research team’s results were featured in the cover article of the inaugural edition of Advanced Optical Materials (optical section of Advanced Materials). The Lycurgus cup was created by the Romans in 400 A.D. Made of a dichroic glass, the famous cup exhibits different colors depending on whether or not light is passing through it; red when lit from behind and green when lit from in front. It is also the origin of inspiration for all contemporary nanoplasmonics research—the study of optical phenomena in the nanoscale vicinity of metal surfaces. “This dichroic effect was achieved by including tiny proportions of minutely ground gold and silver dust in the glass,” Liu added. “In our research, we have created a large-area high density array of a nanoscale Lycurgus cup using a transparent plastic substrate to achieve colorimetric sensing. The sensor consists of about one billion nano cups in an array with sub-wavelength opening and decorated with metal nanoparticles on side walls, having similar shape and properties as the Lycurgus cups displayed in a British museum. Liu and his team were particularly excited by the extraordinary characteristics of the material, yielding 100 times better sensitivity than any other reported nanoplasmonic device. Colorimetric techniques are mainly attractive because of their low cost, use of inexpensive equipment, requirement of fewer signal transduction hardware, and above all, providing simple-to-understand results. Colorimetric sensor can be used for both qualitative analytic identification as well as quantitative analysis. The current design will also enable new technology development in the field of DNA/protein microarray. […]

In Defense of Classics (and other Liberal Arts)

Interesting oped piece by Michael Sloan (who is an assistant professor of Classical Languages at Wake Forest) in response to yet another governor suggesting funding liberal arts courses in university is a waste of money:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s comments on national radio suggest that taxpayer dollars supporting women’s and gender studies and philosophy classes is wasted money. Those programs, along with many others perceived as academic pursuits “that have no chance of getting people jobs,” are headed for the fiscal chopping block. According to McCrory, liberal arts studies do not lead to employment. The problem is, he’s wrong.

In fact, 95 percent of survey respondents from Wake Forest University’s class of 2012 reported either being employed or in graduate school six months after graduation. Nearly 31 percent of them remain in North Carolina. If history and philosophy and classics majors can’t find success after college, how can a liberal arts university such as Wake Forest account for these numbers?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently published its Job Outlook 2013 Survey, which identifies the core competencies employers seek in college graduates. These skills correspond very strongly with the content and skills acquired through a liberal arts education. The survey identifies communication, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and organization. Communication, which includes the ability to listen to others and articulate one’s own thoughts, rated first in nine out of the last 10 years.

As a classics professor, I come to class every day preparing my students for good jobs, but perhaps more importantly, equipping them with the necessary tools for creative and broad thinking — the type of intellectual training that does not merely fill available jobs but creates new ones.

Classics, a field all too familiar with the chopping block — and the one I know best — is primarily the study of Greek and Latin languages and their literatures. In the classroom, students learn to translate Greek or Latin into spoken and/or written English. After conceptually organizing its wider historical context, they critically examine and interpret the material. Finally, they integrate the lessons with their own perceptions and observations. What we do every day, in every class, hones the very skills the NACE reports that employers want.

Let us not forget the lesson offered by Sophocles’ “Ajax,” a canonical work of the classics. Ajax, a mountain of a man, was a mighty hero with a limited set of skills, however, the burgeoning Greek democracy required a new type of hero: one who was articulate, creative and a good leader. Greece required people like Odysseus; the strength of Ajax was of lesser value, and his demise was tragic.

“Liberal arts” is a phrase taken from the Latin, artes liberales , which means “the skills of a free person.” Pursuing the liberal arts in depth broadens our moral and intellectual horizons. Should we be as narrow-minded as our immediate surroundings? No. We must explore the thoughts, deeds and actions of others who have come before us, so as to forge a broader road on which we all may travel with a greater sense of identity and promise for the future. Martin Luther King Jr. (religion), J.K. Rowling (classics), David Packard of HP (classics) and Condoleezza Rice (political science) became great not through narrow skill but liberal training. Do we not realize that job creation is the work of creative minds, wise leaders and broad thinkers? Do we seek to fill only those jobs that currently exist and effectively inhibit new avenues for greater job creation?

What the governor, who is himself a liberal arts graduate, proposes is not higher education but lower.

Classics and other disciplines in a liberal arts curriculum offer students a rare opportunity to listen to the minds of their ancestors, wrestle with profound questions and better understand human behavior. Global leaders recognize that students from a liberal arts environment emerge with nimble and adaptable minds trained to wrestle with complex ideas and discover innovative solutions — essential in our uncertain world. Why should North Carolina be any different? North Carolina citizens should hope Homer and Odysseus are not headed out to sea.

The governor’s assessment is wrong. Classics and other liberal arts studies help students develop skills that are transferable to the career opportunities of the 21st century. Industry and technology change quickly and, for the most part, humans do not.

In his interview with Bill Bennett, McCrory said, “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

Depriving students in North Carolina’s public university system the opportunity to develop employers’ sought-after skills is at best short-sighted, but in reality, counterproductive. We don’t need less study of the disciplines named and implied, we need more. A complex world requires versatile and visionary leaders. That’s why liberal arts programs have been — and will continue to be — the natural breeding ground for our future leaders.

I’ve suggested this before and I’ll suggest it again … it would probably be a very good thing for Classics if departments started tracking the employment status of their graduating students (after six months, one year, whatever). Of course, the chowderheads will reply “sure, what kind of jobs”, but I think that can be said about a lot of just-out-of-university types, no matter what the discipline. Perhaps the info could be centralized by the major organizations and put online for in-your-face purposes.

CFP: The Little Torch of Cypris: Gender and Sexuality in Hellenistic Alexandria and Beyond

Seen on the Classicists list:

The Little Torch of Cypris: Gender and Sexuality in Hellenistic Alexandria
and Beyond
When: 2-4 September 2013
Where: Monash Campus, Prato, Italy

The workshop aims to investigate the definitions of gender and sexuality in
Hellenistic Alexandria and its major impact on Latin literature as well as
later genres of European literature that viewed the city as a symbol of
cosmopolitan self-expression. Alexandria provided the setting for the
development of a new definition of Greekness emanating from the city’s
multi-cultural basis. In addition, Alexandrian poetry seems to project a new
sense of the individual as a sexual being. From Meleager, the author of bold
love epigrams, to Sotades, the writer of obscene satirical poems, a number
of less known and less studied Hellenistic poets that have, nevertheless,
excited the imagination of Latin and later Europeans authors and sealed
their understanding of the Greek cultural produce.
The crux of our investigation is double on both ends: to untangle the
tensions between the classical Athenian definitions of gender and the
emerging sexual identities that are shaped at Alexandria and, regarding the
reception of Hellenistic literature, to highlight which of these
descriptions were understood to represent classical Greece or the
Hellenistic period. We warmly invite papers that examine:

1 The definition of gender in Hellenistic Alexandria and the numerous
traditions that shaped it (i.e. perceptions of Egyptian/ Jewish sexualities)
2 The reception of Alexandrian homosexuality in Latin literature.
3 The relationship between ancient Alexandria and modern European histories
of gender and sexuality.

Submission deadline: please, send your abstracts of 600-800 words to Eva
Anagnostou-Laoutides (eva.anagnostoulaoutides AT and Daniel
Orrells (D.Orrells AT by the 28th of February 2013.

Depending on the coherence of the papers, the convenors will approach a
quality publishing press as soon as the program for the workshop is
finalized. This should speed up the process of a one-volume publication
anticipated by the end of 2014.

Messages to the list are archived at

CJ Online Review: Ryan, Plato’s Phaedrus

posted with permission:

Plato’s Phaedrus: A Commentary for Greek Readers. Edited by Paul Ryan. Introduction by Mary Louise Gill. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. Pp. xxviii + 384. Paper, $29.95. ISBN 978-0-8061-4259-3.

Reviewed by Christopher Moore, Penn State University

This student edition of the Phaedrus includes a twelve-page introduction by Mary Louise Gill, an unmodified version of Burnet’s OCT text, a generous 250 pages of grammatical, textual, historical, prosopographical, and translation notes, a spare four-page bibliography, and indices of Greek and English terms and of proper names. By and large it leaves editorial history to De Vries’ A Commentary on the Phaedrus of Plato (Hakkert, 1969) and concision plus a tour-de-force overview to Yunis’ green-and-yellow commentary (Cambridge, 2011). It should replace Rowe’s useful commentary (Aris & Phillips, 1987) for visual appeal, completeness, pedagogical tone, consistent attention to variant MSS readings, and interpretative restraint, though Rowe’s includes an elegant facing-page translation. There is no vocabulary or discussion of reception.

Gill’s introduction, which includes a single page reference but augments Ryan’s “Works Cited” list, starts by announcing the strangeness of Socrates in the strangeness of the setting, and argues that an indeterminate dramatic date adds to this sense of strangeness. It claims that the Phaedrus was written in the years of the Parmenides and Theaetetus, and thus is transitional (middle-late) with respect to doctrine, but infers nothing from this about reading strategy except to ask: “in what way is Socrates’ role atypical and why?” (We should just as well also ask in what way his role is typical.) The two explicit topics in the dialogue are love and rhetoric; only slightly less explicit is the dialogue’s challenge to the reader to fit them together. Gill spends two pages talking about the “unity” of the dialogue, which section she had foreshadowed by saying that the “dialogue breaks into two dissimilar parts, three long speeches about love in the first half, discussion of their persuasiveness in the second half.” I do wonder whether students actually feel this supposed formal or topical discontinuity, and so whether adverting to a potentially factitious scholarly dispute is useful. After all, much (U.S.) education proceeds by the teacher reading aloud several exemplary passages and following them up with explication de texte or free-wheeling discussion. Many young people’s introduction to persuasive discourse in popular or high culture is in terms of amatory seduction. All the same, Gill proposes that the conversation’s variety meets the needs of Phaedrus’ variegated soul, and that Socrates wishes to turn Phaedrus toward a “more productive form of rhetoric, one in which the speaker knows the truth, though he may persuade his audience of something false.” She believes that the Palinode, which describes “a Fantasia-like parade of divine souls,” shows that Socrates knows the truth about love.

The commentary proper is loquacious but assured, comprehensive but useful. It is didactic about grammar and always characterizes the pragmatic force of the Greek particles. It has a good sense for the questions an intermediate student might ask.

A disadvantage of the book is that it does not take care to outline extended arguments, and sometimes the synopses heading sections of the commentary could mislead a reader. Here are two examples, though such infelicities are infrequent.

First, Ryan summarizes the immortality of the soul demonstration that comes early in the Palinode (245c5–246a2): “The ever-moving, [Socrates] says, is immortal, but nothing but the self-moving is ever-moving. The self-moving is, therefore, the origin or first principle of all other motion, and a first principle can neither come to be nor suffer extinction.” Ryan’s first sentence implies a connection from self-moving to immortal, which, upon linking soul to the self-moving, would be sufficient for the argument; the “therefore” of the next sentence both (i) makes it seem that being an archê follows immediately from the conclusion, which it does not, and (ii) obscures the fact that Ryan has construed the second part as a parallel argument for the same conclusion. Ryan’s ensuing analysis of an admittedly gnarled passage—and thus one needing the most judicious help—does not fully untangle it. It entertains Hackforth’s condescension that the difference between individual souls and collective soul is “not here before Plato’s mind”; it accepts without explaining Dennison’s figurative language that the repetitious phrases “flood and permeate, rather than strike, the ear”; and it rejects Philoponus’ and Burnet’s reading γῆν εἰς ἕν (245e1) because the contrast between οὐρανός and γῆ “is a rhetorical amplification that lacks point in this context,” even though if anything in the dialogue takes part in rhetorical amplification it is the Palinode.

Second, Ryan summarizes the argument at 261e5–262c4, about the sort of knowledge successful deception requires: “In order to deceive efficiently, the antilogician must work from the truth to its opposite by small increments, from which it follows that he must know the truth.” Ryan’s “efficiently” must refer to τεχνικός, but its sense in the argument is “reliably” rather than “not slowly or haphazardly.” Socrates is ambivalent whether deception starts from the truth (262a3 vs. b2). More importantly, the argument is about “know[ing] the truth,” but the question is about the truth of what. Within the discussion, it would have been welcome for Ryan, analyzing the very rare ἀλλά γε δή, to have explained the logical difference between his two options, “further” and “again.”

I should stress, however, that Ryan’s commentary otherwise excels in informativeness, clarity, and usefulness, and I would recommend it to any new readers of the Phaedrus.