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Boojatta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-10-06 09:30 AM
Original message
"The ancient Romans were practical people"
Is there a better explanation for the lack of original theoretical work by ancient Romans?

Why I am not satisfied with the explanation in the title of this thread:

1. Theoretical work is practical if one is interested in the long-term future.

2. If some ancient Romans studied history in detail then they would have known that various practical methods were not always known and in many cases were developed based on theory.

3. The Romans had a simple writing system. So difficulty learning the writing system should not have prevented ancient Romans from studying books or recording new ideas.

4. It doesn't take very many people to do work of a theoretical nature. So the "they were practical people" explanation almost amounts to something as ridiculous as this: "Over a period of hundreds of years, only about forty ancient Romans were interested in doing theoretical work and it just happens that none of those forty people was particularly talented."
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Jed Dilligan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-04-07 01:09 AM
Response to Original message
1. These blanket statements characterizing whole societies
are always wrong.

How practical are a people if almost every single one of them carries a phallic amulet to ward off the evil eye?

Which was the case among the Romans. I could just as easily call them superstitious, emotional, and completely obsessed with the concept of luck. I could provide at least as much evidence as the "practical" side.

Now I'm not sure if you are characterizing the argument correctly--"practical" seems to be more like "pragmatic" here, i.e., they applied their talents, including theoretical talents, to things like inventing the arch (as opposed to, for instance, Aristotle's "Unities" of drama or Plato's utopia.) Part of this was that they inherited the Greek tradition wholesale and much of the basic theoretical work was complete--in fact, it wasn't until the Renaissance that Aristotle's basic theories were challenged.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-06-07 12:27 PM
Response to Original message
2. Rome was late to the party, so to speak.
By the time Rome became a full-blown great power and started to absorb Greek culture around 200BC the Greek intellectual boom that began in the 500s BC had petered out.
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Boojatta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-15-07 10:38 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. What determines when there is an intellectual boom?
Wasn't the Italian Renaissance at or near the beginning of the European Renaissance? Rome is in Italy. Why was there such a long delay between the Greek "party" (so to speak) and the Italian Renaissance?
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-30-07 09:56 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Good question.
According to the late British historian Arnold J. Toynbee the aristocratic class, which was the main source of intellectual creativity in Graeco-Roman society, started loosing that creativity during the 200s BC and started to develop a kind of archaistic, backward-looking groupthink. There were "intellectual" booms during the Roman imperial period, but these were of a mostly religious nature (Neo-Platonic mysticism among the aristocratic elites, Christianity among townspeople).

The lack of creative intellectual activity during the early Middle Ages was because the only literacy was generally limited to clergy, and education was concerned with educating priests and preserving what had survived from the classical past. Only with improving economic conditions starting around 1000 AD that creative intellectual activity started again with the debate on the problem of universals ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_universals ). During the 1200s Western Europeans got access to most of Aristotle's works, triggering the Late Medieval intellectual boom associated with folks like Thomas Aquinas that culminated in the early Italian Renaissance (late 1300s and early 1400s). The fall of Constantinople resulted in a lot of Greeks coming to Italy and brought most of Plato's works with them, causing the boom in Platonist thought that dominated the latter Renaissance (late 1400s to early 1600s) and triggered the Scientific Revolution.

Starting in the early 1600s Western intellectuals, inspired by the Copernican revolt against the authority of Aristotle, now started going beyond their Graeco-Roman predecessors on a huge scale starting with Rene Descartes and culminating in the Enlightenment.
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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Aug-31-07 11:41 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. I disagree
I think a more updated view of the Dark Ages and the Early Middle Ages is not that there wasn't a lack of creative of intellectual activity, but that it was not recorded or the implications fully understood. There is a huge tendency to ignore the contributions of the people in this time period for a variety of reasons that are more related to the bias of the historian than with the lack of contribution. But between the time of the late Roman Empire and the early Italian Renaissance there was also an Irish Golden Age, the Benedictine period in England, the Carolingian Renaissance and the later Ottonion Renaissance. This also ignores the Byzantines who also enjoyed a strong intellectual period during most of this period.

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Boojatta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-02-07 05:07 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. Is explaining why people weren't making records of
creative intellectual activity any easier than explaining a lack of creative intellectual activity?

I would think that expressing ideas so that readers can appreciate the significance of the ideas is part of the job of those who are involved in creative intellectual activity. Surely most writing is written with the intention of influencing people within the next hundred years rather than trying to impress antiquarians of the far future.
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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-03-07 08:02 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Why does it have to be written records?
Oral Tradition is still an extremely important and powerful method of communication between groups and generations. Homer had it in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Beowulf was a Christian transcription of an oral work. Other examples include King Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the basis of the Irish/Norse sagas. Even the Kalevala, while modern, is a compendium of many Finnish folk tales. In modern times, oral tradition in the form of the corrido was and still is an important method of passing news and other information in rural communities in Mexico and the US Southwest.

Beyond literature and news, medicine itself was passed down orally as well - the Lacnunga was a capture of an oral tradition at the time.

L-
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Boojatta Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-03-07 11:27 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. Homer had it, but it was also written down a long time ago.
If somebody today wrote down a surviving ancient Roman oral tradition, then how would anyone know that it was indeed passed on down the generations from ancient Rome? How would we know that it wasn't recently fabricated?

Suppose that it isn't a deliberate deception. Wouldn't it nevertheless be possible that significant modifications or additions were made in recent times?
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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-03-07 11:55 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. My comment was about how the Dark Ages
Were probably not so dark intellectually.

As for change, I would argue that any story would change over time oral tradition or not. Look at Sherlock Holmes which has seen a fair number of it's literative elements co-opted by the TV show House. Fundamentally they are still the same, but they differ. Or if you prefer technology, today's lightbulb is significantly different than Edison's.

Even language is a form of intellectual capital and language changes over time. Any meme or idea when passed will not only affect the person, but be affected by that person - sometimes it just takes a large number of people before this change is apparent.

L-

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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Sep-08-07 08:39 AM
Response to Reply #5
10. But weren't those more of a religious nature?
I'm talking about the more purely philosophical and scientific stuff.
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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-09-07 01:52 AM
Response to Reply #10
11. I think it is a bit more than that.
Religion has had a tremendous effect on philosophy, culture and even science that I think cannot be discounted. This was true for the Greeks, the Romans, as well as those living in the Dark Ages and the Renaissance. Religious and religious practice has in turned triggered and directly influenced the development of technologies, philosophies, law, finance, law and culture which in turn have influenced religion and religious practice. The interdependencies are significant, even more when you look at both religion and philosophy as quite similar in their content (ethics, truth, knowledge, etc.).

The Egyptian Pyramids, the Greek Temples, the intertwining of Astrology and Astronomy, etc. The Dark Ages were no exception. Because Byzantium adds a bit of complexity to any discussion, let me focus though on Western Europe and show that development had not stopped.

Bede in England in the 8th century wrote a treatise entitled, De temporum ratione - On a Reckoning of Time. This was an extensive treaties discussing both an ancient and "modern" (8th century) explanations of the cosmos and of recording time. More practically he discussed ways to calculate the Zodiac and to calculate Easter. Bede himself is considered the father of English history. Prior to him there was Isidore of Seville's treatise "On the Nature of Things".

Take music, while the music of the Carolingian Renaissance was religious, they added not only a musical notational system, but an intellectual rigor which was the genesis for modern music theory. A scant 100 years later during the Ottonian renaissance, Guido of Arezzo created the musical staff notation and the do-re-mi scale. Music itself was considered one of the four elements of the scientific based quadrivium introduced by Alcuin of York in the 8th Century. The quadrivium along with the trivium were considered the 7 liberal arts and the basis of today's Liberal Arts education.

The 8th and 9th centuries also saw the establishment of the first set of schools of education which

Roswitha, a German Nun of the 10th Century, wrote what many consider the first drama written in the West since the end of the Roman Empire. While her works are not plays in the modern sense - instead of a style called closet drama - and were religious in nature, they were significant in their development.

Later, you have the 11th Century which saw Anselm of Canterbury (Archbishop), whose religious works dealt quite a bit on the nature of God and Truth. He also coined the concept of an ontological argument, a core tool in modern philosophy.

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