Omo sanza lettere

At the turn of the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci described himself as an ‘omo sanza lettere’, a man without letters. He most likely meant that he had, to paraphrase Ben Johnson, little Latin and even less Greek. Leonardo was one of the last men of the Middle Ages and one of the first ofContinue reading “Omo sanza lettere”

To inhabit a letter

What was the snuggest spot to inhabit on the medieval manuscript page? It couldn’t have been on the text, that was always shifting, the handwriting was not always steady, the spelling not always the same, the words not always in the right place. Scribes were tired and the light was generally bad in the medievalContinue reading “To inhabit a letter”

When texts want to break free

One of the achievements of electronic media has been the recovery of what may be called the live text. If Gutenberg’s printing press was the museum in which letters came to repose in fossilizing slumber, then the computer woke them all up and brought them back to a special kind of life. The printing press,Continue reading “When texts want to break free”

Conflict and change

It’s hard to find a time in European history when conflicts recede and stasis takes over, like in the history of the great Asian kingdoms and empires. The European ancient period was a cycle of conflicts between small city-states, tribes against tribes, factions against factions, senators against dictators. In the long classical period, the paxContinue reading “Conflict and change”

Language and myths

When we look back over the last thousand years, we see the formative stage of our European culture today, just like seedlings caught in the process of becoming full plants.  In particular, we see two things: we see European languages developing and becoming fully-fledged idioms of communication and literacy, and we see proliferating stories germinatingContinue reading “Language and myths”

The Covid-19-prisoner’s dilemma

According to this renowned game theory postulate, cooperation is not always the best way to maximise individual benefit. The key thing about the prisoner’s dilemma model is that what you don’t know prompts you to adopt the position of lowest risk. The classic illustration offered by Albert Tucker involves two criminals who have been arrestedContinue reading “The Covid-19-prisoner’s dilemma”

Near Life Experience

Everyone seems to agree that one of the casualties of this crisis is our interpersonal life. The first thing to die of Covid-19 was the handshake, which had long been seen as one of the guarantors of humanity’s ability to close gaps between individuals. The handshake had been in the street long before the hugContinue reading “Near Life Experience”

Getting bored in (not with) the 12th century

There are some truly boring centuries, like the 6th or the 7th. Any honest historian will have to admit that if they had to go into confinement with anything written during those centuries as the only distraction, they’d fall prey to the worst forms of tedium. There are boring centuries, but there are also excitingContinue reading “Getting bored in (not with) the 12th century”