April 26, 2013

Memory Palace

Found out that the key to remembering anything—whole books if you want to—is actually quite simple and entertaining.  The key is to create a palace in your memory, and to associate such intriguing pictures related somehow to what you’re trying to memorize, that it just sticks.

For instance, if I want to memorize the CFA (1) curriculum in time for my exam (a very difficult feat considering how much time my book’s publication has swallowed up), I should for example imagine a satyr discussing Hades’s financials with Zeus to show how Plato was technically supposed to go to the Elysian Fields because the assumptions used in his pension benefit obligation were altered and he actually didn’t owe anything at all (because his plan wasn’t overfunded)!(2)

I was first introduced to this concept while watching the show The Mentalist, but found this cool article describing Memory Athletes and their techniques—and it turned out they were using the same tricks.

So I don’t know if photographic memory exists or not, but the thing I do know is that, anyone who cares to can have a “superhuman” memory; all it takes is for you to turn the information you wish to learn into something memorable (and therefore interesting) to you!
(1) Chartered Financial Analyst.
(2) Actually, that’s a really good idea—I need to start working on my memory palace this weekend. If I manage to beat my laziness first :p

April 23, 2013

The Nine Worthies

In the Late Middle Ages, at a time when the crusades were over and Europe was ravaged by pestilence and the Black Death, eyes turned their eyes to the valiant princes of the past for direction.

The Nine Worthies were therefore considered to be:

I. The Good Pagans:
a) Hector – The greatest fighter in the Trojan War. He was courageous and “peace-loving, thoughtful and bold, and a good son, husband and father.”  A truly noble figure.  He died at the hands of Achilles.
b) Alexander the Great – a prince of Macedonia in ancient times who was tutored by Aristotle then became the ruler of one of the largest empires of the time, spanning from Greece to India.  Known for having cut the Gordian Knot.
c) Julius Caesar – the first Roman Emperor (or more like “dictator in perpetuity”) who defeated Gaul and expanded the power of Rome to Germany and Great Britain. He was assassinated by Marcus Junius Brutus at the tender age of fifty-five.

II. The Good Jews:
a) Joshua – Became the leader of the Israelites after Moses’s death, for whom he spied in Canaan.  Once Moses dead, he lead his people to the conquest of that land which he later apportioned into tribes.
b) David – Second King of Israel and an ancestor of Jesus according to the Christian Bible, considered to be a (mostly) righteous king, a warrior, poet and musician, among other things.
c) Judas Maccabeus – One of the greatest warriors in Jewish history.  The son of a priest, he and his brothers started a revolt against the Seleucid ruler who had forbidden to practice the Jewish religion, using guerrilla warfare to defeat the superior Seleucid army.  His death inspired the Jews to not give up and, after a few more years of battle, they were able to achieve their independence.

III. The Good Christians:
a) King Arthur – According to legend, Arthur defended the Britons against the invading Saxons.  Myths depict him as having been guided early on by a wily Merlin, and leading his people to victory in many battles with the help of the Knights of the Round Table and his trustworthy sword Excalibur (gifted to him by the Lady of the Lake).  At his death, his body was buried in the mysterious Isle of Avalon.
b) Charlemagne – King of the Franks and later first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire after the collapse of Rome.   He defended Christianity and spread its teachings with victorious battles throughout Europe.  He also encouraged art, religion and culture (he is known notably for creating schools).
c) Godfroi de Bouillon – A Medieval Frankish knight who lead the First Crusade into capturing Jerusalem and became its first Christin ruler (he apparently refused to be called a King).

Anyone who aspired to be a truly chivalrous person needed to study and emulate their lives.


The World of King Arthur
Wikipedia (Hector, Alexander the GreatJulius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfroi de Bouillon)

April 20, 2013

A Farmer's Calendar in Ancient Greece According to Hesiod

"But when House-on-Back, the snail, crawls from the ground up the plants, escaping the Pleiades, it's no longer time for vine-digging; time rather to put an edge to your sickles, and rout out your helpers.  Keep away from sitting in the shade or lying in bed till the sun's up in the time of the harvest, when the sunshine scorches your skin dry.  This is the season to push work and bring home your harvest; get up with the first light so you'll have enough to live on.  Dawn takes away from work a third part of the work's measure.  Dawn sets a man well along on his journey, in his work also, Dawn, who when she shows, has numerous people going their ways; Dawn who puts the yoke upon many oxen.
But when the artichoke is in flower, and the clamorous cricket sitting in his tree lets go his vociferous singing, that issues from the beating of his wings, int he exhausting season of summer, then is when goats are at their fattest, when the wine tastes best, women are most lascivious, but the men's strength fails them most, for the Star Sirius shrivels them, knees and heads alike, and the skin is all dried out in the heat; then, at that season, one might have the shadow under the rock, and the wine of Biblis, a curd cake, and all the milk that the goats can give you, the meat of a heifer, bred in the woods, who has never borne a calf, and of baby kids also.
Then, too, one can sit in the shadow and drink the bright-shining wine, his heart satiated with eating and face turned in the direction where Zephyros blows briskly, make three libations of water fro a spring that keeps running forever and has no mud in it; and puor wine for the fourth libation."
~Hesiod, Works and Days, translated by Richmond Lattimore

Heritage of World Civilizations

April 16, 2013

The Ogham Alphabet

Ogham runes
Pronounced “Owe ‘em,” they are “groups of horizontal and diagonal lines carved on the vertical edge of a stone or piece of wood.”  They appear at first around the 4th century, when the Roman alphabet was introduced to the Irish.  Later, settlers from the land of Eyre took it over to Britain.

However, according to certain myths, the ogham were created right after the fall of the Tower of Babel by the legendary Scythian king Fenius Farsa who gave the 25 letters the names of his best scholars.

Either way, they are to the Irish what runes are to the Norse (the most popular of which is known as the furthark).

PS:  technically, the letters themselves should be called Beith-Luis-Nin (kinda like how our alphabet’s name comes its two first letters, alpha and beta), but it’s such a mouthful, don’t you think?

April 12, 2013

The Birth of King Arthur

Merlin and the Child Arthur, Illustration by Gustave Doré

And then the two
Dropt to the cove, and watch'd the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half of the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame;
And down the wave and in the flame was brone
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the baby, and cried, 'The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!'
Alfred Tennyson, 'The Coming of Arthur[ (Idylls of the King)

That's certainly an interesting telling of the mythical king's birth!  But going by his description, doesn't it make one wonder who his real parents were then?  Cause this certainly doesn't sound like a traditional human birthing scene... Any suggestions?

April 10, 2013

The Bellows – A Necessary Tool for Writers

Gustave Flaubert
Getting ready to record the audio version of my book, I regularly find myself reading my book out loud a little each day now. And lo and behold, despite having sent my manuscript (after many revisions of my own) to a professional editor, I’m noticing a few things here and there that I want to change—all details, mind you, but the story’s in the details, eh? (And I’m leaning more and more towards hiring someone to read it for me as my renderings of the Southern American and the Russian accents is quite atrocious!).

And this reminded me of a fact a French teacher of mine once told the class about famous author
Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert is known for his beautiful and variegated prose (think Madame Bovary). If anyone’s seen his original manuscripts, one will notice such art didn’t come easily but was rather the product of many rewrites and the use of his Gueuloir (aka Bellows).
Page from one of Flaubert's manuscripts

Flaubert used his Gueuloir to not just read his writing out loud, but to bellow it out!

“Les phrases mal écrites ne résistent pas à cette épreuve; elles oppressent la poitrine, gênent les
battements de coeur et se trouvent ainsi en dehors des conditions de la vie.”(1)

Yelling thus set his lungs to fire, but also allowed him to pinpoint any place in his text that didn’t sound right or flow properly.

Though I’m not necessarily saying to imitate him entirely in this matter (though I find the idea very
tempting as a payback for my upstairs neighbors regularly waking me up in the wee hours of the
morning), I do think reading your stories out loud will help you improve your writing.

Really, you should trust your musical ear!

(1) The poorly-written sentences do not resist this ordeal; they oppress the chest, disturb the heartbeat
and find themselves thus outside of the condition of life.

Le Gueuloir de Flaubert

April 2, 2013

Druids - Behind the Mask

Actually, from what I can tell from illustrations of the time, Myrddin looked more like a monk
In Welsh legends, the epitome of the Druid is Myrddin Wyllt (a contender for the role of Merlin in Arthurian legends), whose prophetic skills were tested with regards to this one boy’s death.  The boy was shown to Myrddin three times, each under a different guise, and each time Myrddin predicted a different death:

1.  Falling from a cliff
2.  Hanging
3.  Drowning

Turns out the boy later on fell from a cliff to land in a tree where he ended up hanging upside down with his head in the water until he died.
Myrddin didn’t just prophesy this boy’s triple death, though.  He also predicted he himself would die from (1) falling, (2) getting stabbed, and then (3) drowning.  Similarly to the boy of the legend, he was chased off a cliff, got impaled on a stake on his way down, then ended up head-first in a lake… where he drowned as well.

So, I don’t know if it was a way to commemorate these types of death but, contrary to my long-held belief that Druids were the embodiment of wisdom, harmonizing the laws of men with those of nature, turns out those blokes also had a keen taste for human sacrifice. 

To please the gods, they would kill their victims three different ways at once.  That means blow to the head, throat slit, and strangulation (in my humble opinion, the last two are kind of redundant), or any combo of three different deaths given at once (drowning or poison were also rather popular).

So yeah, this is mainly a reminder to myself not to romanticize the past—it was just as gruesome as it is now.  Just with a  little variance here and there…

The Lindow Man - a victim of this threefold death (you can see the hole in his head)