July 21, 2013

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Not My Favorite Names

image by Klaus Brasch provided by Bill Sheehan (Image providers have no associations with the text!)

Is it rational to be outraged at people who died 1600 years ago? I am. In reading Stephen Greenblatt's magnificent book The Swerve (about the recovery in the 1400s of the book On the Nature of Things by the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius) I came across the history of the destruction of the Museum and Library of Alexandria, Egypt in the 5th century AD. I knew in a general way of its destruction and the murder of the great scholar Hypatia, but I had not previously tied that monumental act of barbarism, led by patriarchs, to the lunar craters Theophilus and Cyrillus. The Museum/Library was essentially an early, perhaps the first, major research center in the world. According to Greenblatt, scholars received lifetime appointments at the Library including free food and housing and good salaries. The output was phenomenal; Euclid and geometry, Archimedes and all of his discoveries, Eratosthenes and the size of the Earth, Ptolemy and the heavens, Galen and the systemization of medicine, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek by 70 scholars (the Septuagint), and many, many other stunning achievements. Following the fanatical skinning alive of Hypatia in 415 AD the Library of Alexandria and its archived documentation of previous Mediterranean thought disappeared from history - the achievements of more than a 1000 years were lost. I am outraged by the fanaticism, Christian in this case, Islamic, pagan, etc in many others, that destroys anything that doesn't meet the ideal of absolute purity to particular beliefs. I am outraged that this happened and that the leaders ended up with the honor of craters on the Moon. But those names were given 360 years ago when society was controlled by the winning religion, so of course their heroes would be honored. Today, the International Astronomical Union forbids the naming of lunar craters after religious and military leaders; Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina (another Alexandrine fanatic) would never be permitted as names. From now on I won't be able to look at that remarkable and instructive trio of craters without being revulsed by the deeds of the people who's names they carry.

Chuck Wood
So to answer the question of the first sentence - it probably is irrational.

Technical Details
24" Clark refractor, Lowell Observatory + CCD camera

Related Links
21st Century Atlas charts 6 & 7.

Yesterday's LPOD: Out the Window

Tomorrow's LPOD: 25" of Albategnius


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