Tag Archives: culture

Serifs


‘Serifs’ are those pointy corners of a lettering stroke. It’s thought that stonecutters came up with them to add a little flourish to their letters. But if you watch the videos I link to in my previous post, you see that a serif (or a ‘grace’) is the natural way to end a letter stroke when you write with a brush. So who knows who invented serifs—the stonecutters or the calligraphers?

The chiseled stroke without serifs

Side view of the V-shaped chiseled stroke

I used to think that serifs came about because it was difficult for stonecutters to chisel the end of a letterstroke, and the serif made that job easier. Nowadays I believe serifs were added to chiseled letters because they provide more surface to catch the sunlight. They enhance the letter’s visibility. Watch the video linked below of a guy carving 2 Rs—with and without serifs. He has no trouble ending the stroke. If you compare the two letters, the serifs on the left show a bit more deep shadow or bright light. They accentuate the ends of a stroke and make it easier to see.

https://stoneletters.com/blog/cutting-in-the-clouds-architectural-lettering
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xBJdhexwug
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace%20note

DON’T FORGET: Midnight tomorrow is the deadline to submit your Romans-looking-at-a-Greek-urn gag! The winner will be chosen Friday!

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Writ large


Meanwhile, big-shot Roman emperors needed to have inscriptions put up on walls and columns—letters were to be carved into stone. The letters had to be big and easy-to-read—legible. The guys carving the inscriptions must’ve sketched out the letters first. They mimicked the lettering you get from a broad nib by drawing their letters with two pieces of crayon in a holder.

Maybe it looked like this?

Aside—’Writ large’ is a pointy-headed way of saying something is bigger and easier to read than another thing. I think Plato used it first: “The State is the individual writ large.”
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/writ-large
https://grammarist.com/usage/writ-large/
https://www.quora.com/What-Plato-meant-by-State-is-individual-writ-large

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a word that means ‘beautiful writing.’



Remember the Egyptians used reed pens to write, but since they were drawing images—pictures of things—the nib was kept narrow or else they used a fine-tipped brush. I’m not sure when it happened, but either Greek or Roman scribes began drawing letters with a broad-nibbed pen (a nib is the tip). They became concerned about the angle of the pen when they wrote. They kept their pens always at the same angle, so that a group of letters would have a pleasing consistency. Or maybe they used a chisel-tipped brush. Several calligraphers I link to below use a brush.*

https://www.behance.net/gallery/31572863/Broad-nib-calligraphy-exemplar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jttJrajs4vw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y1HId0XIWI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-cQ5U3CLYo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fsXkiUlgk
In Italian a serif is called a ‘grazia,’ a grace:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jklAtL-ytfU
You can even use a chisel-point marker for calligraphy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc2gclT6CMw
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calligraphy

* The idea of writing with thick and thin strokes may well have come from the Muslim world, where the Phoenician abjad was evolving into Arabic script. I’ll look into that.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Greece’s savage conqueror

“Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium” —Horace, that old smartypants

Don’t forget! We’re still looking for dialogue for these two Roman characters admiring a Greek vase. Deadline is midnight Thursday, February 25! https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/02/18/we-need-a-gag-writer/

Greek culture—and the Greek alphabet—flourished and got spread around the Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great, through his program of Hellenization. We talked about this a few posts back when I was yapping about the Rosetta stone. Eventually Alexander’s empire got taken over by the Roman Empire.



The Romans were crazy about Greek culture. They loved the architecture, the statues, the literature, the theater, their weird habit of painting on wet plaster—and the alphabet. They liked the alphabet so much they adopted it as their own. The Romans changed a few of the Greek letters. They didn’t have J, K, U and W. But the Latin alphabet is pretty much the one we use today here in good old Western Civilization.

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-some-ways-romans-adopted-greek-culture-436508
https://www.thoughtco.com/roman-culture-117887
https://diasporatravelgreece.com/how-did-greek-culture-influence-the-development-of-roman-civilization/
http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/graecia-capta-greek-culture-quignard/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

In case you hadn’t remember’d—

(Originally posted Oct 25, 2013)

Happy St Crispin’s Day!

But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.Spoken by Henry; from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV Scene 3

Gang, this beautiful language is our inheritance—a gift to us from people long gone. Here is the entire scene. More info here. If you saw the Queen Elizabeth movie that came out a few years ago, you’ll remember Cate Blanchett in armor giving a speech to her troops just before they battle the Spanish. I assumed the screenwriters had been inspired by the King Henry speech above. Silly me, I got it backwards—in fact it was Queen Bess’ speech that had inspired Shakespeare.

Measuring distance in Rome

roman.measure
The Romans borrowed religion, art, architecture and literature from the people they conquered to make a hodge-podge, eclectic culture for themselves. Mostly they borrowed from the Greeks—the Greek gods got Latin names. Ares (the god of war) became Mars. Zeus became Jupiter, Hera became Juno, Poseidon became Neptune, Aphrodite became Venus.

The Romans also borrowed technology. They measured distance the same way the Egyptians and Greeks did, by using parts of a typical grown man for standardized units.

finger—digitus (1/16 of a pes)
thumb-joint—uncia (inch, 1/12 of a pes)
four fingers—palmus (1/4 of a pes)
foot—pes (plural: pedes)
one step—gradus (2.5 pedes)
pace—passus (5 pedes)

For longer distances, a mile (mille passus) was 1000 passus or 5000 pedes. (I hope I’m getting the plurals right—https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/passus)

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

The Greeks

Athena, Goddess of Wisdom

Let’s travel north from Egypt, across the Mediterranean Sea, to the island of Crete and the Greek mainland. It’s the Bronze Age, everybody!—from 3200 to 1100 bc—because some genius figured out smelting. Smelting is melting down 2 or more metals at very high heat, then combining them so when they cool, they’re a new metal, called an alloy. If you smelt the metals copper and tin, you get the alloy bronze. Bronze is stronger than copper or tin. Bronze was a handy material for making weapons and armor.

Like the Sumerians and Egyptians, the Greeks were farmers. Because Crete and the Cyclades are islands, they spent some time zipping around the Mediterranean in ships and trading with other people who lived along the sea. They used coins for conducting business—first made out of electrum, an alloy of gold & silver, later replaced with coins of pure gold and pure silver.

When we talk about the Greeks as a civilization, we’re talking about a bunch of individual city-states—like Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Corinth—who shared language, religion and culture. Sometimes they fought with each other, sometimes they banded together to fight a common enemy.

The Greeks were polytheistic—they worshiped many gods. Polytheism: poly= many; theo/deo=god.

These city-states were ruled by kings, but in Athens they began a system of government called democracy, where citizens can vote on who rules them.

The Greeks introduced theater; created statues and pottery; wrote epic poetry and songs; and developed a style of architecture using weight-bearing columns.

Time to get serious

I’ve sorta-kinda joked on this blog about saving Western Civilization. Even my motto reads: “Saving Western Civilization through kid’s book illustration.” And I’ve honestly meant to get started on that. I have, in a modest way, been promoting Western Civ by teaching Sunday School and posting some historical stuff here once in a while. I haven’t been very serious about that motto, though. But it’s a new year; a good time to get serious.

Why does Western Civ need saving, anyway? We have Shakespeare and quantum physics and cell phones. We have crop rotation and the alphabet and Broadway. That’s good, right? Why can’t I just be happy?

The problem is: I meet very few people who understand how we got Western Civ. There are too many people who think Western Civilization is not such a good thing, and is maybe an embarrassment, or should be apologized for. That way of thinking saddens me, if only because it’s so easy to point to how much human beings have benefited from Western Civilization.

I think it’s important to understand how we’ve achieved all the things that we have. It’s important to recognize our incredible inheritance—gifts we’ve been given by amazing people who are long gone. Why were moveable type or symphonies or Greenwich Mean Time invented in the West? It’s vital for young people to understand how Western Civilization works, so that they may prosper in it.

This is my mission. If I can’t save Western Civ, at least I can document her glories. I like history, so I’m going to be writing a history of Western Civ—particularly a history of ideas. I’ll post the stuff I’m writing here on this blog, as a way of test-marketing. My goal is to write and illustrate a book that presents the history of Western Civ in a fun format. You must know by now that I’m a smart-alec, so of course it will be funny. Lots of gags. Lots of pictures. I expect to learn and discover new info as I do the research.

I invite you all to come with me.

John