Alphabet and Writing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 23rd, 2011)

The Necessary Information to Survive in Prehistory was Minimal and did not Require a Written Language

Hunters and gatherers had little need for language.  For they did little in life but hunt, gather, eat, sleep and propagate the species.  Much like wildlife today.  Such as feral cats.  Abandoned house cats.  Who mate and produce more feral cats.  And these animals are survivors.  They hunt.  Gather food from human garbage.  Eat.  Sleep.  And reproduce.  If you ever had any in your neighborhood you know that they can be very loud, too.  Making a variety of sounds.  Meows, cries, growls and hisses.  Not an advanced language.  But sufficient to survive.  And enough to keep you from trying to pick one up.

Early man was similar to feral cats.  They had a limited language.  That allowed them to survive.  And make modest advances.  They made tools out of stone.  Used fire.  Made clothes from animal hides.  Even left art on the walls of caves.  Far more than any wild animal ever did.  But they didn’t do much more.  If they did it was probably nothing to write about.  Because they didn’t.  Write about it.  Either because they had no written language.  Or because they were a modest people.

History starts with written language.  Before that we have only archaeology.  And best guesses.  But based on the archaeology they weren’t doing much.  Other than surviving.  And in these prehistory times life was pretty simple.  See above.  The necessary information to survive was minimal.  Eat.  And don’t die.  It wasn’t necessary to write that down.  So they didn’t.  Memory was more than sufficient.  And it was like that for millions of years.

The Phoenician Alphabet was the Basis for the Greek and Latin Alphabets

But then the simple became complex.  There were food surpluses that allowed a division of labor that led to trade.  And a burgeoning economy.  Which required a more sophisticated way of communicating.  And a system of maintaining records of economic exchanges.  For memory and talking just wasn’t good enough anymore.

In the 4th millennium BC, in Mesopotamia, this began with clay tokens to represent an economic commodity.  And the first system of accounting was simply counting and storing these tokens.  But as the division of labor produced an ever more complex economy, the number of tokens used became too great.  So they represented the economic commodity with a symbol scratched in a clay tablet.  Instead of counting tokens they read these tablets.  We call this writing cuneiform.   Which was later used to write down the spoken Sumerian language.

Over time we developed alphabets.  We represented the sounds of the words we spoke with letters.  The Phoenician alphabet being one of the first alphabets.  Used by one of the greatest traders and merchants of all time.  The Phoenicians.  Which spread this language around.  Giving rise to Canaanite and Aramaic.  Aramaic giving rise to Arabic and Hebrew.  Incidentally, all languages without vowels.  But the granddaddy of all alphabets was Greek.  Which added vowels.  And formed the basis for Latin.  As well as all other western languages.

We Know about the Glory of Greece and the Grandeur of Rome because they Wrote about It

Athens was the cradle of modern civilization.  The Athenian empire grew because it was based on a complex trade economy.  Ditto for the Roman Empire.  At the height of their power the civilized world spoke their languages.  Conducted their trade in Latin or Greek.  Wrote their laws in Latin or Greek.  Conducted their diplomacy in Latin or Greek.  Why?  Because they could.  Their alphabets and their written language allowed them to manage the complex.

And they wrote.  A lot.  We know so much about Greece and Rome because we can read what they wrote.  And we can build on the glory that was Greece.  And the grandeur that was Rome.  Because we, too, have complex trade economies.  Giving us comforts in life that not even the Greeks or Romans could have dreamt about.

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Catholics, Protestants and the Gunpowder Plot

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2013

History 101

The East-West Schism of 1054 gave us the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church

Constantine the Great won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 AD) thanks to divine intervention.  Or so the story goes.  The Christian God communicated to Constantine and his soldiers in a vision on the eve of battle.  If they put the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek on their shields they would be victorious in battle.  So they did.  And they were.  Thus beginning Constantine’s transformation from paganism to Christianity.

Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.  And persecuting Christians was a national pastime.  But Constantine changed all that.  By first decreeing religious tolerance with the Edict of Milan (313).  And following that up with the First Council of Nicaea (325).  Where Christian bishops met to resolve some of their differences.  And try for the first time to reach a consensus for the Christian church.

In time Christianity would spread throughout the empire.  Through northern Europe.  And all the way to Britannia (Roman Britain).  But things were a little different going east.  Where the eastern Christians did not see things the same way the western Christians did.  Leading to the East-West Schism (1054).  Giving us the Roman Catholic Church in the west.  And the Eastern Orthodox Church in, of course, the east.

King Henry VIII was no fan of Martin Luther and he defended the Catholic Faith

The schism between east and west would prove to be a costly one.  The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) went to free the Holy Land from Islam.  The European Crusaders were from the Latin Catholic Church.  Who never made it to the Holy Land.  But they did sack Constantinople.  Where the Latin Crusaders slaughtered Orthodox Christians.  Weakening the Eastern Roman Empire.  Opening the door for Ottoman conquest (1453).  And making the way clear for Islam to spread into Europe.  So instead of freeing the Holy Land from Islam they brought Islam into Christian Europe.  But that wouldn’t be the last Christian-on-Christian fighting.

In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses attacking the Roman Catholic Church.  In particular its selling of indulgences to buy your way into heaven.  A funding scheme by Pope Leo X to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  A schism in Western Christianity.  Splitting up Christianity in Europe between the Catholics and Protestants.  Leading to centuries of warfare.  Especially between Catholic Spain & France and Protestant England & Germany.

In England King Henry VIII was no fan of Martin Luther.  And he defended the Catholic faith.  But he had a problem with the Pope.  For he wanted a divorce from his queen.  Katherine of Aragon.  So he would be free to marry Ann Boleyn.  Well, the Pope said ‘no’.  So Henry said goodbye to the Roman Catholic Church.  And set up the Church of England.  With Henry himself as the head of the church.  Soon England was full of Catholics and Protestants.  And they fought each other to maintain the true faith.  Bitterly.  And cruelly.  The Church of England would swing between Catholicism and Protestantism through these turbulent times.  From Henry VIII to Edward VI to Queen Mary to Elizabeth to James I.

James continued Elizabeth’s Persecution of Catholics which led to the Gunpowder Plot

James I was King James VI of Scotland.  On the death of Elizabeth he moved south and took the English throne.  Becoming James I of England.  Scotland was Presbyterian (which fell in the Protestant camp).  The Presbyterians did not like the Church of England for they felt it was virtually Catholic.  Something the Catholics would disagree with.  The Puritans (basically Protestants) also criticized the Church of England for being too Catholic.  Which annoyed Elizabeth.  So she persecuted both Puritans and Catholics.  James was raised a Presbyterian but he hated Presbyterians.  And Puritans.  Who he thought were nothing more than Presbyterians who spoke more eloquently.

So the Puritans were a thorn in James’ side.  This animosity between the Puritans and James would lead to the Puritans leaving England and eventually landing in the New World.  James hated Puritans so much that he preferred Catholics over them.  However, Elizabeth had taken England into a very anti-Catholic direction.  And he did not want to appear to be soft when it came to Catholics.  So he made life unpleasant for them.  Even banished Catholic priests.  Sick of this persecution of Catholics someone did something about it.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Robert Catesby planned the Gunpowder Plot.  To rid England of anti-Catholic rule.  The plan was to blow up Parliament by filling a cellar beneath the House of Lords with barrels of gunpowder.  But someone tipped off Lord Monteagle.  Authorities arrived in the cellar to find Guy Fawkes surrounded by barrels of gunpowder, a fuse in one hand and a match in the other.  Leading to a new holiday in Britain.  Guy Fawkes Day.  Where people burned effigies of the Pope.  To celebrate the Protestant victory over the ‘Catholic’ plot that tried to topple the government on the 5th of November in 1605.  And providing even more animosity between Protestants and Catholics in England.  Which would later erupt in the English Civil War (1642–1651).  But today Guy Fawkes Day is just about fireworks and celebrations.  Without the religious overtones it once had.

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Greek and Latin Books, the Printing Press, the Gutenberg Bible, Newspapers, Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 16th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published December 28th, 2011)

Monks worked by Candlelight Painstakingly Copying by Hand the Great Books of Greek Knowledge

Alexander the Great spread Greek thinking and the Greek language throughout much of the known world.  From the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley.  Everywhere Alexander went he built new cities. Where that Greek thinking took hold.  Astronomy.  Geometry.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Philosophy.  Etc.  The Greeks impressed the Romans.  Even though they conquered them.  But the empire they built used that Greek thinking they so admired as its foundation.  They studied the Greeks.  Mastered their language.  Read their books.  And translated the Greek books into Latin.  The new universal language.

The Roman world was an advanced world.  And a Latin world.  The great minds throughout the Empire spoke and studied in Latin.  Which helped to diffuse this knowledge throughout the known world.  For you were never outside the Latin world.  The common people may not have spoken Latin.  Instead speaking the common language of their people (French, German, English, etc.).  But in their universities they all spoke Latin.  For educated men everywhere spoke Latin as their second language.  The language of knowledge.  Education.  And of the Church.  Where the masses were in Latin.  Until the Great Schism in 1054, that is.  When Greek replaced Latin in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  But Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church in the West.

It was the Church and their medieval monks that brought this knowledge forward through the Dark Ages.  For it wasn’t dark in their monasteries.  Where monks, the few people who could read and write, worked by candlelight painstakingly copying by hand the great books of Greek knowledge.  Making this knowledge available for the select few who could afford these works of art.  Which they were.  For each one was one of a kind.  Which made them rather costly.  And unavailable for the common people.  Including the Bible.  No, these belonged to the wealthy.  The universities.  And the Church.  Until a German goldsmith came along with a brilliant idea.

The Printing Press gave us Inexpensive Books, Newspapers, Censorship and Revolution

That idea was moveable typesetting.  Individual letters arranged to spell out lines of text.  Clamped together with other lines of text.  Placed into a press.  Smeared with ink.  Then pressed onto paper.  In this way Johannes Gutenberg published the first mass-produced book.  The Gutenberg Bible.  And knowledge would never be the same.

Printing spread.  As did the mass production of books.  Reading was no longer for the well-to-do or Church clerics.  Everyone was learning to read.  And they were reading books.  In their own language.  Which put an end to Latin.  Because the printing press made books so cheap they printed them in all sorts of languages.  Making knowledge more readily accessible to the common people.  Anyone who wished to learn to read could.  And did.  Thanks to Gutenberg.  And the printing press.

But not only books were printed.  Knowledge was taking shape in a new form.  Newspapers.  And this type of knowledge was powerful.  People throughout a kingdom knew what was happening in their kingdom.  And what was happening in other kingdoms.  And they more often questioned authority.  So much so that it ushered in a new government policy.  Censorship.  As governments tried to suppress unfavorable news.  Such as the British blockade of Boston Harbor.  Soon Boston’s problem was everyone’s problem as the news traveled throughout the American colonies.  Escalating what the British thought was a Boston problem into a revolution in America.  And later in France.  After the French read all about the American Revolution in their newspapers.

Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet has Revitalized the Free Press

With newspapers came newspaper advertising.  A great medium for advertisers to promote their goods.  And a cash cow for publishers.  Advertisers kept the price of newspapers low.  Making them affordable to the masses.  Giving publishers great power to control information.  Which they did.  Newspapers started out as tools of political parties.  Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson viciously attacked each other in print.  Through anonymous editorial content.  So using newspapers for political purposes is nothing new.  But in the age of advertising the stakes were much higher.

Newspapers soon assumed an air of neutrality.  They weren’t tabloid news anymore.  But journalism.  Reporting the facts so their readers can make their own conclusions.  And they were neutral for awhile.  But the captive audience of a large daily was just too much to pass up.  Papers could influence and shape opinion.  And many did.  With clear biases even though they denied it.  Frustrating their readers.  Who began to look for other sources of news.  And they found a big one.  So big that it is destroying the giants of print media.  Shrinking these newspapers’ circulation numbers.  And with them their advertising revenue.  So what was driving people away from the once storied titans of news?  The Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we get information.  And has revitalized the free press.  We can get news from anywhere without it going through the editorial filter of a politically connected publisher.  Desktop publishing and the blogosphere allow anyone to write and publish at little to no cost.  Some blogging platforms are free thanks to online advertisers.  Now anyone can report, think, opine and publish.  Technology has made the costs of electronic publishing almost free.  Gone are the days when you needed mammoth printing presses, typesetters, copy editors, delivery trucks etc.  Today all you need is a computer.  Or a cellular device.  And an Internet connection.

People in the Middle of the News can Report the News in Real Time thanks to Micro-Blogging

Few newspapers today can afford to stay in business with their low circulation numbers and lost advertising revenue.  But people have never been more informed.  Sources of news and opinion are electronically everywhere.  For a fraction of the cost.   With some of that news being published within seconds of the news event happening.  From anywhere in the world.  Thanks to the Internet.  And micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter.  Even if the news arrives to us in a foreign language we can use an online translator to read it.  With some simple copy and paste commands.  News has never been more convenient.

People in the middle of the news can report the news in real time.  A process that started with the Greeks and the Romans.  Who diffused all that Greek knowledge.  That a lot of monks brought through the Dark Ages to the age of print.  Feeding our insatiable hunger for knowledge.  The printing press gave us inexpensive books.  In our common languages.  And the newspaper.  That eventually gave us desktop publishing.  The Internet.  And instantaneous knowledge.  All of this without having to learn Latin to boot.  Good for us because that is one thing the Internet can’t do well.  Translate Latin.  For that you need a person.  Or years of education.  And who has the time these days for that?  I mean, we can’t even wait for a daily newspaper these days to get our news.

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The Line of Diocletian, the Byzantine Empire, Italian City-States, Banking, Usury and the Protestant Reformation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 3rd, 2012

History 101

Europe began to Awake from its Slumber of the Dark Ages in about 1300 Italy

Once upon a time the only lending was to help someone in need.  Such as someone with a poor harvest to survive the winter.  We did it out of the goodness of our hearts to help others in need.  So to charge interest for a loan like this would have been cruel.  Taking advantage of someone’s misfortune wasn’t the Christian thing to do.  Or the Jewish.  Or the Muslim.  That’s why no one then charged interest for loaning money.  You just didn’t kick a person when he or she was down.  And if you did you could expect some swift justice from the religious authorities.  As well as the state.

Rome was once the center of the civilized world.  All roads led to Rome, after all.  Then Diocletian split the Empire into two in 285.  Along the Line of Diocletian.  Into East (Greek) and West (Latin). The West included Rome and fell around 486, ushering in the European Dark Ages.  Meanwhile the Eastern half, the Byzantine Empire, carried on.  And skipped the Dark Ages.  Its capital was Constantinople (named in 330) .  Formerly Byzantium.  Modern day Istanbul.  Where all Asian overland trade routes led to.  This city of Emperor Constantine.  His city.  Who reunited East and West.  And adopted Christianity as the Empire’s new religion (381).  Located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, trade flourished and made the Byzantine Empire rich.  And long lasting.  Until weakened by the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade (1202–1204).  (The Latin Christians’ attack on the Greek Christians was fallout from the Great Schism of 1054 where Christianity split between Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox).  And then falling to the Ottomans in 1453.

Europe began to awake from its slumber in about 1300 Italy.  Great city-states arose.  Genoa.  Pisa.  And Venice.  Like those early Greek city-states.  Great ports of international trade.  Rising into trade empires with the decline of the Byzantine Empire.  Where these Italian merchants bought and sold all of those Asian goods.  Putting great commercial fleets to sea to bring those Asian goods into Genoa, Pisa and Venice.  Getting rich.  But to make money they had to have money.  Because in the international trade game you had to first buy what you sold.  Which included the cost of those great merchant fleets.  And how did they pay for all of this?  They borrowed money from a new institution called banking.

That Europe that Slumbered during the Dark Ages Arose to Rule International Trade

Modern finance was born in Italy.  Everything that makes the commercial economy work today goes back to these Italian city-states.  From international banking and foreign exchange markets to insurance to the very bookkeeping that kept track of profits and losses.  It is here we see the first joint-stock company to finance and diversify the risk of commercial shipping.  London would use the joint-stock company to later finance the British East India Company.  And Amsterdam the Dutch East India company.  Where the Dutch and the English sent ships across oceans in search of trade.  Thanks to their mastery of celestial navigation.  And brought back a fortune in trade.  Putting the great Italian city-states out of business.  For their direct sea routes were far more profitable than the overland routes.  Because the holds of their ships could hold far more than any overland caravan could.

The Catholic opposition to usury (charging interest to borrow money) opened the new banking industry to the oppressed Jews in the European/Christian cities.  For it was one of the few things the Christian rulers let the Jews do.  Which they did.  Even though it was technically against their religion.  And they did it well.  For they had an early monopoly.  Thanks to that same Catholic Church.  Then came another schism in the Christian church.  The Protestant Reformation.  Where, among other things, Protestants said the Old Testament did not bind them to all rules that the Jews had to follow.  Then John Calvin took it a step further and said commercial loans could charge interest.  And, well, the rest is banking history.

Europe was then the dominant region of the world.  That region that slumbered during the Dark Ages arose to rule international trade.  Thanks to their navigational abilities.  And their banking centers.  Which financed their trade.  And the great things to come.

The Enlightenment led to the Modern World, Limited Government, the Industrial Revolution and Beyond

With the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Italian city-states, Greek thinkers left the Byzantine Empire and went West.  To those rich Italian city-states.  Bringing with them great books of Greek knowledge.  The intellectual remnants of the Roman Empire.  Translated them.  And massed produced them on the new printing press.  And kicked off the Enlightenment.  Which then spread throughout Europe.

The Enlightenment led to the modern world.  From limited government.  To the Industrial Revolution.  And beyond.  All thanks to those Italian city-states.  International trade.  And banking.

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Greek and Latin Books, the Printing Press, the Gutenberg Bible, Newspapers, Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 28th, 2011

Technology 101

Monks worked by Candlelight Painstakingly Copying by Hand the Great Books of Greek Knowledge

Alexander the Great spread Greek thinking and the Greek language throughout much of the known world.  From the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley.  Everywhere Alexander went he built new cities. Where that Greek thinking took hold.  Astronomy.  Geometry.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Philosophy.  Etc.  The Greeks impressed the Romans.  Even though they conquered them.  But the empire they built used that Greek thinking they so admired as its foundation.  They studied the Greeks.  Mastered their language.  Read their books.  And translated the Greek books into Latin.  The new universal language.

The Roman world was an advanced world.  And a Latin world.  The great minds throughout the Empire spoke and studied in Latin.  Which helped to diffuse this knowledge throughout the known world.  For you were never outside the Latin world.  The common people may not have spoken Latin.  Instead speaking the common language of their people (French, German, English, etc.).  But in their universities they all spoke Latin.  For educated men everywhere spoke Latin as their second language.  The language of knowledge.  Education.  And of the Church.  Where the masses were in Latin.  Until the Great Schism in 1054, that is.  When Greek replaced Latin in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  But Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church in the West.

It was the Church and their medieval monks that brought this knowledge forward through the Dark Ages.  For it wasn’t dark in their monasteries.  Where monks, the few people who could read and write, worked by candlelight painstakingly copying by hand the great books of Greek knowledge.  Making this knowledge available for the select few who could afford these works of art.  Which they were.  For each one was one of a kind.  Which made them rather costly.  And unavailable for the common people.  Including the Bible.  No, these belonged to the wealthy.  The universities.  And the Church.  Until a German goldsmith came along with a brilliant idea.

The Printing Press gave us Inexpensive Books, Newspapers, Censorship and Revolution

That idea was moveable typesetting.  Individual letters arranged to spell out lines of text.  Clamped together with other lines of text.  Placed into a press.  Smeared with ink.  Then pressed onto paper.  In this way Johannes Gutenberg published the first mass-produced book.  The Gutenberg Bible.  And knowledge would never be the same.

Printing spread.  As did the mass production of books.  Reading was no longer for the well-to-do or Church clerics.  Everyone was learning to read.  And they were reading books.  In their own language.  Which put an end to Latin.  Because the printing press made books so cheap they printed them in all sorts of languages.  Making knowledge more readily accessible to the common people.  Anyone who wished to learn to read could.  And did.  Thanks to Gutenberg.  And the printing press.

But not only books were printed.  Knowledge was taking shape in a new form.  Newspapers.  And this type of knowledge was powerful.  People throughout a kingdom knew what was happening in their kingdom.  And what was happening in other kingdoms.  And they more often questioned authority.  So much so that it ushered in a new government policy.  Censorship.  As governments tried to suppress unfavorable news.  Such as the British blockade of Boston Harbor.  Soon Boston’s problem was everyone’s problem as the news traveled throughout the American colonies.  Escalating what the British thought was a Boston problem into a revolution in America.  And later in France.  After the French read all about the American Revolution in their newspapers.

Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet has Revitalized the Free Press

With newspapers came newspaper advertising.  A great medium for advertisers to promote their goods.  And a cash cow for publishers.  Advertisers kept the price of newspapers low.  Making them affordable to the masses.  Giving publishers great power to control information.  Which they did.  Newspapers started out as tools of political parties.  Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson viciously attacked each other in print.  Through anonymous editorial content.  So using newspapers for political purposes is nothing new.  But in the age of advertising the stakes were much higher.

Newspapers soon assumed an air of neutrality.  They weren’t tabloid news anymore.  But journalism.  Reporting the facts so their readers can make their own conclusions.  And they were neutral for awhile.  But the captive audience of a large daily was just too much to pass up.  Papers could influence and shape opinion.  And many did.  With clear biases even though they denied it.  Frustrating their readers.  Who began to look for other sources of news.  And they found a big one.  So big that it is destroying the giants of print media.  Shrinking these newspapers’ circulation numbers.  And with them their advertising revenue.  So what was driving people away from the once storied titans of news?  The Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we get information.  And has revitalized the free press.  We can get news from anywhere without it going through the editorial filter of a politically connected publisher.  Desktop publishing and the blogosphere allow anyone to write and publish at little to no cost.  Some blogging platforms are free thanks to online advertisers.  Now anyone can report, think, opine and publish.  Technology has made the costs of electronic publishing almost free.  Gone are the days when you needed mammoth printing presses, typesetters, copy editors, delivery trucks etc.  Today all you need is a computer.  Or a cellular device.  And an Internet connection.

People in the Middle of the News can Report the News in Real Time thanks to Micro-Blogging

Few newspapers today can afford to stay in business with their low circulation numbers and lost advertising revenue.  But people have never been more informed.  Sources of news and opinion are electronically everywhere.  For a fraction of the cost.   With some of that news being published within seconds of the news event happening.  From anywhere in the world.  Thanks to the Internet.  And micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter.  Even if the news arrives to us in a foreign language we can use an online translator to read it.  With some simple copy and paste commands.  News has never been more convenient.

People in the middle of the news can report the news in real time.  A process that started with the Greeks and the Romans.  Who diffused all that Greek knowledge.  That a lot of monks brought through the Dark Ages to the age of print.  Feeding our insatiable hunger for knowledge.  The printing press gave us inexpensive books.  In our common languages.  And the newspaper.  That eventually gave us desktop publishing.  The Internet.  And instantaneous knowledge.  All of this without having to learn Latin to boot.  Good for us because that is one thing the Internet can’t do well.  Translate Latin.  For that you need a person.  Or years of education.  And who has the time these days for that?  I mean, we can’t even wait for a daily newspaper these days to get our news.

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Alphabet and Writing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 23rd, 2011

Technology 101

The Necessary Information to Survive in Prehistory was Minimal and did not Require a Written Language

Hunters and gatherers had little need for language.  For they did little in life but hunt, gather, eat, sleep and propagate the species.  Much like wildlife today.  Such as feral cats.  Abandoned house cats.  Who mate and produce more feral cats.  And these animals are survivors.  They hunt.  Gather food from human garbage.  Eat.  Sleep.  And reproduce.  If you ever had any in your neighborhood you know that they can be very loud, too.  Making a variety of sounds.  Meows, cries, growls and hisses.  Not an advanced language.  But sufficient to survive.  And enough to keep you from trying to pick one up.

Early man was similar to feral cats.  They had a limited language.  That allowed them to survive.  And make modest advances.  They made tools out of stone.  Used fire.  Made clothes from animal hides.  Even left art on the walls of caves.  Far more than any wild animal ever did.  But they didn’t do much more.  If they did it was probably nothing to write about.  Because they didn’t.  Write about it.  Either because they had no written language.  Or because they were a modest people.

History starts with written language.  Before that we have only archaeology.  And best guesses.  But based on the archaeology they weren’t doing much.  Other than surviving.  And in these prehistory times life was pretty simple.  See above.  The necessary information to survive was minimal.  Eat.  And don’t die.  It wasn’t necessary to write that down.  So they didn’t.  Memory was more than sufficient.  And it was like that for millions of years.

The Phoenician Alphabet was the Basis for the Greek and Latin Alphabets

But then the simple became complex.  There were food surpluses that allowed a division of labor that led to trade.  And a burgeoning economy.  Which required a more sophisticated way of communicating.  And a system of maintaining records of economic exchanges.  For memory and talking just wasn’t good enough anymore.

In the 4th millennium BC, in Mesopotamia, this began with clay tokens to represent an economic commodity.  And the first system of accounting was simply counting and storing these tokens.  But as the division of labor produced an ever more complex economy, the number of tokens used became too great.  So they represented the economic commodity with a symbol scratched in a clay tablet.  Instead of counting tokens they read these tablets.  We call this writing cuneiform.   Which was later used to write down the spoken Sumerian language.

Over time we developed alphabets.  We represented the sounds of the words we spoke with letters.  The Phoenician alphabet being one of the first alphabets.  Used by one of the greatest traders and merchants of all time.  The Phoenicians.  Which spread this language around.  Giving rise to Canaanite and Aramaic.  Aramaic giving rise to Arabic and Hebrew.  Incidentally, all languages without vowels.  But the granddaddy of all alphabets was Greek.  Which added vowels.  And formed the basis for Latin.  As well as all other western languages.

We Know about the Glory of Greece and the Grandeur of Rome because they Wrote about It

Athens was the cradle of modern civilization.  The Athenian empire grew because it was based on a complex trade economy.  Ditto for the Roman Empire.  At the height of their power the civilized world spoke their languages.  Conducted their trade in Latin or Greek.  Wrote their laws in Latin or Greek.  Conducted their diplomacy in Latin or Greek.  Why?  Because they could.  Their alphabets and their written language allowed them to manage the complex.

And they wrote.  A lot.  We know so much about Greece and Rome because we can read what they wrote.  And we can build on the glory that was Greece.  And the grandeur that was Rome.  Because we, too, have complex trade economies.  Giving us comforts in life that not even the Greeks or Romans could have dreamt about.

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