Laputan Logic
Friday, October 24, 2003
  Back again Yes there's movement at the station once again finally.

I'm moving Laputan Logic over to a new completely dog-food-compliant website which is located at All updates will occur there for now on, so please update your bookmarks and if you have one of those websites that is kind enough to link to me, please update your blogroll as well.

I must say I'm pretty happy with the new format which I hope will enable me to update more frequently but at the same time keep the stuff I have spent more time working on from being pushed too far down the page. I must confess I have been struggling to find the right mix with the blog format. I think this should be a major improvement and I hope you will like it as well.

Here's a sample of why you should be heading there RIGHT NOW:

A Roman in the Indies

In 550 AD, during the reign of Emperor Justinian, a monk who was cloistered at a remote monastery in the Sinai desert wrote a curious book about the topology of the earth and the universe. In the book the monk, who is know to posterity as Cosmas Indicopleustes, propounded a surprising theory that the world was not spherical as believed by the ancients but, on the contrary, was flat and surrounded by four walls which stretched up to the heavens and formed a curved lid.

Scholarship has not been terribly kind to the work of Cosmas Indicopleustes. Even in his own time he had to staunchly defend his theory against strong criticism. By his own admission he was not well educated in the "learning of schools" and his unfortunate practice of distorting passages of scripture in order to support his argument led to his work being largely dismissed by his contemporaries and then disregarded by later generations. While we too can easily dismiss his eccentric notions which seem to be more the product of pious daydreaming than any kind of scientific investigation or empirical observation, on closer inspection there is another rather more interesting side to Cosmas.

Thirty years before writing his book, Cosmas had led a life very different from the serene austerity of a desert cloister. Cosmas Indicopleustes actually means "Cosmas the India Voyager" and back then the monk was a merchant who had traveled extensively around the coasts of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Buried deep under ten volumes of questionable scholarship which comprises the bulk of his Topology we find a surprising and particularly lucid account of his travels to these countries. This eleventh volume bears little relationship to the earlier parts of the book and it is thought to have been excerpted from another larger work of his on geography which has, sadly, been lost.

While its known that the Roman world engaged in trade with the Indian subcontinent, Cosmas offers us one of the only authentic eyewitness accounts. A close reading indicates that he had considerable local knowledge of the regions he describes and there is little doubt that he actually visited these places rather than merely relating second-hand information.

He begins his geographical treatise by describing the unusual flora and fauna of Africa and Asia. Here are some excerpts:

This animal is called the rhinoceros from having horns upon his snout. When he is walking his horns are mobile, but when he sees anything to move his rage, he erects them and they become so rigid that they are strong enough to tear up even trees by the root, those especially which come right before him. His eyes are placed low down near his jaws. He is altogether a fearful animal, and he is somehow hostile to the elephant. His feet and his skin, however, closely resemble those of the elephant. His skin, when dried, is four fingers thick, and this some people put, instead of iron, in the plough, and with it plough the land.

The Ethiopians in their own dialect call the rhinoceros Arou, or Harisi, aspirating the alpha of the latter word, and adding risi. By the arou they designate the beast as such, and by arisi, ploughing, giving him this name from his shape about the nostrils, and also from the use to which his hide is turned. In Ethiopia I once saw a live rhinoceros while I was standing at a far distance, and I saw also the skin of a dead one stuffed with chaff, standing in the royal palace, and so I have been able to draw him accurately.

The accuracy of Cosmas' drawing of the rhinoceros leaves a fair bit to be desired but apparently the word arou that he gives as the name of the two-horned rhinoceros is still used in Ethiopia to this day.

Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

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