IN 75 BC, when the great Roman politician and champion of liberal learning Cicero was quaestor in Sicily, he led an expedition to a neglected, overgrown jumble of funerary monuments just outside the city of Syracuse. Directing men with scythes to cut away the briars, he uncovered the tomb of Archimedes, lost for more than a century, just as he had found it described in an old manuscript.
Education secretary Michael Gove took on Cicero’s mantle this week, in a remarkable speech that sought to cut away modish assumptions and reveal Britain’s forgotten debt to liberal education – the tradition of learning for its own sake. Continue reading
FACTS aren’t what they used to be. When I started school, Pluto was a planet and carbon came in just three flavours: diamond, soot and graphite. By the time I left for university, a fourth kind of carbon had been announced, football-shaped buckminsterfullerene. And, thanks to Pluto’s reclassification six years ago, there are now just eight planets in our solar system, not nine. It’s hard to keep hold of truth when it’s become this slippery. Continue reading
SUMMER’S lease is drawing to a close again. With less than a month until the autumnal equinox on 22 September, we’re running out of time to complain about the disappointing weather or attempt to cook burgers in one another’s backyards. Or, from another point of view, there’s four weeks left before the summer of 2012 is over: what shall we do with all that time? Continue reading
ACCORDING to one tradition that has come down to us from antiquity, the Greek philosopher Plato was also a victor at the ancient Olympic Games – for wrestling. Another anecdote adds that his real name was Aristocles. “Plato”, as we know him today, is just a nickname referring to his broad, well-muscled shoulders. Continue reading
ONE hundred years ago, the first Olympic medals were awarded for cultural achievement. In the summer of 1912 in Stockholm, exponents of architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture were celebrated alongside the runners and the jumpers. The tradition continued for decades, with a final hurrah at the London Games of 1948, when the medallists’ work was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert museum. Since then, the awarding of medals to artists has been given up, replaced by cultural exhibitions held alongside the Games, like this year’s Cultural Olympiad. Continue reading
FIVE years ago, the makers of BlackBerry didn’t believe the iPhone was possible. According to a former employee, they held internal meetings on 10 January 2007, the day after the unveiling but six months before it went on sale on 29 June, arguing that Apple was fudging the truth: it was simply impossible for a device that was almost all touchscreen to work on battery power. Continue reading