December 25, 2008

American Euros

One of my family's traditions is receiving chocolate coins in our stockings on Christmas morning. They're wrapped in shiny foil of an appropriate color (usually gold or silver), and made of a lousy quality milk chocolate.

This year we got chocolate Euro coins; €2, €1, and €0.50. Now, real Euro coins all have the same design on the front, but different designs for each country on the back. (wikipedia) The chocolate makers decided to put just one image on the back of each of their three chocolate coins. Since they were selling in North America, they picked national designs from the real euros which happened to (vaguely) resemble US symbols: Austria's €1 portrait of Mozart (looks like George Washington), Germany's €2 or €1 eagle (looks like the eagle on the Seal of the US President), and Italy's €2 portrait of Dante Alighieri by Raphael (looks a bit like a native American wearing a feather headdress).

I suppose if they ever make Canadian edition chocolate Euros, one of them will feature Finland's €1 coin.

December 03, 2008

Reading List

The Republic, by Plato. I ran across an English translation of this book, originally written in Greek around 380BCE, and decided to read it out of curiosity. The translation was done in the UK on or before 1852 (when the first edition was published), and my copy was printed in 1943 (the 40th printing). I've noticed "shew" where we would write "show", but no other differences in spelling.

The Republic takes the form of a dialog between Socrates, Plato's mentor, and a small group of friends. Mostly it's Socrates leading his audience through his arguments, and occasionally fielding a question or counter-argument. He expounds upon the nature of justice, forms of government, how to live one's life, and the nature of philosophy (what we would call science, I think).

I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have appreciated this book if I had read it when I was a teenager. (The subject matter is a bit dry, after all.) Observing the logic and forms of argument used by Plato is enlightening. There's a great deal to be learned about the art of persuasion.

I'm only partway through, so I may have more to say about The Republic later.

A little while ago I read "The Peolponnesian War", by Donald Kagan (2003), which puts The Republic in context. Athens and Sparta were in the long-running conflict from before Plato was born. In 404, when Plato was about 23 (the year of his birth is slightly uncertain), Sparta won and imposed a dictatorship on Athens, which is remembered mostly for executing or exiling many popular leaders. It was overthrown in late 403 by an exiled general who returned with allies. During the following times of turmoil and recovery, Socrates was put to death for "corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens" (399BCE). The Republic was written sometime around 380BCE, during Plato's 40s.