Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Tacitus And Helen

Today, I:

helped with domestic chores;
watched an interview with Peter O'Donnell, the creator of Modesty Blaise;
read two of Pliny's letters in Latin;
read a few pages of Poul Anderson's Fire Time.

"More letters in the collection are addressed to Cornelius Tacitus, the historian who wrote the Annals and Histories, than to any other person."
-A.N. Sherrin-White (Ed.), Fifty Letters Of Pliny (London, 1967), p. 74.

An altered text of Tacitus' Histories launches a case for Manson Everard of the Time Patrol in Anderson's "Star Of The Sea" so it is good to read letters addressed to Tacitus.

In Fire Time, Anderson makes a humorous reference to Classical mythology, which I had completely forgotten despite reading the book twice before:

"...he'd originally rated her at a milli-helen, the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship."
-Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977), p. 77.

Can a value, aesthetic or otherwise, be quantified? For a couple of years, the British government tried to quantify careers guidance work in order to pay the Service by results. The unit of measurement was one printed, signed for, careers action plan per client per interview and "interview" could mean a client, now called a "customer," visiting the Center for a simple factual inquiry.

Some philosophy students studying utilitarian ethics defined the smallest unit of pleasure as the amount of pleasure experienced by someone with absolutely no interest in football on hearing that their local team has won a match! They gave this unit, or quantum, a name which unfortunately I cannot remember. Trying to imagine a smaller pleasure is like trying to turn the gas lower only to see it go out. Anderson's "milli-helen" is a clever name for a small amount of feminine pulchritude.

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