Title

Four Hundred Years In Three Minutes

Christopher Fowler
They used to talk of the 'elevator pitch' - a three-minute blast of information that reduces your book/ film/ play to something even an executive can understand. Today I still produce a synopsis for each book I write, so that editors can present them at internal meetings. But I'm really bad at them, and for one simple reason. At the time the synopsis is required, the book is an inchoate, contradictory bundle of ideas that's the very antithesis of high concept. The Bryant & Mays are not; they're fully formed crime novels on a template. But each new freestanding novel starts from ground zero, and the editor must need to see merit (and sales potential) in its publication. A few editors take the author on trust because they like her/his style. 'The Foot on the Throne' began life as a short story many years ago. I could see there was a phantom within it trying to break out, a bigger story about the birth of a city. I wanted it to feel fantastical - in the way that, say, 'Gawain and the Green Knight' does, but not supernatural or unbelievable. Heightened, bizarre and absurd (as much British history plays out - think of Hal and Falstaff) but not outright fantasy. I had the setting - the period I still call the Dark Ages. Academics may now say they have more information with which to illuminate the period, but as far as the rest of British history goes it's a comparative blank slate. Information is passed down by the clergy and a few educated monarchs; after the Romans left few permanent records were kept. The Dark Ages were marked by a bad economy, the lack of culture and arts, awful  living conditions and the absence of new technology. We don't know if any scientific advances were made. So what happened in the remains of Londinium over the next four hundred years? In the back of my mind was the Bayeux Tapestry. A permanent record, a comic strip if you will, of momentous historical events. Imagine something similar for the birth of London, but parts of the tapestry have rotted away (the Dark Ages) and have been restitched more fancifully. This placed me in a zone where anything was possible. I also wanted to create an anti-epic, the opposite of Joseph Campbell's 'Hero's Journey'. In my book there are no clear lines about good and evil, no golden angels, no 'Eye of Sauron'. Instead the first faint glimmers of London can be seen. Nobody gets very far and nobody is a hero. Nobody even manages to leave the castle in which the book is set, no matter how hard they try. I wrote a synopsis for the book. I laid out the events in order, beginning, middle, end. My New York agent didn't get it. My London agent didn't get it. Nobody got it. The fault was clearly mine. I set the book aside to get on with more saleable projects. A year or so later I realised I'd made a terrible structural mistake. I had unveiled the truth about where we, the characters, were - inside the City of London - only at the very end, as if I was writing a crime novel and creating a murderer's reveal. So now I turned the whole thing upside down and rewrote it with Londinium established at the outset. I would still avoid using historical data - this was meant to be a fantasia along the lines of 'The Once and Future King' rather than a history book. I dumped all the real historical figures because I didn't need them anymore. I was more interested in creating a strange atmosphere and adding vaguely anachronistic touches that would make the reader ask if it was remotely possible (in a surprising number of cases it was). This freed me to be as crazy as I wanted - just another patch in the tapestry of London. The new synopsis now read like this; A legend is just a beautiful lie. In the second half of the first millennium the legends say that London disappeared for over four hundred years. We know almost nothing about what happened during that time. But if we could shine a light on its ruined walls we'd be in for a shock. After the Romans and before the Normans came the first British monarchy, ruled by King Scarabold, his over-entitled daughter Giniva, her effete brother Leperdandy and their wayward, lunatic relatives, all fighting for the future of their corrupt dynasty while trying to hide their most terrible secret. Then the mysterious outsider Watborn arrives, a strong, silent birdcatcher who infiltrates the royal family for a purpose of his own, and perhaps can save them from themselves... Working against them are a host of enemies; the eerie Sheathwing, Earl of Beetles, the warlike nuns of Étranges Cadeaux, M'Lin the ape, Orobus the serpent, terrifying Mater Moribund and the sinister child-spies Spackle and Peut. As warriors swarm before the walls armed with alarming weapons like the Diableries, the battle for the birthright of London begins. By the end we will know why the First Royal Family was expunged from the pages of history. 'The Foot on the Throne' is an antidote to the traditional epic, filled with unholy seductions, betrayals, deceits and just a glimmer of romantic hope. And Lo, suddenly editors and agents and publishers came on board. Author vindicated, book on its way to you. (Below: Fan art - early Photoshop!)

Comments

davem (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 10:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I want that book!

Sounds terrific and the synopsis certainly gets me enthralled.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 10:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Looking forward to reading it.

Sully (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 12:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Not only do I want that book, I've wiggled out a spot for it next to my favorite copy of The Once & Future King, just this side of The Peculiar's

Jan (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 17:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A legend is just a beautiful lie.

That'll do me it's great line. You had me with nothing but that.

Chris+Lancaster (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 19:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The new synopsis sounds fantastic. I am very excited by this. I’m sure the first synopsis also sounded great, by the way — obviously just not to those that mattered!

Roger (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 19:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Scientific advances were made in the "Dark Ages", but they weren't made by scientists (or "natural philosophers", as they were then called) but by workers and technicians - smiths and such. The obvious example is the first clock which was made sometime in the thirteenth century, but all of the innovations and improvements which made it possible weren't recorded.

Cary Watson (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 21:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Strong Gormenghast vibes coming from this one. Looking forward to it.

Brooke (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 22:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Indeed, Roger. Advances in science, the arts and literature. "Dark" is perjorative, as in darkest Africa.

snowy (not verified) Thu, 15/09/2022 - 23:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You're being very 'kittenish' this week Lady B, [I'm rather enjoying it!]

But I have to pick a bone with '...darkest Africa', this construction uses a very archaic form of 'dark' meaning unknown/hidden/unseen. It describes the mental state/compass of observer.

[It's a linguistic trap for the 'unwary', English is absolutely rife with them, to butcher an old phase - 'The past is a foreign country, they speak a different language there'.]

Peter T (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 08:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A touch hard on our living legends?

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 09:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Personally, and as a folklore enthusiast,I don't think you can become a legend until you're dead, deceased, passed over, gone to rest etc.etc. Living legend is an oxymoron (I think. Maybe Martin can put me right on that one if not).

Christopher Fowler Fri, 16/09/2022 - 09:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Peter T, 'living legends' is oxymoronic. The very nature of a legend is to be in the past and spoken about until becoming one. So, Cliff Richard, living yes, legend not yet.

Granny (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 10:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That sounds brilliant!

In addition I wrote to Borrowbox and told them to get Bryant and May on board (they do the local library ebooks/audio) and, lo and behold, 4 books are now available!
...why is it "lo and behold"?

Mike (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 11:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Don't you have to go through "National Treasure" status before qualifying as Legend?

Brooke (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 12:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy. I am aware of this meaning of "dark", As in 'The Heart of Darkness." That was my point; from which vantage point is something "dark." The assignment of dark is usually followed by some tale about the natives' barbarous practices. ("Their language sounds like 'bah, bah' to us. Too bad they don't write anything down.")

I'm also against the term because the reference point is Greco Roman antiquity and in that context, darkness is ignorance, superstition and lack of true Christian understanding . Until we are rescued by the Renaissance.

And how are you, Snowy?

snowy (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 12:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Living legend' is a piece of hyperbole, used frequently used to describe somebody that used to make your Gran's knees go wobbly, but is inexplicably still breathing. [Much to the embarrassment of the young who think they invented everything].

'Lo and behold', translates to 'look and see', it's a handy shortform to indicate the revelation of something previously hidden/unseen. [Not much used these days, except as a piece of dialogue for very camp villains].

snowy (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 13:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hello Brooke, *waves* you posted while I was rambling in another 'window', hmm... there is a lot to unpick there.

[Might take me a while to untangle all the strands, esp. now you have leapt both from the interior of the continent to the Mediterranean coast and several centuries in a single bound.]

I'm alright, though my head is still abuzz with many unanswered questions after my adventures last weekend, [briefly described several posts back].

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 13:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brooke, can we be allowed Paddington Bear’s homeland as an exception please?
I do see what you mean though. It reminds me of the explorers who ‘discover’ and valiantly survive in unknown territories. The help they have had from the people who have lived there for centuries goes largely unremarked.

Granny (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 16:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Snowy thanks :D

Did the expression "dark ages" emerge with the rise of the Age of Reason? I.e when Islam brought science to Europe, and poetry, and Chivalry? If so I suppose "dark" means "without rationality"
Think we are sinking into dark ages now

Granny (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 16:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Roger
Muslims made the 1st clocks
Part of the Qu'ran is God getting a bit tetchy about being asked for miracles, figured people get obsessed with miracles and miss the real message (love thy neighbour) so God tells people to study life around them, study the growth of plants, seasons, movement of the stars. Being as Christians were forbidden to study the stars, Islamic scholars had a head start on science and medicine and clocks :D

Peter T (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 17:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In view of the lamppost jokes in science, it seems likely it wasn't the darkness itself that held back science in the dark ages, but the absence of lampposts.

Brooke (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 17:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hello, Cornelia. If I remember correctly, Paddington Brown's homeland is somewhere in "darkest" South America--is this right? A place the Brown family had no knowledge of? Poor Brown family; they missed an opportunity to learn about a few interesting civilizations.

Brooke (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 18:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Granny: I think you're on to something. I remember listening to scholars of Medieval history/History of the Middle Ages (In Our Times) discussing how the designation "Dark Ages" first appeared in the 14th century, beginning of the Renaissance,
.

Granny (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 18:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Brooke so was it just a way of denigrating local, tribal knowledge? Similar to darkest Africa?

Roger (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 19:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The first clocks existed long before the muslims, Granny. Water-clocks existed before islam (or christianity) was invented. I should have made it clear I was referring to mechanical - escapement - clocks.
Christians could study the stars. It's just that if they reached the wrong conclusions as to what they taught, the results could be lethal. Incidentally, it's noteworthy that three of the most important astronomers in the development of the concept of the heliocentric universe - Kepler, Copernicus and Tycho Brahe - all came from places where it was much more difficult to study the stars than it was in the muslim world. Getting it right when you couldn't see it was much more important to them, so they could know better where to look when they could see the sky.
It's interesting to look at the relationship between "natural philosophy" and technology, applied - often unsystematic - science. Optics is an example. Alhazen developed the ideas of modern optics in the eleventh century. He was translated into Latin in about 1200 and the first known eyeglasses were invented in Italy within a century. Why didn't a muslim come up with the idea?

SteveB (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 20:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Because he was exiled to Egypt where after his death, his work was ignored and forgotten. It took the Latin translation and transition to a new cultural environment for it to gain recognition.
The same thing could have happened to Kepler, he also went into exile, but in his case this enabled him to develop his ideas.
Copernicus is in a clear tradition going back to Ptolemy via the Persianate and Spanish Islamic world, Kepler is the first dawning of / transition to a new science.

SteveB (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 20:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes I’m also getting strong Gormenghast vibes from the synopsis with Watborn in the Steerpike role

Brooke (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 20:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Granny: Or just people of each generation decide that nothing happened before they were born.

Roger, weren't magnifying lens in use before the 14th c. Italian eyeglasses? The lens probably did not have the advantage of optical theory...nevertheless. Trust the Italians to turn utility into fashion.

snowy (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 21:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hmmmmmmmmmmm... [I really do have to stop editing this, before it completely falls to bits]

I've got that many ends of so many distinctly different threads I could probably knit myself a Fair Isle onesie and have enough left over for a matching cape.

[The trick is going to be how to explain it without triggering an outbreak of narcolepsy on three continents].

First off just when exactly did Africa go dark? Conrad is no help, his title is a deliberate play with two meanings of 'dark', ... Hmmm... the passage into popular use seems to have something to do with an American - by adoption at least - H M Stanley, [a troublesome personality], uses 'Dark Continent' - 1878 'Darkest Africa' - 1890.

So...

Brooke, you seem to be compounding, a rather fanciful geographical descriptor with the description of cultural practises made by unpractised and naive observers; to forge a connection that is an entirely modern interpretation.

If we accept knowledge never arrives fully-formed, entire and free from errors, it is accrued through hard work,the process contains many mistakes, frequent complete revisions and more about turns than a marching band in a very short corridor. Much of it recorded in a language that while it resembles Modern English uses words in wildly different ways.

So to read everything written during the centuries long process of information gathering, as if each piece were itself the final word on the subject is a mistake. Anything written in old texts details only the state of progress at that particular point in time, and was provisional at very best. It can only illuminate the opinion of the author at that particular time, to extend this opinion as the view of thousands of other people is a colossal stretch.

<i>
</i>

Since everything is better with a close textural analysis, [I can hear the thud of heads on keyboards from here], allow me an example that points out exactly this sort of pitfall.

I have in front of me an early 20thC text*, which when read with an early 21stC eye would be regarded as a wildly xenophobic Colonialist screed. It casts the Japanese as indifferent, the Chinese as timorous, Malaysians as lazy, the Burmese as murderous thieves and the Thais as insane.

snowy (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 21:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

* [To me 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' is just a very silly song about the stubborn stupidity of the English abroad!]

Oh! Oh!

Optics + 'Italy' - has some connection with the presence of exactly the right kind of sand in Venice to make lenses with the required level of purity and an existing skill base.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 17/09/2022 - 09:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Why was an ignored and forgotten work translated at all, SteveB?
I suspect one reason the Italians came up with eye-glasses - not a fashion item, but a useful eccentricity, Brooke - was because they needed to: Italian scholars pored over texts, whereas good muslims would know the koran by heart by the time they were middle-aged and didn't need to read so much and had slaves to read aloud anyway. It was one reason printing came so late to muslim countries. Lenses existed before - there's a report of a Roman using a bowl of water as a magnifying aid - but they don't seem to have been systematically used.
The way the skill base could be easily re-applied is an aspect of what's interesting, Snowy. My own guess - and eyeglasses and clocks are examples - is that there was unrecorded - even deliberately concealed - progress in mediaeval technical science - and probably in other fields too - and the fact that we rely on written evidence gies a distorted view.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Sat, 17/09/2022 - 11:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Darkest Peru, Brooke.
Apparently Michael Bond was going to make it Darkest Africa until someone told him that bears didn’t live in Africa.
Paddington then became an Andean Spectacled bear.

Skip Maloney (not verified) Sat, 17/09/2022 - 17:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Having just (within the past month) come across your Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, I was wondering whether any of them had been optioned as films. Logging into your Web site, I discover that you have a long history in the film industry and that some of your material has made it to the proverbial silver screen. I have an equally long history in theater (though nowhere near as illustrious or successful) and I wondered whether you or anyone has considered Bryant &amp; May for the stage. It occurred to me as I embarked on Seventy-Seven Clocks that the opening line - "Talk me through peculiar" - was a brilliant way to begin such a project. As I continued to read, I encountered any number of 'snags' related to the idea: multiple locations (autopsy rooms, various offices and residences), gruesome murders (although it occurs to me that Sweeney Todd had its share of blood) and a host of other issues too numerous to mention. I went back to the start and am starting to catalogue each set location so that in the end, I will have a comprehensive list, probably longer than this e-mail.
Stage sets are very fluid these days, thanks in no small part to Jo Mielziner's work through the middle of the 20th century that kind of yanked the stage play out of its single-set doldrums into something more dynamic and arguably as central to a production as the script itself. I suspect (know) that my developing list of locations for Seventy-Seven Clocks would have to be pared down to at least half its size, if not more. But the idea, spearheaded by the character of Arthur Bryant, makes me believe it could be done.
I've sensed that the whittling away at your masterpieces of detective literature into something conveniently-sized for either stage or screen is not something that thrills you with anticipatory delight, sort of like Arthur looking at a typewriter, but I thought I'd reach out and see if I might be able to pique your interest.
My experience with playwriting is limited, although I have had one full-length stage play produced (Billy &amp; The Pope, about a fictional meeting between Bill Maher and Pope Francis), locally here in Wilmington, NC and am working on another. Not trying to ride the coat-tails of your work or asking about 'rights' to adapt it just yet, just seriously convinced that there is an exciting dynamic tale that could be told about the Peculiar Crimes Unit with all the makings of a terrific stage production; strong, fun characters, a whale of a tale and a satisfying ending, all wrapped up in (your) terrific writing. Even thought that it might work best as a production similar to the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" production, best viewed in two parts, which would provide the development folks with a larger canvas upon which to work.
Great stuff, Mr. Fowler. I am in awe. And looking forward to my progress through the entire Bryant and May saga. Currently working on Seventy-Seven Clocks, with White Corridor in the wings. Couldn't find Seventy-Seven Clocks right away and initially skipped over it. Started with London Bridge is Falling Down, researched the series and got started with Full Dark House. Oddly enough, even with its theatrical setting, it didn't spur my interest in the way that Seventy-Seven Clocks has done. Not sure a production of Full Dark House could have a scene where a character gets their legs lopped off, or cope with the challenges of the set-pieces that would be necessary to adequately bring the 'solution' to the stage. Not to mention the separate cases in their two time frames.
Anyway, that's it. Be well and keep 'em coming

Roger (not verified) Sat, 17/09/2022 - 19:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's the Phantom Time hypothesis, which says that we know so little about the dark ages because they never happened. The years 614 to 911 were omitted because Pope Sylvester wanted to reign in the year 1000 and persuaded the Holy Roman Emperor and the Byzantine Emperor to go along with him. They jumped from 703 AD to 999 AD. The immediate past was redated and the history of the previous years was made up.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 18/09/2022 - 15:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

if I understand corrrecly, eyeware appears `1200-1300 CE. By 1400-1450, important people in Van Eyck's portraits have them and by 1500 Bosch's little devils in hell are sporting eyeglasses, Good product diffusion.
Yet, smack in the middle of those dates, monks/scholars in England/Eurpose are creating extensive works in low light conditions. Wonder what optical aids they were using... did they like spinsters and weavers use rush lights and bowls of water?

Roger (not verified) Sun, 18/09/2022 - 17:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Were scholars working in low light conditions, Brooke? They'd probably be working in daylight hours in sunlit rooms, though the way editors and scholars have tried to decide just what ms. actually said, they may have had the problems you'd expect. Aside from life-expectancy being lower, illuminating and copying manuscripts was probably a young man's job anyway. Roger Bacon is one candidate for the inventor of eye-glasses. Have you read The Eye of Allah: ihttps://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/tale/the-eye-of-allah.htm ? It imagines one early response to magnifying glasses.
I can't find it at once, but I came across a letter/reminiscence dating from the late twelfth century where the writer said that he knew the man who invented spectacles about twenty years ago, but doesn't give his name.

Granny (not verified) Sun, 18/09/2022 - 21:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Roger, I think you mean Redi "Italian scholar Redi (died in 1697). The first tale suggests that Redi owned a manuscript that was known to be dated in 1299. It was mentioned in its introduction that the author was an elderly man and couldn’t read without the spectacles, which was invented in his era. The second tale, which was also narrated by Redi, shows that spectacles were mentioned in a speech pronounced in 1305 where the speaker stated that this tool was invented no earlier than 20 years before the speech date. The third tale suggests that the monk Alexander from Spina (in eastern Italy) learned how to make spectacles and he used to teach that to others. He died in 1313.

Granny (not verified) Sun, 18/09/2022 - 22:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Having now done extensive research via Google, I can say that Muslims (some?) were very well educated. For example they had universities (one at Damascus 707CE), libraries (apparently 70,000 public ones in Cordoba, Spain, even the slaves were literate) medical education including basic course of instruction, the writing of a dissertation and a diploma (both men and women),development of surgical instruments such as syringe, forceps, bone saws, (Al-Zahrawi also wrote thirty-volume work ‘Kitab al-Tasrif’, encyclopedia of medical practice including three books on surgery describing in detail various aspects of surgical treatment based on the operations performed by him, including cauterization, removal of a bladder stone, animal dissection, obstetrics, and eye, ear, and throat surgery).
Suggestions are that Bacon read a Latin copy of Alhazen's seven-volume work on optics titled Kitab al-Manazir (later translated to Latin as Opticae Thesaurus Alhazeni – Alhazen's Book of Optics). Alhazen also followed what we now know as the scientific method:
1 State and explicit problem
2 Test hypothesis through experimentation
3 Interpret data and come to a conclusion using methematics
4 Publish findings

Lovely snippet, "in The Book of Instruction, an informative memoir by the Syrian Usama ibn Munqidh, who came to know the Crusaders in battle and in repose, records two instances in which a local physician’s sound advice was ignored in favor of Christian methodologies. In the first, the Franks simply lopped off a knight’s mildly infected leg with an axe; in the second, they carved a cross into an ill woman’s skull before rubbing it with salt. Both patients died on the spot, at which point the Arab doctor asked, “‘Do you need anything else from me?’ ‘No,’ they said. And so I left, having learned about their medicine things I had never known before.”

@Brooke totally agree with you about dark ages
Also Bernard Gordon professor of medicine in University of Montpellier in the south of France, talked in 1305 about an eye drops as an alternative to spectacles for elderly people.
In 1353, Guy de Chauliac, trained in Montpelier eye drops for the same purpose but he concluded that it is better to use spectacles if the eye drops didn’t work.
A painting of Hugh of St. Cher (born c. 1200) has specs on

snowy (not verified) Sun, 18/09/2022 - 23:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We seem a long way adrift from books old or new, and I was tempted to make it worse with tales of the murderous extents to which the Venetian glassmakers would guard their secrets. But instead perhaps some Aristophanes [<i>Sit up straight and no fidgeting, this is yer actual 'Culture', this is!</i>] The translation is a little... hmmm, but if I post the original Greek I'll get withering comments - again.

<i>
</i>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
That’s good. I’ll give you another problem — it’s tricky. If in court someone sued you to pay five talents, what would you do to get the case discharged.
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
How? I don't know. I'll have to think.
</blockquote>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
These ideas of yours — don’t keep them wound up all the time inside you. Let your thinking loose — out into the air — with thread around its foot, just like a bug.
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
Hey, I’ve devised a really clever way to make that lawsuit disappear — it’s so good, you’ll agree with me.
</blockquote>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
What’s your way?
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
At the drug seller’s shop have you seen that beautiful stone you can see right through, the one they use to start a fire?
</blockquote>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
You mean glass?
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
Yes.
</blockquote>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
So what?
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
What if I took that glass, and when the scribe was writing out the charge, I stood between him and the sun — like this — some distance off, and made his writing melt, just the part about my case?
</blockquote>

SOCRATES

<blockquote>
By the Graces, that’s a smart idea!
</blockquote>

STREPSIADES

<blockquote>
Hey, I’m happy — I’ve erased my law suit for five talents.
</blockquote>

<i>
</i>

Does it tell us anything?

'Burning lenses' - glass objects of a shape/transparency sufficient to focus light were well enough known to be referred to in comic dialogue in 424 BC.

And now the speculation starts:

Did they have specs? It's possible they could have mounted a pair of lenses in a frame and used them as specs.

But most people didn't read, so no need and the pampered literate elite had servants to read things out for them.

Grinding lenses was a laborious and hence prohibitively expensive for most uses.

Even if grinding a lens had been easy, it is complicated by the need to tailor each lens so that everything comes into focus before you need shorter arms or a longer nose.

The technology to make specs probably existed unused for centuries until the collision of circumstances [cost/demand] made production viable.

Granny (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 02:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ooo ooo ooo yes! Think they were called fire stones before they were used as magnifiers.

And eeeek! You are using market forces as the impetus for production, I am not so sure of that, though the Sufi say, 'if you want something developed, increase your need'
Being as, once upon a time, Muslims were not meant to hoard money but to spend it enriching the lives of others, they were more likely to build bath houses, mosques (these were also schools) libraries, universities, and so on. I am arguing that production (creativity?) was not driven by demand as much as by curiosity and the sheer pleasure of discovery, being as God could be better understood through knowledge, science, algebra, etc.
How wonderful to speak Greek, 'the limits of my language are the limits of my world', do you find it helps you to see reality differently? Amazing to think the Greeks and Natural philosophers thought we could understand reality from 'rational' thinking, including illnesses!
I so love Bryant and his idiosyncratic thinking.

keith page (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 05:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Having seen an early draft version of 'The Foot on the Throne' some years ago, I'm sure this will be a great book.
Very 'different'.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 06:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Agree with others about the Gormenghast vibe. Look forward to the book.

The time you mention is odd. There are plenty of history but also a great deal of practical infomation missing. From the history of St. Patrick captured by Irish pirates give a light to christians around the 400s, the council of Whitly in 664 that put Roman Catholic calender ahead of the Celtic Catholic calender (not as straight forward as that but a significant moment.) and the later tales of Alfred The Great until his death in 899 (a figure invoked by Henry the 8th and Churchill and others, usually as a view on the Royal Navy and it's history.). In Manchester the only things from the Saxon times are the Nico Ditch, which nobody is sure what it was for and the Angel Stone which is part of the cathedral and dates from around 700, the original church was destroyed in the 900s and was at St. Anne's Square, but when it moved to the present site is unknown. The Roman fort existed well into Saxon times and beyond until the Victorians built a canal and then railways on it, the bit you can see today is a reconstruction from the 1980s excavations, some stones are from the Roman fort.

I guess the reason for the lack of infomation are the number of attacks, wars and so on even to Norman times and beyond, The Harrying of the North by William, The Anarchy that happened in the South when King Stephen &amp; Empress Maude (AKA Matilda) wrestled for the crown, and the power of the Baron's later on, even Henry VIII's destruction of the monastries would have lost a great deal of records. Also Saxon and Vikings tended to use wood and in this climate a lot would have been lost. And then we had the Victorians who smashed their way through history and rewrote it to their veiw, just look at what they did to Grinling Gibbons work in St. Paul's. So history is changed by them and our view of them and the age of empire alters it again. I guess Carr's arguement that history is arbitrarily determined by historians is hard to refute, the view of popular politics and society can't be understimated on it either. With the end of the Romans in Europe there is not a unifying power until the church and it's supporters create one and so look to the past to legitamise their rule, but was there ever such a power?

Sorry for the the waffle.

Wayne.

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 11:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree with Snowy; the production of lenses was a matter of demand. There isn't one when there's not much to read and the wealthy employ readers. While the lenses provide no advantage over good eye sight, they offer nothing to the military or major entrepreneurs. Though the ability to manufacture lenses had advanced little, things changed with the arrival of the printing press and the telescope. The former widened the market and the latter finally made the lens business useful for warfare. Eyeglasses haven't looked back since then.

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 11:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I love the Scarabold picture, very much Bud Spencer meets Baron Munchausen. I can see him bending forward, grabbing his bootstraps, and lifting himself out of my screen.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 12:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Fascinating...from theoretical mathematics, to cultural practices, to manufacturing/engineering technology to economic production--like it!
To bring it back to books, as Snowy suggested, Posket's book, Horizons,points out the global cultural exchanges behind numerous science discoveries. It's shortlisted for a number of prizes. Another for the reading list.

Granny (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 14:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Brooke, thank you for James Poskett, the book is definitely one for my list. He has some articles in the Guardian and has a lively style

snowy (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 15:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Global cultural exchange... I can't match Brooke's erudition... so I'm going to retreat to the kitchen and stuff myself with biscuits; sort of...

Some few years ago I read a good book with a terrible title*, which revealed that everything I thought I knew about where foods came from was completely and utterly wrong. Eg. the 16thC English navy was sustained by Newfoundland cod, and the ingredients sold to us as staples of 'Indian' cuisine came from South America.

I've mentioned it here before, so for those chiefly distracted by the mention of biscuits, "Biscuits! You mentioned biscuits... Where are the biscuits?"

The same author has also written 'The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence', [it's among my wants, fingers crossed I'm not on Santa's naughty list... again!]

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* [The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham, don't be put off by the title, it is just a hook, the scope is global and the text objective].

Roger (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 20:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy: one reason the Greeks didn't come up with spectacles - apart from the ones you give - is that they had mistaken ideas about optics and how vision worked. Al-Hazen came up with the right theory, so theory could be applied to practice after him.
While we're recommending books, Bloodfeud, by Richard Fletcher, is both an examination of an event in the ninth century and an explanation of how he could write a book about it when there is so little apparent information available.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 19/09/2022 - 22:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Read and enjoyed The Hungry Empire.
Biscuits...don't know who invented them or where but it was really good idea. Along with pistachio gelato.