Death by theremin in Midsomer County

I'm a big fan of Midsomer Murders, a TV series made by the BBC ITV (thanks Robert for the correction).  Midsomer Murders is full of quirky characters doing the most bizarre things in some of the most picturesque English villages you'll ever see.   Think seriously unhinged Agatha Christie and you've got the right idea.

It also has some distinctive theme music.

What I didn't realize until today is that the theme music is played on a theremin.

What is a theremin, I hear you scream?  It was the world's first electronic musical instrument, invented by a Russian physicist in the 1920s.  It consists of two aerials at right angles to each other.  Put your hand close to one aerial and it raises the pitch.  Putting your hand close to the other raises the volume.  Moving your hands inside the two electromagnetic fields creates music.

So here is Celia Sheen, Britain's foremost classical thereminist, who is in fact the musician you hear in every Midsomer Murder.  I know it looks like she's waving her hands in mid-air, but she really is playing the theremin.

Cool dudes of statuary

I wouldn't normally place anyone's advertising on this blog, but I can't resist this lot.  Traid is a UK clothing charity that recycles old clothes.  They recently issued some advertising in which French artist Leo Caillard placed recycled clothing on some even older statues.  This is the result:

I've left the pictures at original size because that's how they look best.  I realize they won't fit neatly on everyone's screen.  If you click on each picture your browser will probably give you a good full image.

The last guy looks like someone I used to work with.

I would love for the artist to get together with the people who did the colours of ancient Greece.

The Gods of P.I.E.

I've previously written about the Proto-Indo-European family of languages.  Pretty much all the European languages, plus Sanskrit in India, plus a lot of languages across the Middle East, are all descended from an incredibly ancient language, called Proto-Indo-European, usually shortened to PIE.  There are people who've reconstructed PIE by comparing all the descendant languages and looking to see what they have in common.

The first PIE speakers originated somewhere north of the Black Sea (probably), some time about 4,000 BC, and then spread all over Europe, the Middle East and India.  They carried their language with them, and everywhere they went, PIE supplanted whatever languages were already there.  There's something about Proto-Indo-European that makes it particularly well suited to human brains.

Greek is a PIE language.  The Linear B tablets of Minoan and Mycenaean civilization are extremely early, archaic Greek, thus making Greek the earliest known PIE language for which there's a decent written record.

The PIE speakers also carried their religion with them.  The religion has proven chancier to reconstruct because names and deity relationships have changed more easily than the language.  Even so, some common elements have been found that surely must spring from the original religion.

If you know Greek, Roman, Norse or early Indian gods and goddesses then you already know the basic structure.

Father Sky is the easy one.  Zeus pater in Greek, Deus pater in Latin, which contracts to Iu-pater = Jupiter, Dyaus pitar in Sanskrit, who appears in earlyVedas but is later supplanted.  If you're wondering how Zeus/Deus/Dyaus managed to turn into Odin in the Norse version, so is everyone else.  I wasn't kidding when I said the deity names changed more than any other part of the PIE language.  And in fact Father Sky is the name that's changed least.  The other gods and goddesses have to be reconstructed by their relationships or domains.

An Earth Mother.  Like father (pater), mother (mater) in various forms is also incredibly ancient.  No surprises there.  The Greek version is Demeter.

Sun God.  Usually drives the sun around on a chariot.  Which is interesting because chariots came late in PIE time.  There must have been an earlier system.

A God of Thunder.  Thor and friends.

The Divine Twins.  Castor and Pollux.  Gemini.  Closely associated with horses, especially in Greek and Roman vase paintings.  In Vedic religion they're the Ashvins, divine twin horsemen.  The PIE speakers definitely rode horses; equus, iquo, ippos, hippos and its variants are an original, very early PIE word.

And some standard themes common across the PIE speaking world.

The Tree of the World.   The world is held up by a giant cosmic tree.  (No, it's not turtles all the way down).  Sometimes the tree is threatened.

A Battle Against a Snake.  Amazingly common theme across the PIE regions.

An Underworld guarded by a dog.  Cerberus and friends.

Conspicuous by their absence are the other divine twins: Apollo and Artemis, also Poseidon, Hades, Persephone, Dionysos, Hecate and Aphrodite.  Which isn't to say they weren't very early, but there's nothing to suggest they arrived with the Proto-Indo-European speakers.  They were probably already in place.

The Fates, Moirae, Norns or whatever you want to call them are an interesting case because, although they're a common theme across a wide region, there's no obvious connection to the rest of the pantheon. It's almost like there was a second mythology spread by the same people.

There's obviously a lot of mixing and matching involved, with a lot of linguistic analysis and the assumption that coincidences don't happen.  The earliest known good documentation about this are the Vedas in  Sanskrit and the Theogeny, written by Hesiod at about the same time as Homer was writing the Iliad.  But the Vedas are a pure religious text and Hesiod, Europe's first non-fiction author was writing about 3,300 years after his ancestral PIE speakers exploded across three continents.

The richest athlete ever

The football trading season has just ended, leaving a lot of traded players with paychecks that are grossly obscene, far in excess by several orders of magnitude for what is reasonable for any game.  (I'm talking about real football here...the thing with the round ball that you kick...)   In England alone they spent 630 million pounds on football players.  That comes to something just short of one billion dollars.

So are these guys the richest athletes ever?  Actually, no.

The richest athlete of all time is a Roman chariot racer, one Gaius Appuleius Diocles.

Diocles was an illiterate Spanish lad who, it turned out, was really, really good at driving chariots.  He joined the White Faction at age 18.  Romans devoutly supported one of four teams: the Reds, Whites, Blues and Greens.  Fans regularly rioted over which team was best.  Diocles didn't care.  He raced for the Whites for some years, then moved to the Greens, and ended his career with the Reds.  In that time he had 1,462 victories from 4,257 starts.  But that doesn't tell the full story, because most of his races were against other top-of-the-line racers.  His standard was to race four horse teams, but he was also one of the first to race a seven horse chariot without a yoke (the mind boggles).

Then as now, crazed sports fans loved statistics, all of which they engraved on his memorial.  Diocles seems to have worked out what all modern racers know: that the start matters a lot.  In 815 of his victories he led from the start.  It was clearly his strategy to make sure he led at the first turn.  In another 502 he won at the last moment in a neck-and neck race.  In only 67 did he come from the back to win.  When he didn't win, he came second 861 times and third 576 times.

His total winnings, listed on his monument that was erected by his admiring fans, amounted to 35,863,120 sesterces.  Someone once tried to convert that to modern currency by comparing it with army pay Roman vs modern.  It comes to about 15 billion dollars, overwhelmingly the richest athlete ever.