Poem: Sonnet?: “The Antikythera Mechanism”

In 1900, sponge divers found a shipwreck in 150 feet (45 m) of sea off the Greek island of Antikythera. It proved to be a Roman cargo ship from the first century BC. Among the objects subsequently retrieved was a mechanism for calculating astronomical positions and eclipses decades in advance, generally considered to be the world’s earliest known analogue computer.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin in June 2017

ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM

The Antikythera Mechanism fits
Comfortably in no category I know;
A thing of Metal, from the Earth below,
For studying the heavens (Fire or Air)
While trapped in Water for two thousand years.
This ancient artefact from cultures past,
Designed to calculate future events,
Has a contemporary feel at last –
Making allowance for its steampunk look.
Not a computer, less whole than distressed,
It sits anomalously, missing bits,
But speaks loud of that loss much more intense
When the religious dogmas of The Book
Destroyed the nascent scientific quest.

This is a Sunday blog post, so I put a bit of religion in it. I recognise pros and cons to religion. (“All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”) It’s nice for people to use religions to explore their relationship with the universe, but I hold the inherent intolerance of monotheism responsible for setting civilisation back a thousand years.

On the use of form: well, the poem has aspects of form – it’s in iambic pentameter, like a regular sonnet; it has 14 lines, ditto; it rhymes… but there’s no structure to the rhyme. The combination of structure and chaos suits the mood of the poem, the odd position in history of this mechanism, and its odd state of semi-survival. Reconstructions of the Antikythera Mechanism have been made confidently, and put on display next to its fragments in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

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4 thoughts on “Poem: Sonnet?: “The Antikythera Mechanism”

  1. Michael Burch

    I disagree about religion being compatible with liberty. Take hell-based orthodox Christianity, for instance. Young children are brainwashed to think they must believe and do nonsensical and detrimental things in order to be “saved” from eternal torture. Once they have been brainwashed, they are not free to think for themselves. I understand the process because I went through it. In my opinion it’s child abuse, whether or not the government is involved.

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    1. Robin Helweg-Larsen Post author

      I’m sorry for your experiences, Mike. I had 10 years of Church of England boarding school – 15 minutes of chapel a day, except an hour on Sundays, and Scripture in the curriculum in primary (elementary) school. Hell was never presented as a serious concern for anyone, and a lot of us ended our schooling as atheists. I subsequently went in and out of various religions as part of my ongoing experiential learning, just as I lived in half a dozen countries and learned a couple of languages. So I found religion essentially beneficial. But I was lucky in not having religious parents, so I had plenty of choice about beliefs.
      I think the parents are to blame if the child is raised in fear. Unfortunately, that also has a cultural component, and for whatever reason the US is always scaremongering both adults and children: communists… other races… backyard bomb shelters… hide under the desk… being Left Behind… black helicopters… So I think American religion needs to be seen in that unhelpful cultural context.
      My wife was raised in Catholic schools in Canada, and the priests told her very early in grade school that of course the stories in the Old Testament didn’t happen like that, the Flood, the Garden of Eden, those were just stories from before people had science and history.

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      1. Michael Burch

        I think a pertinent question is the term “salvation.” What is one being saved from? Christians are not being saved from suffering or death. What are they being saved from? I think everyone knows that Christians are being “saved” from “hell.” That’s a terrible thing to do to innocent, impressionable children in my opinion. Perhaps the images are less vivid in one Christian church from another, but outside the Universalists it seems hell remains the great inducer.

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      2. Robin Helweg-Larsen Post author

        A large number of (non-American) churches – e.g. most Western European churches – preach hope of heaven but no longer accept the idea of hell. Americans would be surprised!

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