Friday, April 28, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: An Important Email and End of April Challenge

It's been quite a month. I'm celebrating only two more days left to the A-Z April Challenge. I don't know what hit me. I do this every year, but 2017 will probably be my last time.

Mostly, it's been an interesting month learning about female scientists of antiquity. Boy, there were more women than I realized, so no regrets. And some of the other a-z posts were above board and truly amazing. I hope you were able to visit some.

Mid-April, I had oral surgery on bone in my upper palate. Yeah, I know. That sounds pretty yucky and it could have been more painful than it was. But prayer and two pain pills later I was on the road to recovery. All stitches have since dissolved.

But the best thing about April 2017 will forever be the email I received from a publisher offering to publish my novel!!!!  Assuming all goes as planned, you'll see me doing cartwheels all over the internet when The Shells of Mersing (working title) goes live sometime in July. 

I wanted my Celebrate friends to be
the first to "officially" know online.

"Come celebrate with us"
To join "Celebrate the Small Things:  visit Lexa Cain's blog
Co-hosts are: L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog

X for Zhang Xiaoniangzi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Song Dynasty. Artist - Qian Xuan
Zhang Xiaoniangzi is a famous female surgeon revered in
Chinese history. She lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Not much else is officially known about her other than her fame as a physician and surgeon and that her medical skill had not been passed down by any of her ancestors.

Legend tells a different story of
Zhang as a young girl who was visited one day by an aging doctor. He was thirsty and asked for a glass of water. Zhang gave him tea instead and a meal. The old doctor was so impressed with Zhang’s “intelligent, virtuous and hardworking nature” that he gave her a recipe for procedures (?) and ointment making, and a book on prescriptions for curing carbuncles and abscesses. Word spread to the people of Zhang's new ability to cure carbuncles and abscesses. As her medical knowledge grew she eventually became a skilled female surgeon. Marrying at some point, she shared her medical expertise with her husband, who then gained fame in his own right as a doctor and surgeon. 

Most of Zhang's work and life as a physician are lost to
historians, but we do know the era was a period of change in China. The population alone doubled between the 10th and 11th Centuries. Compared to the rest of the world, China was “one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world.” There were some important firsts during the Song Dynasty, such as the Chinese government’s use of paper money, printing, and the compass. There were advances in science . . . in botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, mechanics, horology, astronomy, pharmaceutical medicine, archeology, mathematics, etc. For more on the Song Dynasty, check out the video below.

Song Dynasty. Tea making. Painting - artist unknown.
There were two books on pharmaceutical medicine available during the Song Dynasty that Zhang and her husband may have used. Both were edited in the 11th Century but were much old than the Song Dynasty. There are versions still read today!
  • Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses by Zhang Zhongjing (1st complied, 150-219 AD) – on diagnosing and treating infectious disease caused by the cold, based on a patient’s yin and yang symptoms.
  • Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Casket (1st written 150-219 AD) by Zhang Zhongjing – for internal diseases


Thursday, April 27, 2017

W for Witch-hunt Victim, Hypatia: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Actress, possibly Mary Anderson in play
"Hypatia" circa 1900
Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 355-415 AD) was the only daughter of astronomer and mathematician, Theon of Alexandria. Educated in Athens, Hypatia excelled in mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

In Egypt, she went on to head the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught astronomy and philosophy based in the teachings of Plato and Aristotle.

She was quite popular as a spiritual leader and had a following in Alexandria that included Christian, pagan and foreign students alike. Her home soon became an important gathering place and learning center.

Her teachings were rather mystical and dwelt on the “mystery of being.” In letters, she wrote of “the eye within us” as a “divine guide.” In sync with her father’s understanding of the world, she viewed astronomy “as the highest science, opening up knowledge of the divine.”

Unfortunately, Hypatia did not fit into the societal mold as perfectly as one might think. When she was brutally murdered in 415 AD by a mob of Christian extremists, outrage and centuries of debate have continued in the wake of her death. Some have called it a witch hunt.

Apparently, Hypatia’s interest in divination and astrology, at times concentrating on “magic, astrolabes and instruments of music,” and her position as a pagan philosopher, scientist, and mathematician bothered Cyril, the new Bishop of Alexandria. The bishop before him had permitted violence against Jews, and pagans and their leaders, destroying their shrines, temples and images.

However, Hypatia had become a civic leader and was adored by both Christians and non-Christians. Cyril must have prickled inside watching her stroll through town with confidence in her philosopher’s cloak as she spoke openly to the crowds. Hypatia was a perpetual thorn in Cyril’s  flesh.

Astrolabe of Jean Fusoris; made in Paris, 1400.
(Putnam Gallery)
The astrolabe was used by navigators and
astronomers to measure altitude of celestial bodies 
and to calculate latitude.

Cyril's fight to remove Jews and nonconforming Christian groups in Alexandria had recently escalated into a blood thirsty feud, dividing the city. Those opposing Cyril sided with Orestes, the Roman Prefect of Alexandria.

Orestes (himself a Christian) also happened to be a close friend of Hypatia. Cyril saw an opportunity and began lashing out at Hypatia, openly accusing her of sorcery. A church chronicler (John of Nikiu) later restated this accusation as “she beguiled many people through satanic wiles.” She was “the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments.”

But it was Cyril’s first accusation that led to the crime. A mob of Christian extremists known as the parabalonoi kidnapped Hypatia, dragged her to a church, stripped her naked, and ripped open her flesh with pot-shards. After dismembering her body, they burned her remains. Another chronicler (Hyesychius) later wrote: “her body [was] shamefully treated and parts of it scatter all over the city.” 

"Death of the philosopher Hypatia, in Alexandria" from
Vies des savants illustres, depuis l'antiquité jusqu'au dix-neuvième siècle,
1866, by Louis Figuier.
The parabalonoi were never punished. The bishop spread a rumor announcing Hypatia had moved to Athens. Some historians claim her death was symbolic of the end of ancient Greek/Roman influence and the end of Alexandria’s intellectual life. But another source states it was Hypatia's femaleness that was under attack. It "made her a special target, vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft.” Further, she had long fought against Jewish and other religious repression.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V for Gargi Vachaknavi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Gargi Vachaknavi was born in India around 700 BC. She was a bright child and it was only natural that she would follow in her father’s footsteps in the study of Indian philosophy. She mastered the scriptures in Hindu theology and studied Vedic philosophy, surpassing even some of the male sages in her knowledge. As a leading scholar, she became a strong proponent of education.

A depiction of Gargi and Yajnavalkya in the debate
The most remembered event in Gargi’s life as a philosopher was the famous debate between her and Yajnavalkya, a renown and widely recognized Vedic sage. King Janaka had announced a Rajasuy Yagna (the king’s inauguration ceremony) and invited some of India’s most learned sages, kings, princes and princesses to participate in a debate. Gargi must have been thrilled Yajnavalkya was coming. He always welcomed women in such debates. The grand prize would be 1000 cows and 10 grams of gold attached to the horns of each cow.

Yajnavalkya was so confident he would win, however, he had the cows delivered to his place in advance. He had mastered the art of Kundalini Yoga, “the yoga of awareness,” and no one he felt, could challenge his knowledge and win. Of course, this made everyone all the more determined to try, but only eight sages volunteered. Gargi was one of them. 

One by one the different sages lost the debate, until it was finally Gargi’s turn. Gargi forged ahead pounding him with questions one after another concerning the status of the soul and the origin of the world. Yajnavalkya answered each question masterfully. She changed her tactic and asked one final question, but her new line of questioning angered the sage. She had asked what exactly exists above Brahmalok (Hindu heaven). 

He replied, “Beware Gargi! You dare to ask who is above Brahman (God). Beware of the limits of your questions; otherwise you will lose your head!”

Gargi respectfully sat back in silence for a moment, thinking about what to say. Finally, she asked two more questions, both of which he answered correctly:

Gargi's first question: “That, O Yagyavalkya, which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, sky and earth, that which people call the past and the present and the future—across what is that woven that ‘permeates’ it?

Yagyavalky: “That, O Gargi, which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, sky and earth, that which people call the past and the present and the future—across space is that woven, (which) permeates it.”

Gargi: “Adoration to you, Yagyavalkya, in that you have solved this question for me. Prepare yourself for the other.”

Gargi's second question: “Yajnavalkya, what pervades that Sutra which is above heaven and below the earth, which is heaven and earth as well as what is between them and which—they say—was, is and will be?”\

Yajnavalkya: “That, O Gargi, which is above heaven and below the earth, which is heaven and earth as well as what is between them and which—they say—was, is and will be, is pervaded by the un-manifested akasha.”

Gargi: “What pervades the akasha?"

Yagyavalkya: “That, O Gargi, the knowers of Brahman call the Imperishable. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, neither red nor moist; It is neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor akasha; It is unattached; It is without taste or smell, without eyes or ears, without tongue or mind; It is non—effulgent, without vital breath or mouth, without measure and without exterior or interior. It does not eat anything, nor is it eaten by anyone. 

At this point in the debate, hours had passed. There were probably those sitting in the crowd swaying as they dozed. Yagyavalkya was concerned about Gargi's stamina and suggested they end the debate. My guess is he was pretty exhausted too. The debate ended with praise from Gargi that Yagyavalkya was indeed the greatest brahmanishtha (yoga).

Reading this story at other sites online, I noticed that some neglect to tell the outcome of the debate, emphasizing Gargi’s strength as a woman only. She was certainly strong, but I think her performance in the debate also demonstrated her courage, humility, and wisdom.

Education in 700 BC India: "The stupa of Sariputta at Nalanda University." In the northwest region of India, Takshashila, sat the world's first great university, Nalanda University.  Subjects taught by the masters included: "the vedas, languages, grammar, philosophy, medicine, surgery, archery, politics, warfare, astronomy, accounts, commerce, documentation, music, dance and other performing arts, futurology, the occult and mystical sciences, and complex mathematical calculations."