Ancient Greek invention, puzzling emperor are lecture topics

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PORTLAND — An ancient Greek invention and a puzzling emperor are the focus of the Hellenic Society of Maine’s spring lecture series. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The first lecture, “The Antikythera Mechanism: The 2,000 Year Old Greek Computer,” will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 11, in 41 Payson Smith Hall (basement level) on the University of Southern Maine campus.

Jerry LaSala, USM Planetarium director and physics professor, will present a lecture on the ancient Greek computing device recovered from a Roman shipwreck dating back to the first century BCE.

Ever since sponge divers recovered this artifact in 1901, scientists have attempted to replicate its mechanism so as to understand both how it worked and the types of celestial phenomena it was designed to predict.

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Today, astronomers believe they have unraveled the mechanism’s mysteries and are astonished at its complexity. It is so sophisticated, in fact, that historians and archaeologists are re-evaluating their notions of ancient Greek astronomy.

“Constantine and the Christianization of the Roman Empire” is the topic of the second lecture to be given at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 8, also in 41 Payson Smith Hall. Professor Gary Johnson of the USM history department will discuss Constantine the Great. The Roman Emperor Constantine (306-337) is the source of considerable disagreement among modern historians, and much of this disagreement focuses upon Constantine’s relationship to the Christian Church.

Constantine has been seen both as the first Christian Roman emperor, and as a fraud and manipulator of Christians. As the founder of the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) he also has been seen as the founder of the “Byzantine Empire,” sometimes called the Christian Roman Empire.

This presentation will discuss the problem of Constantine, and offer one point-of-view on the origins of his political power, the reality of his conversion and the nature of the Christian Church in his day. The goal will be to introduce some of the major issues which spark disagreement about Constantine, and, hopefully, to discuss these as a group.

A statewide nonprofit organization, the Hellenic Society of Maine Inc. is a community organization that supports Portland’s Sister City relationship with Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece. It partners with USM’s Hellenic Initiatives to present numerous cultural and educational events. For more information call the president, Mary Snell, at 892-9831.

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