Christmas Day

Merry Christmas to all. My youngest daughter drove 8 hours from Tucson and my oldest son 9 hours from San Francisco yesterday to be with the family Christmas Eve. We were all at my younger son’s house for their annual party but he had to work at the fire house. Today we will assemble at various houses and one restaurant for dinner. All are healthy and happy.

My best to all.

I have research subjects for this morning. My daughter-in-law wanted to know the value of the tetra drachma I had given my middle daughter as a birthday gift this year. I bought it from a workman at Ephesus a few years ago. It is the most perfect Attic Owl I’ve ever seen. I had it mounted in a necklace. This morning I’ve been researching the subject. What would a tetra drachma buy in 500 BC ?

My son-in-law and I discussed the question of extra-terrestrial life last evening. I’m doing some research on Archea and extremophiles today. Lots to do on Christmas Day before dinner time.

We also discussed ghosts. There is a Christmas tradition of ghost stories. “A Christmas Carol” is the most famous, of course. Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw allegedly on a Christmas Eve.

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.

My daughter was dropping off groceries at her bosses house when she heard a sound as though someone was dragging a heavy object down the stairs. She investigated and found no one there. She works as an archivist for a famous artist who often has his employees do his shopping for him. She mentioned her experience to other employees who have done similar services and have been present in his old house (by California standards). Several have also heard strange noises when alone in the house. Her mother believes in ghosts and believes she can sense their presence. Once in England, we went into an Elizabethan restaurant for lunch. My wife immediately sensed a ghost and asked the proprietor if there was a ghost in the old building. He informed her that there was.

My mother believed in ghosts and regaled us with ghost stories when we were children. I don’t know why Christmas and ghost stories are connected but we spent some time last evening talking about it. My daughter was shaken by her experience. I am a skeptic but have had one interesting near death experience described by a patient. Four boys were inseparable until one of them died of a chondrosarcoma of the knee at age 17 He was the son of a personal friend of mine. A few years later, the three surviving boys were in a terrible car wreck in Laguna Beach. One was dead at the scene, another came to the trauma center but died on the operating table. The third boy was terribly injured but survived. I eventually sent him to a long term care facility when it seemed he was too brain damaged to regain consciousness. Several months later, the medical director of the facility called me to say the boy was conscious and feeding the pigeons from his wheelchair. Perhaps we should consider more aggressive rehab.

He told his mother an interesting story. He was aware of the circumstances when he was first admitted to the trauma center. He described the trauma room and what we were doing. He had seen it from above as though he was an observer. While he was unconscious, his friend Sean had appeared to him and told him to tell his mother (my friend) that he was all right and that she was not to worry. He was happy. Sean had been dead four years.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all.

6 thoughts on “Christmas Day”

  1. I sent the post to some friends, one of whom is an expert in historical numismatics. This is the reply:

    “That’s an interesting question about the tetradrachm. I doubt it’s possible to work out anything accurate, but I’m sure there’s stuff in Xenophon about soldiers being paid a few handfuls of the things per quarter, so they must have been able to buy at least a few days’ provisions. Epigraphic evidence is probably the place to look: those lists of how much it took to fit out a warship in particular. Remember also that Xenophon’s soldiers were mercenaries being paid by the Persians, which would skew the estimates.

    I appreciate that this isn’t much of an answer, but even if it were we’d still need to adjust for time and place and how much was coming out of the Laurium mines at the time. As always with silver, though, a good place to start is the historical gold:silver ratio and thus the gold equivalent of the silver drachm at the time, and then the current dollar value of that amount of gold, since gold’s purchasing power has been much more stable over the centuries. The secular trend is for the ratio to go up: it’s pushing 40:1 now, was of course 21:1 in the days of British guineas, and I would guess be around 10:1 in Ancient Greece.”

  2. There is a pretty good source on the total amount of silver mined. It’s here (pdf) but it doesn’t exactly answer the question. The obol was a pretty common medium of exchange so the Tetradrachm must be like a 20 dollar gold piece. Before the obol, they used “spits,” an iron rod. Sparta banned any coins greater than a spit for fear of prosperity corrupting the city. There were also decadrachms.

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