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February 23, 2003

Cultural comparisons?

I'm reading Mathematics from the birth of numbers by Jan Gullberg [1]. Here is an interesting note in the section on combinatorics:


Our story is a variation of the "no so chance" Ludus Sancti Petri, or Saint Peter's Game, known from medieval times- typically a shipt was struck by a heavy storm and, to lighten and possibly save the vessel and some of her passengers, half the passengers were thrown overboard. In Europe the fifteen favored persons were most often Christians, the other fifteen Jews. St. Peter, who usually presided, arranged the passengers in such a way that the Christians were saved.

In a Jewish version, Saint Peter was replaced by the Spanish Jew Ibrahim ben Meir Ezra ... who saves his fifteen pupils, the other fifteen passengers being drowned. An Arab version favors the Muslims and throws the infidels overboard; an East Indian story lets fifteen good men be saved and fifteen theives be downed....


Who needs to be saved from heathen darkness? If only the idolaters would show out-castes as much compassion as they do cows, I would have no complaints at all....

[1] OK book-though it covers a lot of topics, so you don't get much detail and depth. Good for lay people that don't know where to start. I'm skipping around. Not too advanced by the way....

Posted by razib at 03:08 AM