Like the Antikythera Mechanism

I picked up a stone here in the creek that reminds me of the Antikythera Mechanism. The stone is older, of course, but much resembles the largest most-representative scrap of that mechanism, which was salvaged from a Roman ship at the bottom of the Ionian Sea in 1901 by Dodecanese sponge divers. The artifact is considered by many the first analog computer, or at least the first ever found. It was roughly shoebox-sized.

People marvel at the engineering of the thing. Others debate its origin. Several believe it could not have been created by terrestrials. Most archaeologists and others gush openly about the device, which was already 100-200 years old when the ship went down on its way from Rhodes to Rome in 80 BCE.

More than 80 fragments of the bronze laptop were uncovered by the sponge divers, along with much bronze and marble statuary. Archaeologists suspect the ship was carrying booty or tribute bound for a rich Roman’s vaults, and possibly a victory parade for some Caesar. The divers had special suits with copper helmets and long air tubes that allow going down deep. It was way down deep there. A few of them got the bends. No one gets the bends in Onion Creek in Ohio.

I found the stone in one of the Onion Creeks of Ohio. The stone has a shell fossil near its middle that has peeled away raggedly in layers, much resembling the central dial in that torn-away main scrap of the Antikythera Mechanism. In most articles I‘ve read, this largest scrap stands in for the entire Antikythera Mechanism. In most photographs, it is heavily corroded and has a greenish cast, looking very much pulled out of the salt sea.

Today I doodled something like the Antikythera Mechanism. Mindlessly sketched it. Not intended. A clump of head-like lumps without facial features, no eyes, no mouths, no nostrils, forming an amorphous mass similar to the corroded bumps on that ancient orrery-like mechanism, that planetarium-like mechanism.

Genuinely unconscious was this act, this doodling, until my self-consciousness interrupted to say “Hey, I know that… that navigational instrument.”

Neo-Dada artist Shusaku Arakawa’s “Mechanism of Meaning” just now comes to mind. From there I move on to what the Antikythera Mechanism reportedly looks like to others on the internet and find: 

Like a jagged lump of dumped concrete…
Like a heap of rubbish…
Like it was burnt…
Like moldy green cardboard…
Maybe looks like the future…
Like a signal from the past…
Like something from another world…
Very similar to a crop circle…
Like the bottom of a lawnmower…
Looks as if it will help us…
Looks normal.
Like child’s play.

But what of the deux ex machina? That is, “god out of the machine,” a thought that just to me came out of nowhere: I recall that in imperial Greek drama, not Roman, a supernatural being comes out of a machine and that it is a plot device. It is a plot mechanism. A crane might lower the god or goddess from the ceiling, who then solves everything. The crane is called a mekhane. A riser pushing up through a trapdoor of the stage can also be the mekhane.

In this case, the meditations have not brought Herakles or Aphrodite from out of the mechanism, but the author himself.

This mechanism that has been many things to mostly one person.

Ivars Balkits

3 Questions for Ivars

What was your process for creating this piece?

Many of my word-works derive from contemplation of images, photographic, fine artistic, and self-made. I came across this image of the Antikythera Mechanism (on the internet, of course) and became obsessed with the way the object looked: its colors, its textures, its antiquity. So I researched its story and at some point the piece began to take shape as an exploration of what it is like and of what might be like the mechanism. We know THE word for simile is “like,” which can connect unlike as well as like. I think of the piece as a brief history of my relationship with simile as well as of the mechanism itself. 

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

I had written several pieces at about the same time that intertwine historical information with personal observation and responses, generally in the framework of what I subsequently discovered is called a braided essay by the cognoscenti. I actually tend to approach these kinds of works as longer prose poems, allowing my mind and words to play as with a poem, without the constraints of conventional non-fiction that often seems must imitate fictional tropes and beginning-middle-end. I also find that prose poems, in general, bear my form of eccentric absurdity better than line poetry for some reason.

What is the significance of this work to you?

I have to say its significance to me is more in the nature of an enjoyable creative exercise than any emotional connection to the subject of the essay. I did get to see the mechanism in person at the Archeology Museum in Athens, Greece, though that was much after I had already written the piece. Otherwise, the emotional connection would be with the nearby island of Crete, to which my beloved wife and I have come nearly every year for several months since 2001. We now live in a small mountain village here six months out of the year and intend to make the move permanent eventually.

Ivars Balkits’ written creations have been most recently published by Fixator Press, Courtship of the Winds, Abstract Elephant, Fiction International, Fleas on the Dog, LitroNY, cahoodaloodaling, and Angry Old Man. He is a recipient of two Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, for poetry in 1999 and creative nonfiction in 2014.

Next (Snow Blasts) >

< Back (From 'Data Crunchers')