Saturday, December 7, 2013

Themelion – the ancient concept of foundation

Some people may criticize having one’s head overmuch in the historical cloud. Others could respond that having a grip on history past life/lives, events, facts provides a more stable foundation for life in the present. And that a certain wisdom can come from an appreciation of history. I am not the end all. My time is not the ultimate time to exist. Life has been going on for a long time. Life as we know it right now, my/our existence, is a minute rung on the ladder. Its only significance is that it is in the now; tomorrow it will be old news history. 

      History is a huge plate glass window over the most majestic panorama in existence. You can look and look but never see to completion. The wonders. The beauty. The ugliness, the horrors. The reality.

Now to things less philosophical and more concrete.

Ancient Greeks used a word for foundation, themelia, from an old verb “to place or to put." Meanings for themelia and its cognates were: foundations, lowest parts, roots, foundation beds. In medical use, the word could mean the root or base of the throat or of the eye. Structurally, the word had reference to the low part of the building that gave support to the rest. It also referred to supports (either stakes or stones) that were set to contain the face of an earthwork or mound.

It also has other metaphorical meanings: the foundations of battle; the place where gods stood (e.g., in their temples), the base of a mountain, the foundation for right teaching  (“doctrine"), the basis of an intellectual principle, the foundation for a future hope, etc.

The Latin equivalent is funditus, where we get the English foundation, fundamental, foundry (Old English foundery), etc.

One time there was in the Utah desert a house that was built with expensive materials marble, hardwood floors and materials, palatial. Everything in the structure itself was high grade. However, the house had been built in such a way that the 3/4 inch incoming copper water line underneath the foundation was not secure. It eventually parted and leaked. For years this condition was unknown. One day the house began to sag in its structure. The “little" issue of the leaking water line made itself known through structural weakening and corrosion. (This latter word from the old Latin word rodo, to gnaw or eat away. . . Think of a rodent, a critter that gnaws!) The repairs for this structure in the late 1990s were to be $50-60,000. Permits. Excavation. Repair. Resetting the foundation. Recavation. The occupants, also the owners, moved away for they did not have this type of money.

Another time a home owner decided to add to an existing structure by building upwards. The old structure was on a concrete slab that did not have footings around the perimeter going deep into the surrounding earth. It was only minimally sufficient to support the existing one storey structure. However, when building upward, the owner did not bother to rebuild the slab perimeter on such footings. So up he built, making a wonderful second story to overlook the scenic bay right across the way. Big windows ensured the occupants would have a beautiful south facing view across the bay of one of our gem Oregon coastal hamlets. Fortunately the floor covering was off of the first storey of this structure when it was inspected. The walls all around the structure on three sides had offset downwards, into the earth. The concrete flooring was cracked all around at the base of the wall. The foundation was no good.

Tradespeople may debate about the most important part of a structure. The foundation. The roof. The structure, components, etc. I tend to think that all aspects of a structure-become-a-house-become-a-home are important, in a fairly equal sense. But one thing for sure: weak foundation; weak structure.

Lexical information from Autenrieth, A Homeric Dictionary; Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect; Liddell and Scott, Greek English Lexicon (9th).