30 years ago, when I was working in TCD, a young Italian intern came to work in our group. His most evocative story was about going, as a truculent teenager, to Greece for a holiday with his parents. As you do, they went on a day trip to visit the Temple of Apollo at Delphi [prev]. They toiled up the dusty path from the car-park behind a coachload of chattering Japanese tourists. Teen Michele was staring at the ground rather than the trees, the sky or the looming ruins. There in the middle of the path was a single silver tetradrachm which had been working its way to the surface for at least 2,000 years, destined to be picked up and treasured by a boy from foreign.
I told this story to Dau.II and she said "That's the sort of thing that could chart the direction of your whole life" Indeed it could, but in this case, the boy was set to embrace science at least for the rest of the century. LinkedIn suggests he is a business magnate now.
Tetradrachms τετράδραχμον were both coins and bullion, each owl-stamped slug weighed 17g and the stamp certified its purity. Although minted in Athens and used to buy all manner of luxury stuff to delight and impress the citizenry, these coins circulated far and wide across the ancient World as far away as India, whose people had no experience and limited knowledge of Attica. But the tetradrachms, as later Maria-Theresa thalers, became the definition of Good Money. At the time of Sophocles, 1 tetradrachm would buy you
- the service of a soldier or an artisan for four days
- a bushel and a half = 55 lt of wheat
- 12 lt = qt of olive oil
- 36 lt = 10 gallons of plonk