November 03, 2003

Weblogs were invented by... Plato!

Camille Paglia recently explained, with characteristic modesty, that

"Now and then one sees the claim that Kausfiles was the first blog. I beg to differ: I happen to feel that my Salon column was the first true blog. My columns had punch and on-rushing velocity. They weren't this dreary meta-commentary, where there's a blizzard of fussy, detached sections nattering on obscurely about other bloggers or media moguls and Washington bureaucrats. I took hits at media excesses, but I directly commented on major issues and personalities in politics and pop culture."

Mickey Kaus retorted that

"I still say Herb Caen's column was the first blog. ..."

Roger Simon observed that

"Though I was a Caen fan, my vote goes to the immortal Jimmy Cannon, New York sportswriter and progenitor of the three dot column. Second choice: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson--"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" as the first political blog."

and also reports on research pointing to the first website at CERN in 1992, a Swarthmore student's online diary in 1994, and Dave Winer's Scripting News.

Comments on Simon's site mention Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor Musings and Saucer Smear; Dave Winer says

"Roger, all three have legit claims. TBL's first site was a weblog (as were the What's New Pages at Urbana and then at Netscape), and Justin Hall's site predated mine by a couple of years. My claim is that all the things you see called blogs today can trace their roots back to Scripting News, as it inspired bloggers (and provided easy to use tools) to start blogs, and they inspired others and so on."

(Links from Glenn Reynolds)

Well, enough dreary meta-commentary, let's start directly comment[ing] on major issues and personalities!

Following the chain of family resemblances from Camille Paglia through Herb Caen, Jimmy Cannon and Hunter Thompson, I want to skip back a couple of millennia to an even more original model: Plato, whose Republic begins

"I went down yesterday to the Peiraeus with Glaucon, the son of Ariston, to pay my devotions to the Goddess, and also because I wished to see how they would conduct the festival since this was its inauguration. I thought the procession of the citizens very fine, but it was no better than the show, made by the marching of the Thracian contingent."

Is that on-rushing velocity, or what?

I want to point out in passing that the paragraph cited above, in the version I've linked from the Perseus web site, offers five footnotes (from the underlying edition "Plato in Twelve Volumes", translated by Paul Shorey, Harvard University Press, 1969) along with four additional hyperlinks added by the good folks at Perseus. Talk about meta-commentary...

Obligatory linguistic relevance: it's in The Republic that the term prosody originates. Read the whole thing :-).

[Update: Way back in June 2003, Languagehat documented the antiqutity of weblogs by quoting Aristotle's attack on the Pythagorean metaphysics of blogging. And you can't get more meta than that!]

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 3, 2003 02:49 AM