Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gentlemen Farmers, Gentlemen Hackers

One of the reasons Vergil's Georgics was so popular in its day is that most of the literate audience at Rome was made up of men who were gentlemen farmers; that is, men who owned enough agricultural-productive property (farmed largely by slaves, sharecroppers, or tenants) that they could live off the income of their estate and devote their lives to activities other than living for subsistence.  In other words, almost all of the Romans who achieved some measure of fame - all the poets, orators, politicians, generals, emperors - were also farmers, in that they owned farmland and made money from it.  Of course, many didn't care that much about the science of farming or the cultivation of the natural world - but there was widespread knowledge of how to farm, and it was considered normal for certain types of people, esp. retirees, to devote themselves more or less full time to their land holdings.  It was this latter group in particular that merits the title 'gentlemen farmers'.

I was put in mind of all this by reading an article about 'Gentlemen Hackers' out in Silicon Valley who have to decide what to do with their lives after creating a successful business and finding themselves set for life, financially speaking.  Some go out and buy stuff (boats, sports teams, lawmakers); but some return to the field that made them wealthy and pursue crazy technological ventures; "Open up a shop with a bunch of hackers and just build stuff."

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