Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful

What is a better way to learn the use of comparative and superlative than in a little three-line limerick. Here is one for the adjective beautiful:

Beautiful is what we see.
More beautiful is what we understand.
Most beautiful is what we do not comprehend. 

This is Steno's famous aphorism [1]: The Danish scientist Nicolaus Steno is well known for his studies in anatomy and geology, including the discovery of the parotid duct (ductus Stenonianus) and the formulation of the law of superposition. Steno was a sharp and independently minded observer living in the seventeenth century in various parts of Europe. The first two lines of the poem highlight the importance he gave to seeing and understanding, the latter as a result of the first. Steno also freely studied and reflected on philosophy and religion. Without confining his broad interest and intellectual activities in one domain by overspanning limitations from another domain, Steno showed strong appreciation for everything that is beyond the reach of the human mind, as the last line of the rhyme indicates. Truely beautiful! 

[1] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; page 146.

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