Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Left and right have symbolic meanings in many different societies. Even classical Greek philosophy and science are associated with right-left symbolism. Pythagoras said one should enter a sacred place from the right (Odd) and leave from the left (Even). The first anthropologist to think seriously about the meaning of left and right was Robert Hertz who published in 1909 a monograph on the symbolism of left and right through different societies.  As he puts it in his almost poetic introduction:'To the right hand go honours, flattering designations, preogatives: it acts, orders and takes. The left hand, on the contrary, is despised and reduced to the role of humble support; by itself it does nothing, it helps and holds.' from R.Hertz 'Death and the Right Hand' 1960

Aristotle described the ten Pythagorean principles as followed: 
  1. Odd          Even
  2. One          Plurality
  3. Right        Left
  4. Male         Female
  5. At rest      In motion
  6. Straight    Crooked
  7. Light        Darkness
  8. Good        Evil
  9. Square     Oblong
Herts understood biology and saw that there was no known society in which the majority of people are left handed. By observing the structure of the organism he came to the conclusion that the natural favours towards the right side. A notion that became popular in writing lessons for children, left handedness was something that couldn't be tolerated and children were punished and trained to make the right hand dominant over the left. 

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