My little library of Alexandria

Salvete, readers!

Check out this bookcase in my study! 

It mostly consists of items from the pre-modern period. You might also spot Latin translations of Harry Potter and the lost journal of Indiana Jones, but never mind. As you can see, I’m running out of space. Just for something different, I arranged them into rough chronological order.

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It was quite an eye-opener! Sun-Tzu (possibly) wrote around the same time as Plato, and the Koran sits close to the Law Codes of Justinian. The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini rests alongside Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey. The Roots of Ayurveda is right next to the Hippocratic Corpus, and The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam is nestled next to the Arthurian Romances of Chrétien De Troyes, which bumps up against Njal’s Saga. The world is a big place!

I’ve been thinking of starting a project where I focus on reading the whole lot through in order, starting with The Epic of Gilgamesh and finishing with Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s The Art of the Samurai. It’ll be a tough slog, and will involve some re-reading, but I’m up for the challenge. One of the keys to being a good writer is to step outside your comfort zone, and I would love to see the development of story-telling from a global perspective. I might just blog about what I find along the way.

Until next time,

Valete

Adventures with Centaurs!

Salvete, readers!

You know that bit in the 2014 movie Hercules where our heroes spot horsemen from a distance and mistake them for Centaurs? As a classicist, I’m probably not meant to admit this, but I have a real soft spot for that movie. But then, I also have a soft spot for my childhood dog, who is an idiot.

Turns out that this motif of misunderstood sight has a very long history. Earlier this year, I worked with Dr Greta Hawes and Prof Minerva Alganza Roldánin on a research article which deals with that tradition. It has just been published in the 2017 edition of Polymnia. I’ll give you the basic run-down here.

In the fourth century BC, the Greek writer Palaephatus wrote a treatise called On Unbelievable Tales, in which he refuted many of the Greek myths as scientifically implausible and then postulated his own theories about the origin of the stories. Basically, he argues that mundane events were misconstrued and wound up being exaggerated to the point where ridiculous half-truths come to be accepted as realities.

Here is what he says regarding the Centaurs, as we have translated it in the article (pp 234-35):

It is said about the Centaurs that they were beasts and that they had the appearance of a horse, except for their head, which was that of a man. Even if someone believes this beast existed, it is impossible, since human and equine natures are entirely incompatible, their food is different, and it is not possible for the food of a horse to pass through the mouth and gullet of a human. If a creature of this appearance had once existed, it would still exist now. Here is the truth: at the time that Ixion was king of Thessaly, a herd of bulls gathered on Mt Pelion, cutting off access to the other mountains. The bulls would come down to where humans lived, ruin trees and crops and destroy their farm animals. And so Ixion announced that he would give a great amount of money to whomever killed the bulls. Some young men from the foothills, from a town called ‘Nephele’, contrived to teach their horses to carry riders. (Before this they did not know how to ride horses, only how to use them to draw chariots.) They then mounted their horses and rode to where the bulls were, and attacked the herd by hurling javelins at them. Whenever they were rushed by the bulls, the youths would manage to retreat – for their horses could outpace them. But when the bulls came to a stop, they would turn and hurl their javelins. Using these tactics, they killed them, and earned the name ‘Centaurs’ since they ‘pierced the bulls’. (The name did not come from their having the appearance of bulls, for Centaurs do not have the appearance of a bull, but of a horse and a human). So the name came from this event.

The Centaurs got money from Ixion, and their pride in their achievement and their wealth grew into arrogance: they committed many brutal acts, especially against Ixion himself. Ixion resided in what is now called Larissa, although at the time the people who lived there were called ‘Lapiths’. The Lapiths invited the Centaurs to a feast; the Centaurs got drunk and carried off their wives: they bundled the women onto their horses and fled homeward. From that position, they made war on the Lapiths, descending onto the plain by night, they would hide, then burn and pillage by day before returning to the mountains. When they rode away in this manner, all that was visible to those watching them from a distance were their backs: like a horse but without a horse’s head, then the rest like a human, but without the legs. Onlookers, describing this strange sight, would say: ‘The Centaurs, from Nephele, are attacking us!’ And from such statements, and their appearance, the unbelievable myth was fabricated, that from a cloud a ‘horse-man’ was produced on the mountain.

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Our article examines the way in which this passage by Palaephatus affected later traditions about the Centaurs in classical and early medieval sources. We examine medical texts, epic poetry, manuals on rhetoric, and Christian histories.

The article is freely available via open access. Merry Christmas! I really hope you enjoy reading it. It was a blast researching and writing this, and some of what I discovered might just wind up being worked into one of my historical fantasy novels in the near future…

Until next time, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Valete

If Star Wars were like Battlestar…

… Empire would end a bit like this.

Luke disembarks on the rebel command ship only to face a firing squad. He went AWOL in wartime to pursue a spiritual quest, handed his fighter to the enemy, and then gave the co-ordinates of the fleet to a known imperial collaborator.

Leia saves him by pointing out that executing the hero who blew up the Death Star would smash the morale of the rebel fleet. Mon Mothma relents and allows him a proper court martial.

Half the jury see Luke as a kind of messiah, half want him pushed out an airlock. Tensions within the fleet threaten to tear the rebellion apart. Just as sentence is about to be passed the empire attacks.

Luke manages to redeem himself by saving the fleet. Mon Mothma agrees to spare him on the condition that he stand down as Rogue Leader.

Meanwhile, everyone suspects Lando sold them out to the empire. Nobody suspects the true culprit, Threepio, who fell for the imperial propaganda line that droids would be granted citizenship under the empire’s rule. Artoo wipes Threepio’s memory to protect him.

There is no proper conclusion, and a bunch of intriguing mysterious stuff happens which is never properly explained.

The end.

Some very good news!

Salvete, readers!

As you may have seen on Facebook and Twitter, I have just signed a publishing contract for my debut novel with Odyssey Books. The Ashes of Olympus trilogy kicks off in 2018, both digitally and in print. It’s a YA historical fantasy based on Greek mythology, in which a band of refugees must face the wrath of the gods to find a way home.

I want to convey how thrilled I am to share this news, but words just won’t cut it. Instead, I’ll let my good friend Snoopy do the talking.

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This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to publication, but still, it’s my debut novel. Academic publishing and commercial fiction are universes apart, and you can bet I’m going to make the most of the experience. Publishing fiction has been a dream of mine since the first grade, when I wrote a story about a boy who was transformed into a koala.

I look forward to sharing the adventure with you over the coming months. As we get closer to publication day, I’ll share the cover with you and tell you more about the story and what went into it.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Until next time,

Valete

Friends: The Reunion

A lot of Friends fans hope for a reunion. I don’t.

Can you picture it?

Joey moved to Hollywood and became the star of a new sitcom. Sadly, everyone hated the show and it got canned before its first season was done. He wound up moving back in with his parents, who still hate one another. Joey doesn’t mind, though, so long as he gets an Xbox One Kinect for Christmas. He’s baffled that women now find it sleazy when he tries out his classic pick-up line. The problem, obviously, is that his pick-up line has gotten stale, so he goes in search of another.

His buddy Chandler tried to start his own advertising business around 2005. Chandler accepted a loan he knew he’d never be able to pay off, but he figured things would work themselves out. Then he promptly lost everything in the GFC and hit the bottle pretty hard.

Chandler and Joey try to relaunch their careers with a series of crowd-funded comedy shorts. Problem is, hardly anybody in the twenty-first century finds Chandler’s homophobia or casual misogyny funny anymore, and his jokes about his love of tobacco are kind of gross. The tiny handful who do find his skits funny aren’t willing to pay for them. Realising the problem is they’ve gotten too old for this stuff, Joey tries Botox. Hilarity ensues.

Phoebe, on the other hand, shot to internet stardom as an anti-vaxxer, and is now blissfully unaware that she has become a spokesperson for the alt-right. She is politely bemused by the fact that nobody stops to question her crazy conspiracy theories or pseudo-science any more.

Monica, meanwhile, works two jobs to support her deadbeat husband and the kids, but keeps smiling even though she’s dying inside. She alternates between binge-eating and exercising until she passes out.

Ross now works as a trainee barista at Central Perk: a committee which mostly consisted of representatives from the Faculty of Business decided that the palaeontology department no longer fit with the university’s strategic plan. It turns out he is as hopeless at serving coffee as Rachel was. He is no longer on speaking terms with his son Ben.

Rachel regrets turning down the permanent position with Ralph Lauren, and now is stuck in a never-ending series of temporary contracts. She and Ross now have four children, and still haven’t decided whether they are ready to commit yet.

Gunther, meanwhile, is now a millionaire.