A Roman Holiday (with Crocodiles)

When you go on vacation, you want to make sure you get the best experience. If you’re rich enough, other people will do it for you. That was just as true in the past as it is today. Here’s a fragment of a letter that has survived on papyrus from the Ptolemaic period in Egypt about preparations for a tour of the Faiyum oasis.

A Roman senator, Lucius Memmius, was touring Egypt in the late second century BCE. Someone in Alexandria wanted to make sure that Memmius had a good trip, so instructions were sent on ahead to make sure everything was ready for the important guest.

From Hermias to Horos, greetings. Attached is a letter to Asclepiades. Make sure that these instructions are followed. Be well. Year 5, 17th of Xantikos, 17th of Meikheir (March 5, 112 BCE)

To Asclepiades.

Lucius Memmius, a Roman senator who holds a position of great worth and honor, is making a grand expedition from the city [of Alexandria] to the Arsinoite nome to see the sights. See that he is properly welcomed, and take special care to see that lodgings are furnished along with landing places at the proper locations […] Make sure that the welcoming gifts listed below are ready to be handed over to him at the landing places, and that the furnishings for the lodgings, the usual morsels for Petesouchus and the crocodiles, the equipment for visiting the Labyrinth, the […] and the offerings and supplies for the household sacrifice are provided. In all respects, take the greatest care that everything should be prepared for his enjoyment, and be zealous […]

P. Tebt. (Papyri from Tebtunis) 1.33

(My own translation)

It looks like Memmius’ itinerary included watching crocodiles being fed and visiting the Labyrinth, a sprawling ancient temple complex whose walls and passageways were famous in antiquity.

It’s also interesting to note that, although Hermias wanted to make sure that special care was taken for Memmius’ visit, Memmius was evidently following an established tourist route. Hermias does not need specify where lodgings should be prepared for him or what equipment is needed for visiting the Labyrinth. The crocodile feeding was apparently a customary spectacle. Asclepiades clearly knew what to do to receive an important visitor, Hermias just wanted to make sure he did it. Faiyum tourism was evidently an established practice at the time.

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool, from worldbuilding to dialogue.


A Dragon Crawls Down from the Ceiling to Make a Fireplace

A dragon fireplace. A DRAGON. Fireplace!

Twitter Into the Forest Dark Dragon Fireplace

Ok, thinking about it a little longer than half a second, it’s not surprising that there are a number of dragon designs for fireplaces and stoves for both indoors and out, in addition to firepits, fireplace screens, and andirons.

This particular one must be custom work and as such, it cannot be inexpensive. But, dang, is it handsome or what?

By unknown. Found and image via Into the Forest Dark on Twitter.

Out There highlights intriguing art, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Completely New Night Elf Balance Druid Transmog

Since the Dragonflight expansion has some major differences from previous World of Warcraft expansions, I decided it was time for a major change in my main toon’s transmog.

Erik often has a conceptual approach to his mogs. Unlike him, I tend to start from a particular piece and build an outfit around it, or choose a color and go from there. This time it was more or less a combination of the two: I wanted to include the whimsical wings in Sprite Darter’s Flutterers—because why not—and chose the rest of the colors to highlight the shoulderpiece.

Dragonflight F Night Elf Druid Black Transmog

So, I chose the unassuming Black Swashbuckler’s Shirt and Black Tuxedo Pants. The Chestguard of Insidious Desire was also reasonably subdued. Gloves and belt were a little difficult, but Frostcarver Grips and Stygian Belt went well enough with the chestpiece. Conveniently, one of the options on Scythe of Elune had purple glow; that choice was easy. To round the set off, the helm, cloak, wrist, and boots are hidden. (Gosh, the ability to hide pieces is such a great change to the transmog system!)

Here’s the mog viewable in the Wowhead Dressing Room.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons talks about games and gaming.

A Greco-Scythian Gorytos

Here’s a beautiful work of art. This is a golden decorative panel from a gorytos, a combination quiver and bowcase that was used widely among ancient peoples of the steppes and the Iranian plateau. This example was found in Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine.

Gorytos, photograph by VoidWanderer via Wikimedia (found Melitopol, currently Kyiv; 4th c. BCE; gold)

Scythian artisans were expert metalworkers, and the Scythian elite valued high-quality metalwork, especially in gold, as emblems of status. This panel was made by Greek crafters serving the Scythian market. The central panel shows scenes from the life of Achilles, a Greek hero whose legends were sometimes associated with Scythia and whose warrior prowess was appealing to Scythian tastes. The outer panels feature decorative scenes of animals hunting, a popular motif in Scythian metalwork.

This piece is not just a beautiful work of art, it’s also an example of how art and artisans in antiquity crossed boundaries and bridged cultures.

Out There highlights intriguing art, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Visual Inspiration: Whiskered Treeswifts

Whiskered treeswifts (Hemiprocne comata) live in various subtropical or tropical forests in Southeast Asia.

Macaulay Library David Cathy Cook Whiskered Treeswift

They remind me of swallows, but are more colorful. Especially the combination of grey plus blue in the wings and back appeals to me.

Setting personal color preferences aside, wouldn’t it be so much more interesting to read a secondary world fantasy story with, say, messenger birds that look like whiskered treeswifts rather than the uninspired and unoriginal corvids?

Yes, corvids are AMAZING birds, but they’re used EVERYWHERE. Could they not be replaced by something else in a fantasy story? Or at least made vibrantly colored?

Image by David and Cathy Cook via The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Macaulay Library

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Cha Cha Cha in English

This week Käärijä is represening Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest with Cha Cha Cha. Here’s his performance at the Uuden musiikin kilpailu (New Music Competition) where the song was chosen.

Käärijä – Cha Cha Cha | Finland | National Final Performance | Eurovision 2023 by Eurovision Song Contest via YouTube

Here’s a link to the Finnish lyrics. I’ve tried my hand at translating them into English in a way that fits the rhythm and rhymes of the song:

What a week it’s been, the days behind have just been crawling.

Pina coladas and the open road are now calling.

The night is young, so listen, it’s time to get plastered.

This frozen shell around me has got to get shattered.

Grab my drink with both hands and get loaded, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

Blow off tomorrow, just go out and get totaled, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

I wanna lose my mind, forget all my cares, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

And I’ll keep going til I’m out of my chair, I’m like

A couple pina coladas are down already.

Still my face is like a mask, unmoving and steady.

The night is young, so listen, it’s time to get plastered.

This frozen shell around me has got to get shattered.

The floor is calling me, my inhibitions need numbing.

I’m like cha cha cha, watch out, I’m coming!

Grab my drink with both hands and get loaded, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

Blow off tomorrow, just go out and get totaled, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

I wanna lose my mind, forget all my cares, I’m like

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha!

And I’ll keep going til I’m out of my chair, I’m like, woah.

And now I’m dancing free,

I’m like cha cha cha,

and I’m not afraid of this world, you see,

I’m like cha cha cha,

when I pour champagne all over me.

Cha cha cha, and it’s getting hard to see,

and now I slur my speech when I hand the keys to this other me.

Cha cha cha, and you know that I’m not like this usually,

oh no, but I am today, but I am today.

And now I’m dancing free,

I’m like cha cha cha,

and I’m not afraid of this world, you see,

I’m like cha cha cha,

when I pour champagne all over me.

I’m like cha cha cha,

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha-ah-ah

I’m like cha cha cha,

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha,

cha cha cha, cha cha, cha cha.

Here’s hoping we’ll see Käärijä go all the way to the final!

An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.

Star Wars Series Ahsoka: Teaser Trailer

Happy Star Wars Day!

Disney seems quite happy to churn out Star Wars miniseries for streaming. The latest newcomer is Ahsoka. Here’s a teaser trailer from April:

Ahsoka | Teaser Trailer | Disney+ by StarWars on YouTube

Ahsoka Tano seems an interesting character, and Rosario Dawson does a great job with her. I’m also delighted to see more of Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma; she’s astounding in Andor. The character of Baylan is completely new to me, but Ray Stevenson I know from a few things (HBO’s Rome series, the Divergent trilogy, and the Thor movies); wonderful to see him get some Star Wars fame, too.

Otherwise it’s difficult to say what the series will be like. I recognize the name Thrawn, but since I barely follow the franchise outside the nine movies, that doesn’t say anything to me (except “obviously bad guy”).

The significant thing seems to be the amount of female characters in the trailer. I’m struggling to think of another SFFnal tv series with this many foregrounded women. Awesome! I do hope that the writing will be nuanced and actors are given lots of character details to play, just like in Andor. (That’s my quality metric for Star Wars series for sure.)

Ahsoka will premier in August 2023.

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We decided to disconnect the Co-Geeking Twitter account from WordPress. (To be specific, WordPress had to remove the automatic-posts-to-Twitter functionality due to Twitter changing their API on short notice.)

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Star Wars: A Personal Reflection

Star Wars Day is coming soon (May the Fourth be with you!), so I’ve been thinking about how I got into that universe. My route in was a bit odd.

I’m a little bit too young to have been caught up by the original movies. I wasn’t even born yet for the first one. I vaguely remember when The Empire Strikes Back was a thing. Return of the Jedi is the first movie trailer I can actually remember seeing on tv. Even if I had been old enough to go to the movies, though, I wouldn’t have gone to see Star Wars then. It just wasn’t a thing I was interested in.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of Star Wars. Star Wars merchandise was all over my childhood. Friends had Star Wars lunchboxes and t-shirts. I saw the posters and the toys. Before I was reading on my own, I could recognize Darth Vader and Yoda. Some of the neighborhood kids staged a recreation of a scene from Return of the Jedi. (As the youngest of the group, I was cast as an Ewok. I had no idea what that meant, but all it required me to to was run around and scream unintelligibly, which was about the limit of my acting ability at that age.)

Star Wars lunch box (not mine). Photograph by jeffisageek via Flickr under Creative Commons

When I did discover science fiction, it wasn’t Star Wars but old reruns of the original Star Trek that lit up my young brain. I was completely hooked on Star Trek and, with the stubborn, stupid loyalty of the very young, decided that there was only room in my life for one Star franchise. For years I scoffed at the Star Wars memorabilia around me and snootily dismissed anyone else’s interest in the movies.

I was nearly in junior high before I finally decided to give Star Wars a try. Oddly enough, though, my first experience of Star Wars was not with the movies themselves. In my school library I found a set of picture books that told the story of the original trilogy movies (the only movies there were at the time) illustrated with stills from the films. My memory of the books is hazy, but at a best guess they were The Star Wars Storybook, The Empire Strikes Back Storybook, and the Return of the Jedi Storybook. I decided to give them a shot.

To my surprise, I enjoyed them, enough to hop on my bike, ride over to the local video rental shop, and check out the movies themselves. It was a weird experience. In a sense, I felt like I had always known these stories. I certainly couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t known that there were heroes named Luke and Leia who fought a villain in a black helmet while accompanied by a couple of shiny droids. Reading the books filled in the details of a story that already felt familiar. By the time I actually saw Star Wars on screen, I knew who the characters were and what was going to happen. Watching those movies for the first time already felt like revisiting old friends.

Weirdly, one thing that wasn’t spoiled for me until I read the books was the Skywalker family tree. I can still remember the shock of finding out that Darth Vader was Luke’s father and then that Leia was his sister. That may be hard to believe in today’s world of fan sites and social media, but I made it through more than a decade of knowing who those characters were without knowing how they were related. Somehow, in all the years of my childhood, I never heard any of my friends who were into Star Wars put on a deep voice and say “Luke, I am you father.”

Star Wars has a special place in modern pop culture because it is special. It is one of the few stories we all know, even if we’ve never seen it. Whether you love it or not, and however you may feel about the prequel and sequel trilogies or any of the vast outpouring of other media in the Star Wars universe, it’s a story that we all have our own stories about.

In Seen on Screen, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A Competence Porn Viewing List

The other day, fueled by our discussion on what to watch after dinner, I started musing about a certain mood of mine and what connects the works I gravitate towards when in that mood. I landed on the term competence porn without realizing it is an existing term. (There’s even a Wikipedia article on competence porn.)

In alphabetical order, here is my short viewing list:

  • Charlie’s Angels (2019)
  • Elementary
  • Leverage
  • Ocean’s Eight
  • Rogue One
  • Wonder Woman

And a back-up list with works that fulfill some criteria, fail others, but that I nevertheless often like to watch when in that mood of mine:

  • Black Widow
  • Captain Marvel
  • Miss Marple (the series with Joan Hickson)
  • Murdoch Mysteries
  • Star Wars VII-IX (specifically Rey’s storyline)

There seems to be surprisingly much variance in the use of the term competence porn, so rather than dissect the alternatives, here is what I mean by it:

  • Typically has multiple competent, intelligent characters of different skills or areas of expertise working together, often towards a fairly big goal.
  • Involves complex problem-solving. Can but need not include a heist.
  • It helps if women are being awesome,
  • and/or, it helps if the characters are learning to work together.
  • It needs to be fun on some level. (Maybe?)

There’s a somewhat nebulous aspect I haven’t yet been able to quite define for myself. For example, on the surface, the action flick Gunpowder Milkshake fills the above requirements—it has multiple competent and intelligent characters, lots of problem-solving, women being awesome, and learning to work together, and yet I cannot count it as competence porn for my purposes. I guess it’s an aspect of fun? Or a lack of despair / despondency / dejection / melancholy / gloom?

Anyway, I’ll talk a little about why I’ve placed each of the works above onto my viewing list.

1. Charlie’s Angels

IMDB Charlies Angels 2019 Poster

I find the protagonist Elena (played by Naomi Scott) very irritating; on the other hand, Jane and Sabina (Ella Balinska’s and Kristen Stewart’s characters) plus Boz and Bosley (Elizabeth Banks and Djimon Hounsou) are great. Stewart has a bad rep, I guess, and I guess primarily from the Twilight movies (the only things I have seen her in), but on the basis of her performance here I’d suggest she does have skills but was just badly directed in that series. Anyway, it’s a learning to work together story, which I like a lot, and all the women down to the side characters are awesome.

2. Elementary (2012-2019)

IMDB Elementary s2 e12 The Diabolical Kind

A modernized version of Sherlock Holmes set loose in New York City with a gender-flipper Watson. Both Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are fantastic as the detective duo, and the smart NYPD cast, Captain Gregson and Detective Bell (played by Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill), also contribute their fair share. The Ms. Hudson and Moriarty versions were also interesting, but all in all there are too few women. (Still half of the population, hello?) Nevertheless, the astounding cases, quality acting, and scenes of real NYC in all its glitter and grime continue to keep my interest despite some less successful story lines.

3. Leverage (2008-2012)

IMDB Leverage Group Shot

Yes, yes, yes—ticks all the boxes despite some unevenness in the writing. If only it didn’t have Nate nor the actor, Timothy Hutton; I’m so fed up with wallow-y man pain (and, whoo boy, does he wallow) with or without alcohol, but it’s infinitely worse with.

The three youngsters should’ve had a series of their own; THAT would’ve been great, and I would throw money at it!

4. Ocean’s Eight

IMDB Oceans Eight Poster

Yes, yes, YES! (Despite Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter, who all are far from favorites of mine.) Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna were fabulous. The heist is simply staggering, and it helps it’s also a learning to work together story in part.

5. Rogue One

IMDB Rogue One Poster

Although in the beginning we only see a glimpse of Jyn Erso’s childhood and we hear little of how she lived afterwards, it’s clear that she can handle herself, backwards and blindfolded if needs be. I enjoy seeing just how the Rogue One group slowly comes together to run their desperate mission. It needs more women, though.

Rogue One is clearly the least fun of my six competence porn stories, which makes it really hard to put into words why it’s on my list. I just know that it is.

6. Wonder Woman

IMDB Wonder Woman Shot

There are some plotholes and/or weaknesses I’d rather do without, but the learning to work together aspect of the story nevertheless makes the movie work for me. And—need I say it?—SO many awesome women. I could spend more time seeing Amazon action on Themyscira!

Do you have a competence porn viewing or reading list? If so, I’d like to hear yours.

Images via IMDB: Charlie’s Angels. Elementary (s. 2, ep. 12, “The Diabolical Kind”). Leverage. Ocean’s Eight. Rogue One. Wonder Woman.

In Seen on Screen, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.