The Persian Version

We know the story of the Greco-Persian Wars very well from the Greek side of things, especially from Herodotus whose Histories is all about the conflict. Modern histories have tended to tell the story the same way the Greeks told it—as a triumphant victory of hardy, democratic Greeks over soft, despotic Persians—in large part because we have no Persian version for comparison.

Even though we don’t have a Persian account comparable to Herodotus, however, we do have a hint as to how the wars may have been remembered inside the Persian Empire. This hint comes from a second-hand story reported several centuries after the fact by the Greek rhetorician Dio Chrysostom:

I heard a Mede say that the Persians do not agree at all with the Greeks’ version of events. Instead, he said that Darius sent Datis and Artaphernes against Naxos and Eretria, and that after capturing these cities they returned to the king. A few of their ships—not more than twenty—were blown off course to Attica and the crews had some kind of scuffle with the locals. Later on, Xerxes made war on the Spartans. He defeated them at Thermopylae and slew their king Leonidas. Then he captured the city of Athens, razed it, and enslaved those who did not flee. When this was done, he made the Greeks pay him tribute and returned to Asia.

– Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 11.148-149

(My own translation)

This version of events is not exactly wrong. The basic sequence matches up with our other evidence: in 490 BCE, King Darius sent a campaign against Greece that successfully captured the cities of Naxos and Eretria, but was defeated at Marathon and failed to take Athens. Ten years later, Darius’ son and successor Xerxes led an invasion of Greece which defeated a small Spartan-led holding force at Thermopylae and killed the Spartan king Leonidas, then captured and burned Athens. Numerous Greek cities became tribute-paying subjects of Persia rather than fight Xerxes’ force.

The only real differences between this Persian account and the Greek legend are the ways it emphasizes successes and downplays defeats. The battle of Marathon becomes a mere fistfight between a few stragglers and some local color. The capture and destruction of Athens is celebrated, even though the aim of the campaign was to absorb Athens into the empire, not just burn it and leave. The Persian kings could rightly say that they had made a significant show of force against the Greeks, while leaving out the fact that they hadn’t quite achieved what they set out to. As spin goes, this isn’t spun too far.

We know the Greek stories about the wars so well that we can easily see the places where the Persians seem to have burnished their memories, but that observation should also make us question the Greek stories themselves. If Persians could tweak their story to make themselves look better after the fact, what’s to say that the Greeks didn’t do the same? If we had a fuller Persian account of the conflicts in Greece, we might well find plenty of places where Herodotus and his fellow Greeks had played up their own successes and swept some embarrassing missteps under the historical rug.

Image: A Persian “Immortal,” selection from photograph by Mohammed Shamma via Flickr (currently Pergamon Museum, Berlin; 5th c. BCE; glazed brick) CC BY 2.0

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

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Away from Reality Rezzed #2 – The Eyes Have It

 

It used to be death knights had a lock on the dark, tormented character archetype in WoW, then along came demon hunters.

Image by Erik Jensen

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Rating: Elementary, Season 1

Elementary is the American answer to Sherlock, a modern-day Holmes and Watson series which we have found to be more enjoyable than its British inspiration. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant detective and recovering drug addict. Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson, former surgeon, who starts out as Sherlock’s sober companion but soon becomes his partner and an accomplished detective in her own right. Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Pilot” – 10
  2. “While You Were Sleeping” – 8
  3. “Child Predator” – 8
  4. “The Rat Race” – 6
  5. “Lesser Evils” – 7
  6. “Flight Risk” – 6
  7. “One Way to Get Off” – 4
  8. “The Long Fuse” – 5.5
  9. “You Do It to Yourself” – 6
  10. “The Leviathan” – 7.5
  11. “Dirty Laundry” – 8
  12. “M.” – 6
  13. “The Red Team” – 6
  14. “The Deductionist” – 5.5
  15. “A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs” – 6
  16. “Details” – 4.5
  17. “Possibility Two” – 4
  18. “Deja Vu All Over Again” – 8
  19. “Snow Angels” – 10
  20. “Dead Man’s Switch” – 5
  21. “A Landmark Story” – 4
  22. “Risk Management” – 5
  23. “The Woman / Heroine” – 10

Elementary gets off to a roaring start in its first season with a great combination of complex characters, rich performances, and intricate mysteries. The average rating for season 1 is 6.5, which is very strong showing for a new series.

There’s a lot of credit to go around for that strong start. The writers give the actors a lot to work with, and the actors take it and run with it. Sherlock and Joan are both interesting characters in their own right, but the dynamic between them as they slowly figure out how to live and work together and each one starts to bring out the best qualities of the other is wonderful to watch. In the best Holmesian tradition, the mysteries they investigate unfold in surprising but logical ways, often leading to resolutions far afield from where they began. The production design feels real and precise—you can smell the dirt on the New York sidewalks and the money in the corporate offices. Even though this series takes some dramatic departures from the Holmes and Watson canon, it is also filled with loving touches of fannishness that reward those familiar with the original stories—if you remember, for instance, that in one original story Holmes tells Watson that his nemesis Professor Moriarty has a painting in his front hall that he could not possibly afford on his academic salary, you are a step ahead of one episode’s twist.

Of course, even in such a good first season, not everything quite works. The lowest rating for this season, a passable but uninspired 4, is shared by three episodes: “One Way to Get Off,” about a potentially wrongly convicted man from Captain Gregson’s past, “Possibility Two,” in which a client comes to Holmes believing that he has somehow been given a genetic disorder, and “A Landmark Story,” which begins the set up to the final reveal of Moriarty. Each of these episodes has its merits, but they suffer from some weak plotting.

These three low episodes, though, are balanced by three full 10s. The pilot episode combines an interesting case in which a deliberate murder was cleverly stage-managed to look random—a subtle callback to the original Holmes story A Study in Scarlet—with our introduction to the characters of Sherlock and Joan and the first steps in their friendship. “Snow Angels” pits the detective pair against not just a daring robbery but a blizzard which knocks out power throughout the city (and, as a bonus, gives us the delightful side character of Pam the snow plow driver). The double-episode finale, “The Woman / Heroine” offers the most interesting take on both Irene Adler and Moriarty that we’ve ever seen.

I’m often disappointed in Sherlock Holmes adaptations that pit the detective against his nemesis Professor Moriarty. In the original stories, Moriarty is nothing more than a plot device to get rid of a character Conan Doyle was tired of writing. He appears in only one story and is briefly mentioned in just a couple of others. I find Holmes to be at his best when he is unraveling a problem, not chasing an enemy, but Elementary found a way to make Moriarty work.

We look forward to reviewing and rating season 2.

Got your own take on Elementary? Let us know!

Image: Joan and Sherlock from Elementary via IMDb

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

Classifying Warfare: Predatory and Hierarchical

In his history of Western weapons and warfare, Of Arms and Men (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), Robert O’Connell proposes an interesting model for examining the military systems of different cultures by analogy to the animal world. Animals use violence for different purposes and in different ways. Some violence is predatory, as when a wolf hunts a deer or an owl snatches a mouse out of a field. The point of the violence is to kill and consume prey. These animals’ methods and weapons (fangs, claws, beaks) are practical and efficient. They are meant to get the job of killing done as quickly and effectively as possible. Some prey animals have evolved similarly efficient weapons (hooves, horns, teeth) for self-defense. Other times, violence is hierarchical, as when deer lock antlers or dogs tussle with each other to establish an order of dominance within a pack. In these cases, the way that animals fight each other tends to be limited, almost ritualized, in a way that focuses more on display and intimidation than actual wounding—when deer are defending themselves from predators, they can kick and bite with wounding force, but when competing for dominance they lock antlers and shove in a way that minimizes the chance of one deer seriously harming another. The same model can be used as a way of thinking about warfare in human societies.

Some cultures’ ways of making war are like predatory animals’. Their weapons are simple and brutally efficient. Their goal is to kill and destroy, not just to force their opponents into submission. They do not recognize rules of war or limits on where, when, how, or against whom violence can legitimately be used. A classic example is the Roman legion. A legionary’s primary weapon was the gladius, a short sword used for thrusting and slashing at an enemy’s lower torso. The wounds left by a gladius were gory and horrible; the sight of bodies mutilated by Roman blades was enough to demoralize some warriors. Contemporary observers describe Roman soldiers going into a bestial frenzy on the battlefield and slaughtering everything in their path, not just enemy fighters but civilians, children, even animals.

Other cultures fight more like animals competing for dominance within a herd. Their warfare is contained within rules dictating what violence is acceptable and what is not. Battles often begin only after showy demonstrations of power and attempts to negotiate some peaceful resolution. The act of battle itself is brief and bounded by rituals; the goal is not to annihilate the enemy but to compel them to submit and recognize the superiority of the winning side. Ancient Greek hoplite warfare fits this model. Hoplites fought in brief campaigns between city-states, often decided in a single battle on a field which had been mutually agreed to by the two sides. Casualties in a hoplite battle were generally low; victory came when one side broke ranks and fled the field, not with the elimination of one army by the other. The violence of hoplite fighting was real, but it was strictly limited by rules of engagement and commonly understood principles of honor.

Whether a society leans toward predatory or hierarchical violence often depends on who their enemies are. Among people who share culture, history, and traditions, violence tends to be hierarchical. When communicating with the other side is easy and the belligerents in a war already agree on certain principles and ideals, it is easier to agree on limits and rules about war and to be confident that your opponents will abide by their promises. When fighting people with whom you don’t share culture and history, it is harder to rely on commonly agreed rules of war or to trust that the other side will stick to their agreements. Hoplite warfare developed among Greek city-states who were repeatedly fighting their close neighbors, and legionary warfare developed in an expansionist empire venturing further and further into unknown territory, but we can see similar patterns play out in other historical settings as well.

During the eighteenth century, wars among European states were often carried out in hierarchical ways. A British commander facing French troops and not feeling confident of victory could trust that if he surrendered instead of chancing a battle, he and his troops would not be slaughtered but would be treated according to certain basic rules and eventually ransomed back or released at the end of hostilities. Conditions for prisoners of war could certainly be horrendous—especially for the rank and file—but surrender was an acceptable, even honorable, option when there was no reasonable chance of victory. Since the best way to win a battle is to not have to fight it in the first place, convincing enemy troops to give up became as tactically important as fighting them in the first place. Hence the development of flashy, colorful uniforms and elaborate drill performances. The goal was to make one’s own troops look as impressive as possible in order to intimidate the enemy into giving up without a fight.

Meanwhile, in European colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, European settlers faced off against native peoples whose languages, cultures, and traditions they did not share. Neither side could trust that the other would honor agreements or abide by even basic rules on the treatment of prisoners or civilians. Colonial warfare tended to be brutal and predatory. There was no point to trying to intimidate the enemy or force them to come to terms; the only goal of warfare was to kill as efficiently as possible. In England’s North American colonies, settlers developed a style of warfare for fighting against the indigenous people which diverged very far from the elaborate rituals of European warfare at the time. In the early battles of the American Revolution, the orderly performance of the British redcoat drill came up against the guerrilla tactics of American minutemen trained in the harsh school of frontier raiding and counter-raiding.

Hierarchical warfare, seen from outside the culture that practices it, can seem ineffective or even silly, war reduced to symbols and shadowplays, but hierarchical warfare is serious. It has real casualties, sometimes even carnage on a terrible scale. The point of the displays of power, the rules and rituals, is to preserve one’s own fighting force for the moment when it can make a decisive difference. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was one large struggle for hierarchical dominance, but it had real and devastating consequences for people throughout the world.

Societies that practice predatory warfare, encountering hierarchical-war cultures for the first time, often have an advantage, at least at first. The army not limited by rules of engagement and focused on killing rather than putting on an impressive display can be devastatingly effective against an unprepared opponent. At the same time, predatory warfare can also be self-defeating. The force that does not respect common rules of war can have a hard time concluding truces and treaties and may find itself dragged into wars it does not want to fight because no one trusts them enough to make peace with them.

Thoughts for writers

This way of classifying how societies fight can be useful for defining the terms of conflict in your stories. When you have powers that share a lot of culture and history fighting one another, like a world based on medieval European kingdoms or the states of ancient India, it makes sense to build in rituals, displays of power, and rules of war that are generally recognized. Of course, just because rules of war exist doesn’t mean that everyone follows them, but breaking those rules has consequences, not just for how your enemies treat you but for how your allies or potential allies think about you, too. Therein lies plenty of potential for interesting conflict and character development.

On the other hand, when two or more very different cultures run up against one another, such as in the borderlands between different cultures or at the edge of an expanding empire, warfare is likely to take on a more predatory nature. The absence of agreed-upon rules of war or rituals for establishing dominance without fighting will lead to more violence and brutality. Again, even within a predatory context, there can be opportunities for displays of power taking the place of fighting or the emergence of rough-and-ready rules of engagement. These sorts of developments would be important in-world events for characters engage in, too.

Image: “Battle of Bunker Hill” via Wikimedia (1909; paint on canvas; by E. Percy Moran)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 3 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Captain America: Civil War; Doctor Strange; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home)

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Captain America: Civil War: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Steve Rogers / Captain America, Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, Rumlow / Corssbones, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Vision, Scott Lang / Ant-Man, Zemo, Thaddeus Ross, Everett Ross, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Colonel Rhodes / War Machine, Sam Wilson / Falcon, King T’Chaka, T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Doctor Strange: Dr. Stephen Strange, Kaecilius, Dr. West, Dr. Christine Palmer, the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Yondu, Stakar Ogord, Ego, Taserface, Kraglin, Nebula, Ayesha, Gamora, Mantis
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes / Vulture, Happy Hogan, Flash, Mason, Mr. Delmar, Mr. Harrington, May Parker, Betty, Shocker, Abe, Coach Wilson, Michelle, Liz, Ned, Principal Morita
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor, Loki, Grandmaster, Skurge, Bruce Banner, Odin, Hela, Heimdall, Topaz
  • Black Panther: Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger, W’Kabi, Shuri, M’Baku, N’Jobu, Ramonda, Zuri, Nakia, Okoye
  • Avengers: Infinty War: Eitri
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Luis, Hank Pym, Sonny Burch, Kurt, Hope Van Dyne / Wasp, Cassie, Janet Van Dyne, Dave, Bill Foster, Ava / Ghost, Agent Woo, Uzman
  • Captain Marvel: Talos (as Keller), Yon-Rogg, Ronan, Agent Coulson, Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel, Wendy Lawson, Nick Fury, Korath, Att-Lass, Maria Rambeau, Monica Rambeau, Minn-Erva
  • Avengers: Endgame: Pepper Potts, Morgan
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home: Quentin Beck / Mysterio, William Riva, Maria Hill, Janice, Mr. Dell, Brad

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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

A Very Short Introduction to Intertextuality

Intertextuality—besides being an excellent Scrabble word—is a useful tool for thinking about literature and storytelling.

Intertextuality is when one literary work refers to or places itself in the context of another work. While different thinkers have used the term in different ways, it is often used to refer to cases in which the meaning of the later work is shaped by or depends upon knowledge of the first.

To make things a little more concrete, take the example of Arthurian legend. The early literary versions of King Arthur’s tales come from several different authors across several centuries, each of whom took certain basic ideas about a legendary king and his family and followers, and added in new characters, told new stories, or shifted the tales to new settings. Each of these literary works was engaged in intertextuality, drawing on a set of characters, stories, and ideas that their audience already knew while adding something new and different to the mix.

Or, to take it a step further, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is intertextual with the whole lot. The movie features such staple characters of Arthurian legend as King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Gawain, and references to Camelot and the Holy Grail. Even though Monty Python’s take on the Arthurian legendarium goes in a very different direction than the traditional tales, it explicitly places itself in relationship to them. You don’t exactly have to know Arthurian legend in order to appreciate Holy Grail, but many of the jokes are built around subverting or parodying standard parts of the mythology.

By contrast, although Star Wars also makes use of Arthurian ideas—a farm boy who discovers his secret destiny, a magical sword, a wise mentor who disappears partway through the story—it is not intertextual with Arthurian legend in the same way that Holy Grail is. Star Wars does not have characters named Arthur or Lancelot. There is no planet Camelot. Even though Star Wars invokes some Arthurian themes, it does not use them to reproduce or comment on the Arthurian legends themselves: Luke does not become king, assemble a round table of Jedi knights, or go in search of a mystical cup.

We live in a great age of intertextuality, an age of cinematic universes, boundless fan fiction, and knowing parodies. It’s a useful idea to have at hand for thinking and talking about the stories in the world around us.

Images: Still from Monty Python and the Holy Grail via IMDb. Still from Star Wars IV: A New Hope via IMDb.

Story Time is an occasional feature all about stories and story-telling. Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, this is about how stories work and what makes us love the ones we love.

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 10

It’s a mostly forgettable season 10 for our favorite turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” – 5
  2. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2” – 6
  3. “A Study in Pink” – 6.5
  4. “Concocting a Killer” – 6
  5. “Jagged Little Pill” – 6.5
  6. “Bend it Like Brackenreid” – 6
  7. “Painted Ladies” – 4
  8. “Weekend at Murdoch’s” – 8
  9. “Excitable Chap” – 4
  10. “The Devil Inside” – 0
  11. “A Murdog Mystery” – 6
  12. “The Missing” – 6.5
  13. “Mr. Murdoch’s Neighborhood” – 5.5
  14. “From Murdoch to Eternity” – 3
  15. “Hades Hath No Fury” – 4
  16. “Master Lovecraft” – 3
  17. “Hot Wheels of Thunder” – 6
  18. “Hell to Pay” – 0

At an average rating of only 4.8, this season is the lowest of the series, dragged down by a number of episodes that are competent but uninspiring, and a few that we found entirely unwatchable, with little at the upper end to balance them out.

This season rings in with a pair of 0s in “The Devil Inside,” one more unnecessary slog with serial-killer Murdoch-fan James Gillies, who we thought we were done with for good back in season 7, and “Hell to Pay,” an unimaginative “conspiracy to frame the detective” cliffhanger with the added detriment of killing off one familiar female character and leaving another one in peril. These sorts of episodes are clearly an attempt by the writers to “add drama” and “make it personal” in the most tired and cliched of ways.

Some of the season’s other episodes, though not disastrous, didn’t work very well for us. The period pieces “Excitable Chap,” (4) a Murdoch version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “Master Lovercraft,” (3) about a young H. P. Lovecraft stumbling across a dead body on a visit to Toronto, both have some clever moments but are hampered by poor writing and lackluster acting. The new recurring character Detective Watts is charmingly quirky, but feels more like one writer’s pet project than an organic part of the Murdoch universe.

Besides these weaknesses, though, there are good points to the season. The season-opening two-parter, “Great Balls of Fire” parts 1 (5) and 2 (6), deals with the 1904 Great Fire of Toronto in a way that is both respectful of the historical tragedy and well-integrated into the series’ story and the lives of its characters. We enjoyed the return of Murdoch’s old friend and private detective Freddie Pink in “A Study in Pink” (6.5). Miss James gets to run an investigation of her own in “Jagged Little Pill” (6.5). And there is some delightful nonsense in “A Murdog Mystery” (6), an episode that kicks off with a murdered show dog, and “Hot Wheels of Thunder” (6), which brings roller derby shenanigans to the Murdoch world.

The one standout episode of the season, though, is “Weekend at Murdoch’s” (8), a gleefully silly romp using the Weekend at Bernie’s gimmick in which Murdoch goes to increasingly absurd lengths to try to lure out a killer using the corpse of our old favorite upper-class twit Roger Newsome (of the Mimico Newsomes). While this episode spells the end for Roger, we are happily left with his equally preposterous sister, Ruth, who becomes a new returning character.

Season 10 isn’t altogether bad, but it is a low point in the series. Here’s hoping for an upswing in season 11.

Image: The late Roger Newsome, from “Weekend at Murdoch’s” via IMDb

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

Away from Reality Rezzed #1 – Tentacular

I used to make a World of Warcraft comic called Away from Reality. I loved doing it, but it took a lot of work, so about four years ago, I gave it up. I don’t have the time or energy to start it up again, but every now and then I get an idea and think to myself: “That would make a good AFR comic.” And so I proudly present to you the first AFR Rezzed, an occasional return to the lives of Gord the long-suffering warrior, Alaxia the gentle druid, Hurgon the grumpy priest, Targe the blissfully ignorant hunter, Thizzible the role-playing lore-obsessed mage, and Morgatha the smart-ass warlock.

There’s an awful lot of tentacles around Azeroth these days, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Image by Erik Jensen

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Deleted Scenes: Greeks and Romans

In the spirit of deleted scenes from movies, here are a few more snippets from Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World that didn’t make it to the final draft. Today’s selections concern the relationship between Greek culture and Roman culture, and the formation of the cultural fusion we know as Greco-Roman.

On the Etruscans as early mediators between Greece and Rome:

The fact that Greek culture first came to the Romans second-hand through the Etruscans explains some oddities in things like the spelling of names. It is easier to see how the name of the Greek hero Heracles became Hercules in Roman mouths, for instance, when we know that in between he was the the Etruscans’ Herkle. In the same way, Greek Persephone became Etruscan Persipnei, who in turn became Roman Proserpina.

 

On the dynamics of power and culture:

While Rome’s military supremacy only grew over time, the power to confer cultural legitimacy within the larger Mediterranean political and diplomatic sphere remained for a long time the property of the Greeks. The narrative that power lay in Rome but culture in Greece could be tuned to either side’s advantage: it flattered Roman vanity while giving Greeks a claim to special status under Roman rule.

 

On the similarities between Greece and Rome:

Greek and Roman cultures were compatible in many ways. Both were grounded in the geography of the Mediterranean, tied to its networks of trade and travel, and dependent on the “Mediterranean triad” of wheat, olives, and grapes. The climate and the demands of agriculture imposed regular annual rhythms that structured much of economic and social life. Both were, at least in their formative centuries, city-state societies whose politics revolved around balancing the ambitions of the rich and powerful against agitation from the less well-off. In their early years, their military power depended on unpaid citizen armies. Their economies depended on large slave populations. These fundamental similarities helped bridge the many differences between the two cultures.

 

On the uses of Greco-Roman culture:

There was no denying the imbalance of power between Greeks and Romans. Greco-Roman culture was not a collaboration of equal partners but a common ground on which relations of political power and cultural authority could be negotiated.

All of these passages got cut for various reasons—because the sections they were in got reworked, because I found a better way to express the same idea, or just for space, but it is nice to bring them out into the light again.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Quotes: Who Do You Want Me to Talk into Loving You This Time?

Rich-throned, immortal Aphrodite,

daughter of crafty Zeus, I beg you,

my lady, do not weigh down my spirit

with overflowing grief,

but come to me now, if ever you came before

when you heard my voice, far away,

leaving your father’s golden house,

you yoked

your chariot and came. Swift and beautiful

sparrows brought you over the dark earth

with a thick whir of wings across the borders of heaven.

At once they brought you, happy one,

with a smile your ageless face,

to ask what troubled me, why

I called you,

and what my frantic spirit

most wished for. “Who do you want me to

talk into loving you this time? Who has

wounded you, Sappho?

If she runs away now, soon she will be chasing you.

If now she won’t take your gifts, she will give to you.

If she doesn’t love you now, soon she will,

even if she doesn’t want to.”

Come to me now, soothe

my anxious mind. Fulfill everything

my heart desires and be

my ally.

– Sappho, quoted in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 23

(My own translation)

This is the only poem by the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho to come down to us from antiquity intact. In its structure and form, it follows the conventions of a prayer: invoking the god or goddess whose help is sought, celebrating their noble lineage and superhuman powers, reminding them of their past relationship with the person making the prayer, and finally imploring them to use their full powers to help with the current problem. Sappho slyly takes this formula and turns it into a love poem about the anxiety of unrequited affection. With a little gentle self-mockery, she pictures herself repeatedly falling into one-sided love and Aphrodite as the long-suffering friend who comforts her when things don’t work out.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.