Even Heroes Take Time Off

Heroes don’t spend all their time being heroic. They need time off, too. That was the idea behind this beautiful vase by the ancient Athenian painter Exekias.

On one side, we see Achilles and Ajax, two of the great Greek warriors of the Trojan War, putting aside most of their armor for a while and playing a board game. Achilles is winning, as Exekias lets us know because he has given us the score: beneath Achilles’ head is the word “four,” beneath Ajax’s, “three.” According to literary tradition, Achilles’ tent was at one end of the Greek line, Ajax’s at the other, so this was not just a casual pick-up game; one or the other of the heroes must have crossed the entire Greek camp so they could play.

Amphora, Achilles and Ajax playing a game, photograph by Daderot via Wikimedia (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

On the other side of the vase, the twin heroes Castor and Pollux return home. They are welcomed by their parents, Tyndareus and Leda. On the left, Pollux leans down to greet a dog who jumps up, excited to see him.

Amphora, Castor and Pollux return home, photograph by M. Tiveros via Classical Art Research Centre (Athens, currently Vatican Museums; c. 540-530 BCE; black-figure pottery; by Exekias)

Exekias was an innovative artist. He was one of the first vase painters to show mythic heroes not in the midst of action but at ease, among the familiar surroundings of everyday life.

If you’ve been feeling the weight of the past year, take some inspiration from heroes: play a game, say hello to family, play with a pet. If it’s good enough for Achilles, Ajax, Castor and Pollux, it’s good enough for you, too.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Medieval Huntresses

Here are some ladies enjoying a good stag hunt, from an illumination in a copy of “The Letter of Othea to Hector” by Christine de Pizan. The image represents the mythical huntresses of the goddess Diana, as imagined by a medieval artist. We see one lady driving game by beating the bushes and another taking aim with her bow while two more blow the hunting horn and manage the dogs.

Hunting scene from the “Letter of Othea to Hector” via Wikimedia (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; 1407-1409; paint on parchment; by the Master of the Letter of Othea)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Dragonfly in Morning Dew

I can’t say I’m a night owl, but I nevertheless am definitely not a morning person. That makes me a little wistful sometimes, since mornings can be beautiful.

Case in point: nature photographer David Chambon’s dew-laden insect photos. They are. Just. Stunning!

[Content note: extreme closeups of insects!]

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Read the whole post.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: 60 Seconds of Mars

While aimlessly browsing social media, I stumbled upon a 60-second video clip from Mars. Below’s a screencap, since I was unable to find a video to embed:

Twitter NASA360 60 Seconds of Mars

(Sorry for not including more details of the area; the NASA Twitter account didn’t provide any, and I can’t find a corresponding video on their YouTube account or website, either. Perhaps it’s from Curiosity?)

Isn’t it amazing, when you think about it, that we as a species have not only sent multiple vehicles to space, but our technology is good enough that we have high-definition photography from the surface of our neighboring planet that we can just casually scroll through. And not just Mars, but the outer solar system as well.

(This video of Cassini’s grand finale at Saturn seems to have been computer-generated on the basis of Cassini photos, so not really qualify for the high-def photography category, but it’s very pretty nevertheless.)

Not bad for ugly bags of mostly water, eh? It is a very good time to be a space geek. 🙂

Found via NASA 360 on Twitter.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

The Valley of the Whales

In the western desert of Egypt is a valley known as Wadi al-Hitan. Like some of the other famous valleys in Egypt, such as the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, this valley is a kind of graveyard, but this one is for whales. Not that people buried whales here; rather, the desert preserves the fossils of a wide variety of sea life from millions of years ago, when this region was under a shallow sea. Among the most striking and important fossils at the site are the remains of several different species showing different stages of the evolution of ancient land mammals into the whales we know today.

Wadi al-Hitan is today preserved as a UNESCO site in recognition of both its stark natural beauty and its paleontological significance.

Images: An excavated fossil skeleton of a prehistoric whale, photograph by AhmedMosaad via Wikimedia. Spine and skull of a Dorudon atrox, photograph by Christoph Rohner via Wikimedia. Vertebrae on the desert sands, photograph by Jolybook via Wikimedia.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Daisugi Allows Log Harvesting without Killing the Tree

Daisugi is a forestry management technique reminiscent of pollarding and bonsai that produces straight logs without killing the tree. Developed some 600-500 years ago in Japan, it’s still being used to harvest sustainable, durable logs.

Basically, some of the top shoots are pruned so that they’ll grow straight up, and the shoots only are collected when they reach the desired height. It’s not a fast method, as it takes decades to be able to produce logs, but reportedly they come out stronger, more flexible, and knot-free. And the tree stays alive.

Also, the daisugi-managed cedars make amazing shapes in the woods! They would be so interesting in a speculative or fantasy story—or any story, really. Below are a few examples.

Spoon Tamago Yusuke Narita Long Shot
Spoon Tamago Ai Hirakawa Daisugi in Fall
Wikipedia Bernard Gagnon Ryoan-ji Garden

Just another example of how ingenious we people are in manipulating our environment. 🙂

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Images: Long shot by Yusuke Narita via Spoon & Tamago. In the fall by Ai Hirakawa via Spoon & Tamago. Ryoan-ji garden, Kyoto, Japan by Bernard Gagnon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Hoplites, the Chigi Vase, and the Problems of Artistic Sources

Art can be a priceless source of evidence for early history, especially for areas and periods with limited surviving written sources, but, just like texts, artistic sources can be tricky to interpret.

Chigi Vase, reconstructed frieze via Wikimedia (7th c. BCE; painted pottery)

Take, for example, this scene from an archaic Greek vase (commonly known as the Chigi Vase, named for one of its modern owners). It provides us with some of our earliest evidence for Greek hoplites and the phalanx formation. Although we understand a lot about the essentials of how hoplite warfare worked, many questions remain unanswered about the precise details of both how a hoplite battle was fought and how the hoplite style of warfare developed over time. Arguments about these topics often depend in part on interpretations of the Chigi vase.

The vase depicts warriors arming themselves and marching into battle as hoplites. Many of the characteristic features of hoplite armament and warfare are on display: heavily armored fighters with large round shields and spears confronting one another in a head-on clash. We can date the creation of this vase to the seventh century BCE, around the same time that the hoplite style of warfare first appeared, so this artwork offers us crucial evidence about what the earliest phase of hoplite warfare looked like and how early some of its defining features emerged.

We can be fairly confident that the artist who painted the decorations on this vase was familiar with the realities of hoplite warfare. The ranks of the phalanx were filled by small farmers and prosperous crafters, including potters and artists. If the painter of this vase was not well-off enough to have fought as a hoplite themselves, they would certainly have known people who had. At the same time, the images are also artistically stylized in ways that make it hard to be sure how much we can rely on them as evidence.

For example, all the warriors shown on this vase are similarly equipped: they have the helmets, breastplates, greaves, and round shields that we think of as the standard parts of the hoplite panoply. Is this vase evidence that hoplite equipment was standardized from an early period, or did the artist depict a standard set of armor to create a pleasing image at a time when real hoplite gear was more of a hodge-podge with individuals equipping themselves as best they could? This question goes to more than matters of artistic taste: one of the most vexed questions in the history of the hoplite phalanx is whether it developed gradually out of older, less rigorously organized styles of warfare or it was created as a fully-realized concept in some particular place and time. Because hoplite warfare was connected with the rise and subsequent fall of early Greek tyrants, understanding the origins of the hoplite phalanx better would have implications for our understanding of major developments in political and social history. Knowing what the Chigi vase painter had in mind would tell us some important things about the early history of ancient Greece.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Macramé Inspiration Photos for Speculative Writers

There are times when my expertise and interests affect my response to the stories I consume. (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.) Lately I’ve been noticing the presence or absence of textiles in my media, and how those textiles came to be.

I’m using macramé as an example of a technique that’s not getting much attention—in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a story using macramé even as a background element—despite its versatility.

For example, in a fantasy world, you don’t always have to have woven or embroidered wall hangings decorating the lord’s hall. You could also have a ginormous macramé room divider like “Ocean”, below, by Bali-based fiber artist Agnes Hansella:

Colossal Agnes Hansella Ocean

Apart from being refreshingly non-Eurocentric (if we consider the earliest records of macramé-style knots coming from Babylonian and Assyrian carvings), large-scale macramé works obviously require a high level of skill to complete, which makes them a perfect option for displaying a character’s wealth and social capital.

And even in smaller sizes, macramé can come in intricate shapes that in no way resemble the 1970s handiwork that may stereotypically come to mind (plant hangers, wall hangings, or cute but perhaps not entirely flawless friendship bracelets).

Etsy TBiaDesign Macrame Wall Shelf

Speaking of small, when writing this blog post I leared that some people make micro macramé, where the working yarn or cord is quite thin. The result is almost lace-like:

Etsy AmeEtTiss Macrame Fillory Cuff

You can make an almost endless range of items with macramé. If you can make cording (like bracelets), you can make anything used for supporting, holding, or edging, for instance like belts, suspenders, bands, animal harnesses (think of ceremonial processions etc.), pulls, straps, or decorative edges.

Macramé also does not need to be made from only unbleached or single color cord; on the contrary, colorful combinations can be quite eye-catching:

Etsy Toni Lasee kitdesignsbykith Green Macrame Belt

If you can make flat surfaces (like wall hangings), you can create items that could also be made from fabric, like table runners, curtains, cushion covers, pouches, or bags.

Pinterest Blue Macrame Bag

I could also imagine a macramé-style outer garment worn over fabric clothes looking fantastic. Indeed, someone else has had that very thought—check out these outfits promoted as Coachella or Burning Man costumes:

Etsy SeyanaStyle Macrame Vest and Dress

Depending on the type of cord, you could even make more utilitarian household items like chair seats, hammocks, lampshades, or baskets.

Etsy CraftingMode Big Macrame Basket Birch Green
Etsy Irina Kharebava Macrame Lamp Shade

As with all creative work, the maker’s skill and imagination are the limit.

Images: Agnes Hansella via Colossal. Wall shelf by TBiaDesign on Etsy. Lacy cuff by AmeEtTiss on Etsy. Green belt by Toni Lasee at kitdesignsbykith on Etsy. Blue bag with macramé strap via Pinterest. Macrame vests by SeyanaStyle on Etsy. Rectangular basket by Phing Chutima at CraftingMode on Etsy. Lamp shade by Irina Kharebava on Etsy.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Beautiful Reconstructions of Mesoamerican Cities

Here are some beautiful computer reconstructions of important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica.

Tenochtitlán, Mexico, by Advestudios

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, US, by Advestudios

 

Advestudios, which produced these images, also creates videos and 360 vistas. Their work is wonderful for helping to picture these sites as living, functioning cities and settlements.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

 

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Dracula Parrots

Hey there, handsome—what an amazing coloring these Dracula parrots (Psittrichas fulgidus) have!

Flickr Peter Tan Pesquets Parrot Head Shot

Endemic to New Guinea, they are also known as Pesquet’s parrots, and can be quite sizeable: 46 cm / 18” total length and 700-800 g (24-28 oz) in weight.

Flickr Meen Zhafri Pesquets Parrot Silhouette

Apparently, habitat loss and overhunting have pushed the species into a vulnerable status, and, according to BirdLife International, the population in decreasing.

Flickr Charles Davies Pesquets Parrot in Flight

*sigh* Why can’t we as a species take better care of our nice things? It’s not like we lack the brain power.

Found via Nature & Animals on Twitter. (NB. Seems to require a login in order to see post.)

Images: Head shot by Peter Tan via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Silhouette by Meen & Zhafri via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) / KL Bird Park, May 2010. In flight by Charles Davies via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.