Greek Myth, Etruscan Tomb

We like to think of the modern world as one in which different cultures intertwine and overlap with one another, but there were complicated cross-cultural interactions in the ancient world as well. For example, look at this wall painting from an Etruscan tomb.

Sacrifice of Trojan captives, photograph by Battlelight via Wikimedia (François Tomb, Vulci; late 4th c.; fresco)

This scene depicts an incident from the Trojan War. After his friend Patroclus was killed in battle, the great Greek warrior Achilles went mad with grief. He piled up an enormous funeral pyre for Patroclus, on top of which he also killed twelve Trojan prisoners. At the center of this painting, Achilles slits the throat of a naked Trojan prisoner while a Greek soldier leads another prisoner to the slaughter from the right. To the left, the ghost of Patroclus, in a blue cloak with a bandage over the fatal wound in his chest, looks on in dismay.

This incident comes from the Greek legends of the Trojan War and is mentioned in the Iliad, but it is a rather obscure scene. It was rarely, if ever, referred to in later Greek literature or depicted in Greek art. The fact that an Etruscan artist could use this event as the basis for a tomb painting demonstrates a more than passing knowledge of Greek myth.

The Etruscans were a people of northern Italy who had extensive trade contacts with the Greeks and imported large quantities of fine pottery and other Greek luxury goods. They also imported Greek legends and stories, which they frequently depicted in their own artworks. Like the painting in the François Tomb, Etruscan art often picks up on obscure or unusual incidents that were not widely depicted in Greek art. This selectiveness tells us that Etruscans were not just copying the Greek art that they acquired but were making conscious artistic choices based on extensive knowledge of the Greek material.

This painting also adds some uniquely Etruscan elements to the scene. The winged woman directly behind Achilles is Vanth, an Etruscan goddess whose role seems to have been to decide the fate of the souls of the dead. The blue-skinned man to Achilles’ right is Charu, another Etruscan god who led the souls of the dead to wherever Vanth decided to send them. Vanth and Charu are purely Etruscan characters with no basis in the Iliad. Greek myth had figures who performed similar functions, but they looked nothing like Vanth and Charu.

These two figures are not simply added to the scene. The way that they frame the sacrificial act and share a knowing look over Achilles’ head changes the scene’s meaning. Rather than just seeing Achilles’ awful act, we see that his act happens in a context that transcends the mortal world. The Greek afterlife was pretty much universally bleak, except for a few select troublemakers who got ironically tortured. The Etruscan afterlife is poorly understood, but they seem to have believed that the deeds of the living affected the fate of the dead, which could be pleasant or terrifying. In this painting, Vanth and Charu seem to be saying to one another: “We see what’s happening here, and it won’t be forgotten. We’re here for the Trojans this time, but Achilles’ day is coming.”

This painting is one that a Greek artist would never have painted and that a Greek viewer wouldn’t have understood. It only made sense to an Etruscan, but to an Etruscan who knew their Iliad well enough to recognize the figures of Achilles and Patroclus and identify the moment in the story that was being depicted. Here in this image we have a moment of cross-cultural interaction on display.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which 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.

Major Roman Roads Subway Map Style

A very, very cool map of major Roman roads done in subway map style:

Shasha Trubetskoy roman_roads_24_jun

Made by Sasha Trubetskoy, statistics major and designer, artist, and geography and data nerd.

Really fascinating! I know there were also some Roman roadworks running at least partially across the land from east to west along Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, but I don’t know whether there ever was a complete major road there.

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

Hugo Awards 2017 Voter Packet Is out

Since last Wednesday, I’ve been like:

Twitter Adam Holisky Picard Full of Win

And:

Kermit Flail

And:

Lady Fancifull reading-film-gif

As members of Worldcon75, we are participating in this year’s Hugo Awards voting. Last week, the con released a packet of reading and visual works to help voters access materials on the finalists list. (Note to self: We have until July 15, 2017, 2:59 am EST to get our votes in.)

Apparently this year’s packet is larger than ever before in the 10 years it’s existed. While definitely not the reason for our memberships, it’s an invaluable bonus.

In addition to the official packet, JJ at File 770 did a huge favor for readers and collected a comprehensive list of finalist works published free online.

With all of this reading, I definitely will have no problems with how to fill my days in the foreseeable future!

Thank you, various creatives and rightsholders, thank you, Worldcon75 Hugo Awards staff, and thank you, JJ and Mike Glyer / File770.

Images: Kermit flail via Walker—Bait on Tumblr; Captain Picard Full of Win via Adam Holisky on Twitter; Reading film: radicktv via Lady Fancifull

History Doesn’t Look Historical

It’s an unavoidable fact that when we look at historical artifacts, we’re looking at things that are many years old, sometimes centuries or millennia. Physical objects, even those made of enduring materials like metal or stone, are changed by the processes of time. Exposure to light, moisture, changing temperatures, air pollution, wind, water, and other effects works changes on artifacts that can range from subtle to drastic. Our sense of what history looks like is shaped by things that no longer look like what they were when they were first being made, admired, and used by people in their daily lives.

Take, for example, the sculptures and architecture of ancient Greece. Our perception of ancient Greek art is shaped by the white marble statues and temples that remain today, but the originals were not white. We know from ancient descriptions and a few pieces with surviving traces of paint that the stone buildings and sculptures of ancient Greece were brightly colored.

Examples like this statue of a woman, with traces of paint on her dress, suggest what such a statue might have originally looked like.

Statue of a woman (kore), photograph by Nemracc via Wikimedia (Keratea, Greece, currently Pergamon Museum, Berlin; 580-560 BCE; marble)

Evidence like this makes it possible to attempt to reconstruct what statues of this type looked like when first created. The two reconstructions on the right here offer two possible interpretations of what the original, on the left, may have looked like when it was new.

Statue of a woman (kore) and two reconstructions, composite of photographs by Marsyas, via Wikimedia (original: Acropolis, Athens; c. 530 BCE; marble; reconstructions: Acropolis Museum, Athens)

The striking colors of the past are not just a phenomenon of ancient Greece. At Stirling Castle, in Scotland, a recent restoration project has brought back the original rich yellow color of the walls of the medieval great hall, which was determined from traces of ochre mixed with the remains of the lime wash applied to the stone. You can see the striking contrast between the restored great hall in the background and the bare stone of the buildings in front.

Stirling Castle, photograph by dun_deagh via Flickr (Stirling, Scotland; c. 1500-1600; stone and lime wash)

Studying history requires an act of imagination. Just as we have to imagine ancient monuments are artifacts new and fresh, not as the worn-out relics we see today, we also have to imagine peoples of the past as vibrant, complicated, living societies, not the stilted, dry facts of textbooks. Fiction has a great value to the student of history, as it helps us imagine ourselves into the lives of people different from ourselves. Our history is always somebody else’s daily life.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which 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.

Western Asian Science Fictional Art

Omar Gilani is an illustrator, designer, and concept artist currently based in Pakistan. Not all of his art has sci-fi elements, but the pieces that do are amazing. Take a look:

Omar Gilani 2
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani 5
Omar Gilani

The engineer-turned-artist takes inspiration from everyday life and combines traditional drawing with digitally created elements.

Omar Gilani sits4
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani maybe3
Omar Gilani

I am very sorry I found out about his work only a day(!) after the Hugo nomination period closed. Well, hopefully he’ll continue producing genre art so I can nominate him next year.

Found via Islam and Science Fiction.

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

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

Online Finds: Trappist-1 Illustrations

A NASA Tumblr post about the newly found exoplanets in the Trappist-1 system included fantastic artist’s renderings of what the system and the planets might look like.

NASA Tumblr Trappist-1 Illustration System

“The planets also are very close to each other. How close? Well, if a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.”

NASA Tumblr Trappist-1 Illustration Planet

One is even a retro-style travel poster! (See other NASA retro travel posters here.)

NASA Tumblr Trappist-1 Illustration Poster

Love ’em! Find more at NASA on Tumblr!

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Images by NASA, via the NASA Tumblr blog.

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

Stained Glass Dalek

Did you see this amazing stained glass Dalek already?

Jamie Anderson Chris Thompson Stained Glass Dalek Stainley-1050x1050

Producer / director / writer Jamie Anderson worked with designer Chris Thompson to help make the lead and stained glass Dalek a reality. It’s based on a Doctor Who audio drama script by Mike Tucker called Order of the Daleks.

Thompson describes the making-of process:

“My main thought process was to create a “Gothic” Dalek and replace all the flat surfaces with glass designs. My initial sketches had palisades, crowns, spikes and other gothic elements, but we decided to dial a lot of these back for story reasons. In the episode itself these Dalek casings are made by very primitive monks so the focus needed to be on the stained glass and not the metal elements.”

The detailing is absolutely exquisite. There is, of course, more to the design than that—visit Jamie Anderson’s site for the full story and the meaning of some of the elements.

Found via Tor.com.

Image via Jamie Anderson

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

Ancient Skeleton Wishes You Happy Halloween

This skeleton lounging with a drinking vessel in its hand, sitting next to bread and an amphora of wine is definitely very apropos:

The History Blog Anadolu Agency Antakya Turkey Skeleton Mosaic

Known as the skeleton mosaic, the panel is part of a triptych discovered in the dining room of a house in Antakya, Turkey (ancient Antioch). The accompanying words (‘euphro’ + ‘synos’) have been translated as “be cheerful, live your life,” presumably to remind diners of the briefness of life.

Found via Colossal.

Happy Halloween to those celebrating!

Image: Anadolu Agency via The History Blog (Antakya [Antioch], İplik Pazarı district, Hatay, Turkey; probably 3rd c. CE; mosaic)

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