Quotes: If Anyone Hated Me and I Hated Them

As you may know, speakers of Modern English are struggling to find a non-clunky and commonly accepted gender-neutral third person singular pronoun to replace the generic use of he or she.

The issue’s been periodically debated for decades, really, but lately the calls seem to have gained more urgency. There are many contenders, among them e / em / eir and ze / hir / hir.

Singular they may be gaining some ground, or at least growing in popularity here in the U.S. I’ve seen references to a long history of using they in that manner, but these references usually give no examples. (Maybe I just haven’t been reading the better articles? Also, one sometimes wonders why the British use of one has fallen out in other world Englishes.)

In any case, as an Anglo-Saxonist, it’s beyond my era and/or expertise. Nevertheless, I’m curious about any early examples. Here’s the oldest I’ve noticed so far, from a 1938 Hercule Poirot novel:

“Pilar said gravely: ‘If I had an enemy—if anyone hated me and I hated them—then I would cut my enemy’s throat like this….’”

– Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, p. 18 (original emphasis)

This example is great, because it’s clear and unquestionable. I’m pretty sure there are a few singular theys in Jane Austen’s novels, but I can’t remember where. Maybe it’s the perfect time for a re-read. 🙂

Christie, Agatha. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1938.

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

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“At Least It Made You Feel Something”

I have a rant.

There is one phrase I hate to hear more than any other from authors, scriptwriters, game designers, and other creative people: “At least it made you feel something.” It is a phrase that is sometimes trotted out when audiences voice hurt, anger, or annoyance over how a story that they were emotionally invested in turned out, and it is a load of crap.

We all understand that no story is going to satisfy all audiences. Good stories move us, and sometimes they move us to tears or to rage. Some people want stories to leave them angry or sad, and that’s as legitimate as wanting a story to leave you smiling. But a good story should not leave you hurt or annoyed.

There are good ways for creators to respond to upset audiences (which, I note, is not the same as responding to trolls—that’s a different game altogether). They can say: “I’m sorry, I’ll try to learn from this experience and do a better job in the future.” They can say: “This was the story I wanted to tell, but clearly it wasn’t the story you wanted to hear, so you should find a different story.” They can say: “I think this story matters and I don’t care that you didn’t like it.” All of these are appropriate responses. They are honest and respect the validity of peoples’ feelings, even the ones we don’t share. Even no response at all is perfectly acceptable; no creator owes their audience any engagement they don’t feel like giving.

But if a creator does choose to respond to criticism, “At least it made you feel something” is no kind of response at all. What’s wrong with it?

It sets the bar absurdly low

Good stories make us feel things, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter what a story makes us feel as long as it makes us feel something. To put it another way: if I kicked you in the shins, it would definitely make you feel something, but you would be perfectly justified in saying that that wasn’t the feeling you wanted.

It dismisses criticism

Criticism is legitimate. People have a right to have opinions about your story, whether you agree with them or not. Simply dismissing all criticism with “It made you feel something” denies that what your audience feels is just as relevant as how strongly they feel it.

It is self-congratulatory at best, selfish at worst

Reacting to an audience’s complaints with “It made you feel something” is a reach-around self-compliment. Even worse is if you actually take satisfaction in your ability to make others feel bad.

It betrays a lack of belief in the merits of the story

“It made you feel something” is close kin to “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In a social media world, creators may think that making their audience angry enough post online tirades about their work is the cheapest advertising they can get, but it is also a signal to the audience that the creators don’t care enough about their work or don’t have enough confidence in it to sell it on its own merits.

Stories often make us feel things. That is a huge part of why we read, watch, and play them. To open a book, watch a movie, or play a game is to entrust your feelings to another person for a time, and we have every right to speak up when we feel that our trust has been abused.

If what I feel about your story is hurt that you killed my favorite character, frustrated by the direction of the plot, or annoyed that you railroaded me into playing a villain, you don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to take any account of my feelings at all if you don’t want to. But don’t waste my time with: “At least it made you feel something.”

Here endeth the rant.

Here there be opinions!

WoW’s Dalaran Cupola Library vs. Real Round Libraries

I was browsing my WoW screencaps for something entirely different when my eye fell on two shots from the Dalaran inscription trainer’s place. (This is in the Legion version of Dalaran.) Both are actually from inside the book-filled cupola: the first looks up towards the impossibly high ceiling, the second down towards the trainers’ room floor.

WoW Dalaran Inscription Tr Book Dome2 Sm

WoW Dalaran Inscription Tr Book Dome Sm

Neat, right? Well, I wondered whether anyone’s actually done anything similar for real and hit the Internet. And I found some!

Stockholm Public Library in Stockholm, Sweden

The functionalist stadsbibliotek was designed by Gunnar Asplund and opened in 1928.

Flickr Marcus Hansson Stockholm Public Library

 

Round Reading Room in the Maughan Library, King’s College London in London, UK

The Round Reading Room of Maughan Library, the main university library of King’s College London, can be found on the Strand Campus.

Wikimedia Kings College London Maughan Lib Round Reading Room Sm

 

Picton Reading Room in Liverpool, UK

The Picton Reading Room, completed in 1879, is now part of the Liverpool Central Library.

Flickr Terry Kearney Liverpool Central Library Picton Reading Room

 

A home in Toronto, Ontario

Designed by Katherine Newman and Peter Cebulak, this two-level library is in a private residence in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Architectural Digest Toronto Ontario Home

 

The Octagon Room, Islamic Studies Library at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The library is situated in the neo-Gothic Morrice Hall building that previously housed the Presbyterian College of Montreal from 1871 to 1961.

McGill Islamic Studies Library Klaus Fiedler Sm

 

None of them are exactly the same as the game library cupola, of course: apart from the the scale of the rooms, the scale and direction of the bookcases might differ. But apparently it isn’t terribly far-fetched to make a round multi-storey library and pack it chock-full. 😀

Images: Stockholm Public Library by Marcus Hansson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Round Reading Room of Maughan Library by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). Picton Reading Room by Terry Kearney on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Toronto home by Tony Soluri via Architectural Digest. Islamic Studies Library at McGill by Klaus Fiedler, McGill Library.

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

Oldest Surviving Maya Codex Declared Authentic

According to CBC News, a thousand-year-old Maya text has been authenticated by scholars at Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, or INAH).

The pictographic calendar-style text was made between 1021 and 1154 CE, and is the oldest known pre-Hispanic manuscript from the Americas. It was made from three layers of amate paper (bark paper). Only 10 pages of a conjectured set of at least 20 sheets currently survive.

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 10

The document’s authenticity was questioned on the basis of two main concerns: missing archaeological records of its original context (due to it having been looted and traded), and its differing style compared to other authenticated Mayan codices.

According to Sofia Martínez del Campo from the National Coordination of Museums and Exhibitions (Coordinación Nacional de Museos y Exposiciones del instituto, or CNME, at INAH), quoted in the INAH announcement, the current analysis included making a detailed photographic record, as well as examining the dating, materials, entomology, iconography, chemical-mineralogical characterization, morphometry, chronology, style, and symbolism, among others.

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 5

The specialists found the presence of Maya blue color (azul maya) and pigments based on cochineal dye as well as leftover drops of a chapopote resin. (Britannica says: “[…] chapopote [was a] a native asphalt commonly applied to clay figurines as a decoration; occasionally, chapopote entirely covers the figures, while in other examples it is used to decorate only the face, mouth, or eyes.”)

INAH Alba Barrios-Laboratorios Analysis

In addition, INAH announced that the folding book will no longer be known by its previous name (Grolier); instead, the work will be known as Mexico Maya Codex (Códice Maya de México).

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 9

The Mexico Maya Codex will be shown to the public for one month, from September 27 to the end of October, 2018, as part of the International Book Fair of Anthropology and History (Feria Internacional del Libro de Antropología e Historia, or FILAH).

Also during the FILAH book fair the book El Códice Maya de México (The Mexico Maya Codex) will be released. It will include a facsimile edition of the pre-Hispanic text in addition to academic and scientific articles.

Only three other pre-Hispanic codices are known, called Madrid, Dresden, and Paris (for the cities where they are kept).

Visit the INAH announcement in Spanish for more details and a link to the announcement video.

Found via N. K. Jemisin on Twitter.

Apparently someone somewhere deemed an earlier analysis (reported e.g. by the Smithsonian.com in September of 2016) not conclusive enough, even though that one also authenticated the Mexico Maya Codex. (My Spanish isn’t good enough to spot any specific reasoning for the 2018 study in the INAH announcement.)

In any case, getting more information on traditional Maya religion and life before Europeans destroyed it can only be a good thing in my book—if you’ll pardon the pun. 🙂

Images of individual pages by Martirene Alcántara; laboratory analysis by Alba Barrios-Laboratorios, INAH; all via INAH.

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

Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World Preview

What did the ancient Greeks and Romans think of the peoples they referred to as barbari? Did they share the modern Western conception—popularized in modern fantasy literature and role-playing games—of “barbarians” as brutish, unwashed enemies of civilization? Or our related notion of “the noble savage?” Was the category fixed or fluid? How did it contrast with the Greeks and Romans’ conception of their own cultural identity? Was it based on race?

These are the questions that my first book addresses. Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World will be published in the fall of 2018. The book explores both the realities of interaction among peoples of different cultures in the ancient Mediterranean and the ways in which Greek and Roman thinkers interpreted these interactions to create the idea of the “barbarian.”

Here’s a preview, discussing the experience of the Greeks in their colonial settlements around the Mediterranean Sea:

* * *

The history of Greek settlement in Egypt demonstrates the complexity of colonial interactions. In the late 600s BCE, Egypt was under Assyrian dominion. An Egyptian noble, Psammetichus, had been appointed as governor, but when the Assyrians were distracted by internal conflicts, Psammetichus raised a rebellion, bolstered by mercenaries from Greece and Caria, a region of southwestern Anatolia. When the fighting was done and Psammetichus had become king of a newly independent Egypt, he settled the remaining mercenaries in the Nile delta. These settlements also attracted other foreigners, such as Phoenician crafters who made imitation Egyptian artworks on the site for export.

The mercenaries remained in Egyptian service, and it appears their descendants did as well, since some were deployed to southern Egypt under Psammetichus II decades later. One such band carved graffiti on the temple of Abu Simbel to commemorate their adventures: “When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was carved by the companions of Psammatichus, son of Theocles, who sailed beyond Kerkis as far as the river went.” The mercenary Psammatichus was evidently named after the pharaoh by his Greek father. Some families went beyond names and embraced Egyptian culture, as shown by the burial of Wahibre-em-akhet, whose name and hieroglyph-inscribed sarcophagus are conventionally Egyptian; the only clue to his foreign ancestry are the Greek names of his parents, Alexicles and Zenodote. Other soldiers left graffiti at Abu Simbel in Carian and Phoenician, another testament to the cultural and linguistic diversity of those traveling and trading around the Mediterranean at this time.

Sometime after 570, the pharaoh Amasis reorganized the Nile delta settlement. Land was granted for the construction of a Greek colony, which, unusually, was collectively founded by nine Greek cities from the coast of Anatolia. Representatives from these cities jointly governed the new community now called Naukratis. Greek ships were banned from landing anywhere else in Egypt for trade. The colony thus became the primary site of exchange between Greeks and Egyptians. Trade connections brought people of many different backgrounds to Naukratis and connected its people to a wider world. One visitor was Charaxos, the brother of the poet Sappho, who traded wine from his home city Mytilene to Naukratis. He met a slave courtesan there, a Thracian woman named Rhodopis who had been brought to Egypt by her Samian owner. Charaxos fell in love with Rhodopis, bought her, and freed her, after which she chose to remain in Naukratis to ply her trade. To celebrate the fortune she had amassed in her work, Rhodopis later made a rich dedication at Delphi in Greece. A hieroglyphic inscription on a stele erected by the pharaoh Nectanebo in the fourth century, dedicating revenues from Naukratis to the temple of Neith, shows that the pharaohs kept an active interest in the administration of the colony. Naukratis retained its importance and trading privileges after the Persian Empire conquered Egypt in 525. It continued to welcome not only traders but tourists and other travelers, like Herodotus, who visited Egypt and whose writings record the existence of a local industry of tour guides and interpreters. The Greeks who settled in Egypt did not exist in isolation but had productive relationships with traders, artisans, and the ruling class alike.

The interactions in and around Naukratis are a window into the complexity of the colonial world. There were Greeks trading with Egyptians, but also Phoenicians making knockoffs of Egyptian art, Greeks assimilating into Egyptian culture, Thracians and Carians negotiating the needs of Egyptian and Greek patrons, and Egyptians making a living off showing the wonders of their country to curious foreigners. Interactions like these were happening all around the Mediterranean. There is no simple way to describe Greek relations with non-Greek peoples in the archaic and classical periods because those relations were never simple.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed some of my posts about ancient trade connections, the diversity of ancient armies, individuals crossing cultural boundaries, modern peoples’ attempts to claim ancient peoples’ identities for themselves, and the variety of different kinds of “barbarian” you may find something to enjoy in Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World.

Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World comes out in September from Hackett Publishing.

Hardcover: $48 / Paperback: $16

You can pre-order directly from Hackett or on Amazon.

Image: Barbarians paperback cover by Hackett Publishing

Announcements from your hosts.

Quotes: Trust Isn’t a Gift

“Trust isn’t a gift […] You earn it, and it’s not cheap.”

– Harper Blaine in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker

However long I live, I cannot understand how some people can’t (or won’t) grasp this concept.

Richardson, Kat: Greywalker. New York, NY: Roc, 2006, p. 185.

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

Two Black Amazons from 1400s

Oh, goodness! An illumination from a 15th-century French manuscript shows two black Amazons. Have a look:

Le secret de l'histoire naturelle fol 2r Cropped
Le secret de l’histoire naturelle, France, ca. 1480-1485, BnF, Français 22971, fol. 2r; via discarding images on Tumblr.

This image has clearly been cropped and edited. My source, discarding images on Tumblr, says the two women are Amazons but gives no more details.

Being an early history nerd, I did some additional digging. Below is the whole page via Gallica, the digital library for the national library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France, or BnF).

Le secret de l'histoire naturelle fol 2r Full Page
Le secret de l’histoire naturelle, France, ca. 1480-1485, BnF, Français 22971, fol. 2r.

The full title of the manuscript is Le secret de l’histoire naturelle contenant les merveilles et choses mémorables du monde. It was created between 1401-1500, and is currently stored at BnF. The illumination comes from the first part of the book, which presents the great countries and the great provinces of the old world.

Unfortunately, my French isn’t good enough anymore to be confident in my reading; I can understand a word here and there, but not the whole. However, it does look like the first word below the illumination is Amazon.

I’ve cropped into a separate image the bottom left corner of the illumination with the text following immediately after it:

Le secret de l'histoire naturelle fol 2r Amazons
Le secret de l’histoire naturelle, France, ca. 1480-1485, BnF, Français 22971, fol. 2r; cropped.

I just cannot make out the full spelling of the first word due to the ligatures that squish up the last two or three letters. It definitely looks like it’s inflected, though. The sequence ma definitely follows the capital A, with most likely a z and o further along.

It also looks there’s a sigil marking an abbreviation on top of the o, which was very common in handwritten Medieval documents to mark inflectional endings, among others. (Unless it’s a diacritic like in modern French – were they even used in Medieval French? If so, maybe Amazonye? Amazònye? Amazónye?? Amazônye???)

Anyway, it seems that Amazons are indeed talked about on the same page. The larger block of text above the illumination mentions the word affricà, too. (Again, not sure whether that’s a sigil or diacritic on the final a.)

In any case, if the two women aren’t Amazons, at the very least they are heralds of some sort leading a column of warriors. The image details, like the mi-parti dresses, are really neat, too.

Found via MedievalPOC on Tumblr.

And speaking of MedievalPOC, I’ve found it a truly valuable source for types of art imagery that’s not usually included in the canon from the Middle Ages onwards. The site is sometimes a little too interesting: on several occasions, I’ve spent much longer than intended there, happily chasing intriguing details down the rabbit hole. If you’ve got the time to spare, I wholeheartedly recommend it. 🙂

P.S. You can also follow MedievalPOC on Twitter. Happy browsing!

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

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

 

Jane Austen, Mystery Writer

The great mystery novelist P. D. James has noted that Jane Austen’s novel Emma has all the essential elements of a mystery novel: the plot revolves around secrets which are revealed at the climax but to which the heroine and the readers have been given clues all along. I think we can extend that idea further and say that most of Austen’s novels are, in spirit, mysteries.

The plots of most of Austen’s completed novels are about heroines becoming wiser about themselves and the world, usually by discovering things that make them reevaluate the people around them. Elizabeth Bennet discovers that Wickham is a scoundrel and Mr. Darcy has an honorable soul under his proud manner. Marianne Dashwood discovers that Willoughby is a scoundrel and her sister Elinor has feelings as deep as her own. Catherine Morland discovers that Northanger Abbey is not a Gothic haunted house. Other discoveries and reevaluations made by the heroines and other characters also propel the plots along. Darcy learns that Jane Bennet was actually in love with Bingley all along. John Thorpe learns that Catherine was not in line for a fortune after all. Anne Elliot learns that William Elliot is responsible for her friend’s financial difficulties.

Austen also leaves some clues hidden in plain sight, unremarked upon in the novels but waiting for the clever reader to put together for themselves. Why is Mr. Darcy in such an ill humor when Lizzie first meets him at the Meryton ball? Austen never lays it out for us, but once you know his history it becomes clear that only a few months have passed since his beloved younger sister Georgiana nearly eloped with the scheming Mr. Wickham. Of course the sight of young women his sister’s age freely dancing with men they have barely met puts him in a sullen mood, and it is this mood rather than his natural character on which Lizzie first judges him.

Austen’s great literary innovation, the “free indirect style” in which the narrator stands apart from the point of view character but reflects their judgments and perceptions in the narration, represents a careful balance between objectivity and subjectivity that is important in mystery writing. The job of a mystery author working in the classic style is to present the reader with all the necessary facts to resolve the mystery themselves, but to obscure those facts in such a way that the reader does not get ahead of the detective in working out what happened. Austen’s free indirect style achieves precisely this goal, letting the readers in on what is going on in the world around her characters but coloring the facts with the main characters’ own perceptions and biases.

Austen framed her social satires and ethical critiques in the genre of romantic novels since those were popular in her day. I sometimes wonder, if she were alive and writing today, would she have chosen to write mysteries instead?

Image: Portrait of Jane Austen via Wikimedia (National Portrait Gallery, London; c. 1810; pencil and watercolor; by Cassandra Austen)

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.

Quotes: Violence Is a Tool That … Begs You to Use It Again and Again

“Violence is a part of our trade, yes. It is one tool of many. But violence is a tool that, if you use it but once, it begs you to use it again and again. And soon you will find yourself using it against someone undeserving of it.”

– Ashara Komayd, former operative for and prime minister of Saypur in City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Yup. I’ve been thinking along similar lines with regard to the racism in the U.S. and the ridiculous, racist non-reasons some racist-ass whites justify their calling of police on people of color, especially blacks. It’s racist, wasteful, racist, reprehensible, racist, entitled, racist, cruel, racist, wrong, and racist. It has to stop.

Bennett, Robert Jackson. City of Miracles. New York: Broadway Books, 2017, p. 177.

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