Quotes: Lords of Creation Don’t Take Advise

I’m (re)reading some things from my childhood, except in English instead of a Finnish translation. This paragraph made me gawk:

“Amy’s lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward; men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don’t take the advise till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do; then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it; if it fails, they generously give her the whole.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Whoa! Little Women isn’t really the kind of book where you’d expect to see sarcasm this sharp; it sounds more like Jane Austen.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 [reissued; published by Puffin 1953; first published 1868], p. 571.

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

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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.

Some “Deleted Scenes” from Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World

They say good writing is good rewriting. They also say to kill your darlings. Both are good pieces of advice. The process of writing involves a lot of false starts, changes, and reworkings. Sometimes it means having to let go of something you worked hard on, that you like, but that just doesn’t serve the needs of your project.

In writing my book Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World, I had to kill a lot of darlings. A lot of text just got deleted and rewritten, but sometimes I had to cut out things I liked and was happy with, but that just didn’t belong in the book as written or that I had found better ways to express. In those cases, rather than delete the the text entirely, I cut and pasted it into a separate file to save just in case I decided to put it back in future revisions, or maybe to some day develop into its own project. That file ended up being longer than any of the actual chapters in the book.

In the spirit of DVDs with deleted scenes from movies, I present to you a few choice bits that didn’t make it into Barbarians, but that I still think are worthwhile on their own.

On the significance of the Greco-Persian Wars in later Greek culture:

The Athenian playwright Aeschylus was a giant of classical literature. He was the first author to put multiple characters on the stage at once, thus introducing conflict and inventing Greek drama as we know it. He won the Athenian dramatic competition thirteen times and was praised for his compositions by both contemporaries and later generations. But when he died his epitaph celebrated only one achievement: he fought at Marathon. Such was the importance of the wars against Persia in the later history of Greece.

On the connections between Persia and Macedonia:

Alexander trod the path that had been laid down by Cyrus the Younger generations before. He had grown up in a Macedonian court that hosted Greek intellectuals and Persian exiles. The similarities between Cyrus and Alexander’s campaigns are hardly accidental. Both were efforts from the edge of the Persian world to capture the center. Alexander may have started his campaign farther away from that center than Cyrus did, but the ties of politics, diplomacy, and personal relationships that connected Macedonia to Persia were just as strong as those to ran through Anatolia and Greece.

On the shifting definitions of Greekness:

In other words, although both ideas always had some currency, in earlier times it was more common to argue that Greeks were Greeks because they were descended from Greeks, while by the later fourth century it was more common to argue that Greeks were Greeks because they acted like Greeks.

On the political ramifications of culture in the Hellenistic world:

Behind all of these complicated relationships was a fundamental political fact: Macedonian kings now ruled most of the territory of the old Persian empire. These kings and their supporters in the ruling class had chosen to identify themselves with Greek culture. In the past, some Greeks had exercised power over non-Greek populations—particularly in major colonial cities like Syracuse and Massilia—but never on this scale. Now vast new populations had to come to terms with the linking of political power and Greek culture. Their responses ranged from resistance to collaboration to indifference. The Greeks in these kingdoms also had to come to terms with new ways of being Greek.

None of these cultural innovations could erase the boundaries of status and privilege that the Greco-Macedonian ruling class had erected between itself and the peoples over whom it ruled. As in many more recent colonial contexts, the rigid enforcement of cultural lines may itself have given impetus to the reinvention of the cultures of both the rulers and the ruled. When being “Greek” was the key to social and political advancement, it is no surprise that some people looked for novel ways of being Greek while others strove to reassert the value of not being Greek.

All of these selections got cut for good reasons, but it’s a pleasure to be able to share them with you now.

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

Quotes: You Can Be Warm and Vulnerable with People You Trust

Some power reading on gender and power, especially at Anglo-American financial companies:

“My Kleiner colleagues said that I sucked the air out of the room, that I ‘wasn’t the warmest person.’ Now [after leaving] I’m told the opposite. I’ve thought a lot about how I was accused of being cold and unlikeable at Kleiner. Looking back, maybe I was. But it wasn’t because I’m a cold person. It was because I needed to have my guard up all the time. You can be warm and vulnerable with people you trust, not with those who you know are trying to keep you down.”

– Ellen Pao

Current Reading Reset

I can attest from personal experience, even if not in the same environment.

Pao, Ellen. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. New York: Spegel & Grau, 2017, p. 259.

Image by Eppu Jensen

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

Spring 2019: Tolkien Exhibition at The Morgan in NYC

The Morgan Library and Museum is going to have a Tolkien exhibition.

Morgan Library The Hobbit Tolkien Exhibition 2019

From the exhibit description:

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth celebrates the man and his creation. The exhibition will be the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations. Drawn from the collections of the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Library (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders, the exhibition will include family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.”

They’ve also made an introductory video:

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth by The Morgan Library & Museum on YouTube

Related program includes a lecture, gallery talks, workshops, and family programming, among others. The exihibit is open January 25 through May 12, 2019. More information at The Morgan website.

Found via Locus.

Image cropped from the cover illustration for The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, via The Morgan

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.

“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.