The Dance of Dragons asks:

If you had a dragon, what would you name him/her?

I had a fairly long discussion about this with Jim the Editor and didn’t really come to a satisfying conclusion; I think I’m possibly going about the question the wrong way.  See… when I take it upon myself to imagine a dragon, I sort of… picture something that would come with a name?  Like, a dragon to my mind is an intelligent creature that might not necessarily want me to name it, or might expect a name from its own language.  Y’know, you can’t name a dragon the way you’d name a pet dog or whatever because it’s going to understand the name and has to like it, but it’s also weird to just give a dragon a normal human name like “Kyle” – which is a name I genuinely like and could imagine giving to a kid, but is undeniably a weird name for a dragon.

Can you do that?  Can you name a dragon “Kyle”?  Kyle the dragon?

I mean, I’m committed now; I guess if I ever get a dragon, then this is what’s happening and we all just have to live with that.

Charred Black Potato Ash asks:

How did they build the Pantheon?

I have to assume that this question is less about Roman architectural techniques and materials generally and more about the thing that’s super distinctive about the Pantheon, so that’s what I’m gonna talk about.

The Pantheon is a big Roman temple in the heart of the city of Rome.  The name Pantheon (or Pantheum) is not on the building itself anywhere, but it’s mentioned in ancient Latin texts.  It’s Greek for “[Temple to] All the Gods” and seems to have been a nickname given to the building because it housed cult statues of multiple patron deities of the imperial family, including Mars and Venus.  The Pantheon is also known today (and for the last several hundred years) as the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda, and that name is a big clue to the thing that’s impressive about it: the rotunda.  From the front the Pantheon looks like a fairly standard Roman temple with a triangular pediment and colonnaded porch, but from the side, you see that it isn’t rectangular like a normal temple; it has a humongous round butt sticking out the back, and once you go inside, it turns out to have a massive domed ceiling that you can’t easily see from the front.  We used to think that the Pantheon was originally built as a fairly ordinary rectangular temple in the reign of Augustus, the first emperor (r. 31 BC – AD 14), by his right hand man Marcus Agrippa (whose name is on the dedicatory inscription), and was subsequently rebuilt as its gloriously unique self by Hadrian (r. AD 117-138) after being destroyed in a fire; this is what I was taught when I was in high school, back in the 1840s.  New research says that, in fact, the Pantheon we have today was probably built during the reign of Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan (r. AD 98-117), and Agrippa’s original Pantheon probably also had a dome.

So… whence the dome?

Continue reading “Charred Black Potato Ash asks:”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 5: Ashen Wolves)

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4)

oh, right, I was doing this whole thing

uh

Well, there’s only four characters left, so here they are: the Ashen Wolves. They’re the “secret fourth house” that live in the basement and never talk to anyone. There’s apparently an entire hidden town called “Abyss” hidden underneath the school/monastery/fortress where you and all the other characters live, filled with outlaws, refugees, dispossessed nobles and assorted other fugitives who collectively decided that the best place to hide from the law was literally in the Pope’s basement. These four kooky kids can join you no matter which of the other “houses” you’re aligned with, as long as you’ve bought the “Cindered Shadows” DLC and completed an extra chapter of the story focused on them. And here they are:

Yuri Leclerc

  • Commoner adopted by a minor noble family, grew up to become some kind of mob boss
    • Basically runs Abyss in the absence of any more reasonable authority figure
  • Could probably arrange for you to be murdered in your sleep
    • Has definitely thought about it
  • Is too gay to put up with your bull$#!t
  • Kind to children; will shank you if you find out about it
  • Difficult to be friends with, but extremely worth it
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Flying, Dark, Normal
Yuri’s mob nickname is “the savage mockingbird,” and if you teach him magic (which you probably will, since his “default” class is a hybrid caster) he mainly learns wind spells.  He was born a commoner and is still devoted to helping ordinary people, hence Normal, but regularly does so through… less than ethical means, hence Dark.

Disfavoured types: Fairy, Ground, Bug
Yuri’s biggest mob rival is a gang that identifies its members with scorpion tattoos.  He’s not good with Fairy-types since he’s so cynical, and doesn’t like the bulky, solid nature of Ground-types.

Partner: Honchkrow
Honchkrow is a bird who is a mob boss, which is basically Yuri’s entire aesthetic; they’re made for each other.

Other Pokémon: Toucannon, Dodrio, Crobat, Raticate (Alolan), Liepard

Yuri likes Flying Pokémon with great speed, manoeuvrability and physical power.  Raticate is another mobster Pokémon to help him run his gang, and Liepard is just very good at shanking people.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 5: Ashen Wolves)”

Do you like Greece? Do you like old things?

If you’re reading this here, chances are you mostly know me for writing about Pokémon, but you might also be aware that I’m a classicist – someone who studies the history, culture and languages of ancient Greece and Rome. And you’ve probably guessed by now that I like writing.

so, uh… I have a book? That you can buy, like, on paper and everything.

The backstory to this is, in 2017-2018 I spent a year in Greece studying archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and we visited some archaeological sites. And I foolishly decided to write a short poem about each one – something to preserve the facets of the experience that photography alone falls short of capturing. And it turns out there are a significant number of archaeological sites in Greece (who knew, right?), so in the end I wrote about 300 of them – about places, and history, and memory, and conflict, and travel, and friends, and discovery, and wonder, and all kinds of other amazing things I learned.

So if YOU like Greece, or old things, or travel, and if YOU are trapped in a bubble because the world is ending and miss being able to go to amazing far-off places, this might be the book for you! Come to Greece with me, and let me show you something new.

It’s called “Travellers in an Antique Land,” and you can buy it print-to-order from blurb.com at https://www.blurb.com/b/10267553-travellers-in-an-antique-land, or as an e-book for Kindle Fire or any Apple device at https://www.blurb.com/b?ebook=735884.

(Also if you’re one of the, like, 6 people who watches me and Jim the Editor streaming on his YouTube channel on Fridays/Saturdays, yes, this is the thing he’s been nagging me to tell everyone about for weeks)

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 4: Church of Seiros)

(Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

Welcome back to this thing I’m apparently doing, where I create Pokémon teams for all the characters of this other game I really enjoyed, which has loads and loads of characters. We’ve covered the titular “Three Houses,” so part 4 (of 5, although 5 will be a pretty short one) is for the characters who are part of the Church of Seiros, the dominant organised religion of Fantasy Europe, which has worked with the nations of the continent to maintain peace and order for a thousand years (to greater or lesser degrees of success). As part of that effort, their headquarters, Garreg Mach monastery, plays host to the fantasy RPG school where all the kids we’ve met so far are studying, theoretically ensuring that the young nobles of the rival countries are all friends with each other and might be less willing to start a massive bloody war. Fingers crossed on that one.

Rhea

  • Archbishop of Garreg Mach monastery, which basically makes her the Fantasy Pope
  • Wise and mysterious mentor figure
  • Kind and nurturing to those in her care, but has a worrying tendency to go extremely “Spanish inquisition” on rebels and heretics
    • Might somehow turn out to be the villain
  • Really likes Byleth for some reason she seems unwilling to explain
    • Strictly speaking this is probably a good thing but it still feels ominous
  • She is perfect and I am terrified of her

Favoured types: Dragon, Fire, Ghost
Most of my reasons for the Pokémon I’ve chosen for Rhea are pretty spoiler-heavy.  Let’s say that dragons and fire both have religious significance in this world, and that reverence for the dead is important for Rhea, and leave it at that.

Disfavoured types: Dark, Bug, Normal
Rhea has a very Knight Templar attitude to anything she perceives as dark, evil or heretical.  Her extremely high station also means she sometimes has trouble connecting with the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.

Partner: Reshiram
She’s the Pope.  She gets to have a holy white dragon as her partner; I think that’s fair (if you’ve played the whole game you will recognise… additional reasons… for this choice).

Other Pokémon: Dragonite, Runerigus, Golurk, Ninetales (Kantonian), Charizard

Runerigus and Golurk both relate to some tricks she’s got up her sleeve for the second half of the game.  In a way, so do Charizard and Dragonite.  Ninetales has mystic powers and a vengeful bent that suits Rhea’s darker side.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 4: Church of Seiros)”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 3: Golden Deer)

(Part 1 and Part 2)

The third of this game’s titular “three houses” are the Golden Deer, students from the Leicester Alliance, which is a federation of nobles who rejected the monarchical traditions of both of the continent’s other nations and formed a new country in the east. They’re slightly more egalitarian, so this house has more low-born students than the others.

Claude von Riegan

  • Future Grand Duke of the Fantasy Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
    • my real-world analogies in this series are extremely loose but, y’know what, I stand by this one
  • Apparently didn’t even know he was a noble until a couple of years ago because his mother decided, quite early on in her life, “fµ¢£ this $#!t; I’m out”
  • Extremely pretty, master of sass
    • Canonically straight, which is some serious bull$#!t
    • I mean, look at him
  • Slytherin AF; has about a dozen zany schemes going at any given time and brews experimental poisons as a hobby
  • Gets on Edelgard and Dimitri’s nerves a lot, but I think secretly they love him
  • Addresses Byleth as “Teach,” which is not as endearing as he thinks it is
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Dark, Poison, Flying
Claude is good at (among other things) trickery, poisons and aerial combat.

Disfavoured types: Fighting, Ground, Fairy
Claude will never fight fair if he can help it, and doesn’t like Pokémon who are either too reliant on brute strength or bound by conventional ideas of nobility.

Partner: Naganadel
Claude’s “default” progression makes him a wyvern rider, which Naganadel plays into quite well; being an “outsider” is an important theme of his story, so having an Ultra Beast as a partner rather than a traditional legendary Pokémon seems fitting; and Claude loves Naganadel’s repertoire of poisons.

Other Pokémon: Zoroark, Muk (Alolan), Vivillon, Salazzle, Aerodactyl

Muk and Salazzle provide raw materials for Claude’s poison experiments (I’d specifically like him to have a shiny Salazzle because he gets an albino wyvern later, and shiny Salazzle is white).  Vivillon fits his ambition to break down barriers between peoples of different regions.  Zoroark is an excellent zany scheme enabler.  Aerodactyl is just a great wyvern-ish Pokémon to have with you in the air.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 3: Golden Deer)”

Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 2: Blue Lions)

(Part 1 here)

Welcome back to this ridiculous series where I create Pokémon teams for the ludicrous number of characters in this game I really enjoyed, because that is a thing I do now I guess??

The game’s called “Three Houses” so obviously there need to be three houses, and number two are the Blue Lions, from Faerghus, a kingdom in the northwest part of the continent that broke away from the southern Empire long ago and are now its major rival/frenemy.

Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd

  • Future King of Fantasy Prussia
    • Although going by his name he might be half-Greek and half-Welsh
  • Parents and several of his closest friends were killed a few years ago in a terrorist attack by a neighbouring allied country
    • Kinda fµ¢£ed him up a bit
    • As, y’know, any one of us might reasonably be fµ¢£ed up by that
  • Dutiful, loyal, kind, cares a lot about growing up to be a worthy king
    • Believes in protecting the weak from oppression
    • Wants classmates to treat him as an equal rather than a king, which not all of them can realistically do
  • Struggles to balance moral abhorrence toward violence with seething desire for blood-soaked vengeance
  • He is perfect and I love him

Favoured types: Ice, Ghost, Fighting
Vengeance for the dead is an important theme in Dimitri’s story, as is fighting for a cause, which Fighting-types value.  Ice because he’s from a cold part of the world and dislikes hot climates.

Disfavoured types: Fire, Dark, Poison
Dimitri values honour highly and won’t stoop to the methods of Dark and Poison Pokémon.  Fire as an opposite to Ice, and because he acts as a foil to Edelgard.

Partner: Kyurem
My reasons for picking Kyurem as Dimitri’s partner are mostly related to the second half of his story, which I’m not going to explain.  Kyurem is a legendary Pokémon, so appropriate for one of the house leaders.  It represents emptiness and brokenness, and also has kind of a savage reputation.

Other Pokémon: Banette, Froslass, Sandslash (Alolan), Primeape, Hitmonlee

Banette and Froslass because Dimitri has a lot of vengeful ghosts in his life, and it’s unclear how literal that statement is.  In a fight he likes to get up close and skewer enemies with a spear; Alolan Sandslash feels like a particularly good fit with its icy spines, while Hitmonlee and Primeape are both powerful melee fighters who also provide a contrast between discipline and boiling rage.

Continue reading “Pokémon Trainers of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Part 2: Blue Lions)”

Watch our stream!

So today Jim and I tried out streaming Final Fantasy X and chatting about it, and you can watch the result on-demand here:

I am clearly not good at this but we’re going to keep doing it every week, and maybe develop our, uh… live entertainment skills. So if you find this passingly amusing, stop by next week (8-9:30 pm Friday in the UK, 7-8:30 am Saturday in New Zealand); it’ll probably get better!

I guess this is also the first time anyone who reads this blog will have heard my voice? Except the handful of you who also know me in real life, obviously. I dunno if that’s a huge selling point for you. It’s a weird voice. Jim’s is much more representative of a New Zealand accent, mine is all over the place.

so yeah, that’s this thing

Leo MR [Patreon cultist] asks:

So in the course of researching Heracles (particularly the Laomedon episode) I learned that Hera, Poseidon, and Apollo once tried to rebel against Zeus and had him chained (?) but Zeus was freed by Thetis, Achilles’s mother (?!) and then Poseidon and Apollo were punished by Zeus to work in Troy for a few years under human disguises (???) What the Hades was this whole story about and how did it come to be?! I tried looking up more details online but could only find a scant handful of information; do you know anything more about it?

Y’know, I think that is basically the entire story (although I think the business with Apollo and Poseidon working for Laomedon at Troy is a separate issue; the rebellion Thetis helped to stop involved Athena, not Apollo). I’ve only ever encountered it as part of the backstory of the Iliad, and it is there… well, pretty much because Homer needs a reason to have Zeus owe Thetis a favour. This is the memory she invokes when she goes to Zeus in Iliad I and asks him to punish Agamemnon for disrespecting her son by tipping the scales against the Greeks. If you run into the story outside of that context… yeah, you’re absolutely right, it’s bizarre! I don’t think there are any other references to it anywhere in Greek literature – I mean, there are texts I haven’t read and mythology isn’t really my specialty, but if there’s something else out there dealing at length with a rebellion against Zeus among the Olympians, it’s hella obscure. Most scholars working on Homer today think that the epics were originally produced by bards through oral composition-in-performance – that is, “Homer” (who wasn’t a real person, unless he was; readers who are new to my bull$#!t about this should Google “the Homeric Question”) made it up as he went along, knowing the broad strokes of the plot from centuries of tradition, but improvising on a lot of the details. And… honestly I think this bit might genuinely have been improv? The poet knows the way the story is supposed to go – Achilles leaves the battle, and the Greeks are met with disaster for the next several days until Agamemnon relents. He may know that this happens because Zeus is in Achilles’ corner on this one. He might not know exactly why Zeus is willing to step in. So… he goes back to what he does know, because it’s a fact of the tradition: Achilles has a divine mother, who presumably would be able to intercede on his behalf. He could narrate Thetis making a persuasive argument, either to Zeus or to a council of all the gods, but for the most part, characters in the Iliad and the Odyssey tend to get each other to do things by invoking existing relationships and outstanding favours, because that’s how politics works in Iron Age Greece. So the poet comes up with a reason why Zeus might owe Thetis something, and because he’s quite clever, he makes it a reason that has some applicability to the current situation: when Zeus’ authority and station were challenged, Thetis upheld them. He should do the same for her son.

I wish I had more, but I think that may genuinely be the beginning and end of this one.