VikingBoyBilly asks:

Something’s been on my mind for a long time since I stopped lurking, but I need to say how I feel.

In our long argument about Odysseus, you ended it with “i know what I’m talking about; so there.”

No, you didn’t, because if you did, you wouldn’t have been a misanthrope. Reading mythology is what made me fall in love with humans, and it’s unsettling that you never acknowledged the irony of being a misanthropic archaeologist. The lessons the Oddessey taught me is that life is a journey full challenges and misery, but by keeping your wits and the strength to continue, you can reach your goals. Oddysseus’s goal was to reunite with the wife an son that he loved, and it’s so cynical to think he enjoyed having sex with women that kept him stranded on those islands, and it doesn’t mesh thematically when these are supposed to be a series of hardships. The optimist in me believes this was something to be overcome, either as a temptation like the lotus fruits and sirens, or a situation to get out of like the cyclops. His devotion and loyalty to his crew, his homeland, and family are values I live by, and I don’t like that being tarnished by accusations that he’s a scummy womanizer. I could just be satisfied with my own opinions and not be bothered by what anyone else thinks, but you know what the internet does to us.

I also was put off by your use of the vague buzz-word “western civilization.” It’s nonsensical to anyone with an understanding of geography, and condescending, as if any other civilization doesn’t count (and because I think an archaeologist/anthropologist would only use such a simplification of jargon when talking to a layman). Funny how people angry with the state of the world will defend “western civilization” as the best thing that ever happened.

I hope your outlook of your own species has changed since then, and if you want to reply non-publicly, my email is [REDACTED]

[This is what Billy is referring to – linking to the Tumblr version of the original question-and-answer post rather than the WordPress version because that’s where the relevant comment thread is, but I might actually move it over here for posterity’s sake]

Continue reading “VikingBoyBilly asks:”

Sandro asks:

Hello. I am working on a story right now and I need to study a historical background for it. Could you recommend me good books (in English, preferably, and yes, I am willing to actually buy them, and yes, I am willing to spend a lot of my free time studying this.) about Rome and the life of common citizen of the city of Rome? The time frame is around the year AD 20. I need information about culture and customs. What were the ways common families worshipped gods? What were the naming conventions? How strict were Romans in following traditions? Was it common for “middle class” Roman family to have a slave? There is a lot I need to know before I can write my story. I obviously started with reading Wikipedia, but while I consider that useful, I still do think that I should get a more detailed and more trustworthy source of information. Thanks for help.

Let me see… for a basic introduction you could do worse than The Romans: An Introduction by Antony Kamm and Abigail Graham, which is the textbook we use for our introductory Roman Civilisation class in my department. Everyday Life in Ancient Rome by Lionel Casson is a similar level; I haven’t read it myself, but it’s quite well thought of, and possibly better tailored to your particular needs. Themes in Roman Society and Culture by Matt Gibbs, Milorad Nikolic and Pauline Ripat is a bit pricey but covers similar sorts of things in more detail. Continue reading “Sandro asks:”

Anonymous asks:

This doesn’t have anything to do with pokemon, but I was wondering if you might have any thoughts with your Archaeology background: In a lot of stuff written about Greco-Roman mythology I’ve read, Hectate is called a goddess of witchcraft and Circe a witch, and there’s probably other examples I don’t know of. However, I’m not really sure what being a witch would mean outside of the context of Christianity or modern pop-culture. Was this just something that was added in by much later writers?

Well, what is a witch, exactly?  Ugly old woman, warty nose, pointy hat, flies around on broomsticks, brews potions in cauldrons, turns people into newts, weighs the same as a duck, that sort of thing?  Circe, Hecate and Medea aren’t witches in that sense, no; they predate that stereotype of what a “witch” is by a good couple of millennia.  Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”

Anonymous asks:

This isn’t a question but I wish I had you as a history teacher when I was in school – history was always my weakest subject and I genuinely enjoy the way you explain things, it actually helps me understand without zoning out!

Sorry for leaving this one languishing in the inbox for so long.  And thank you!  That really means a lot, as someone who, uh… actually does have to teach history sometimes, to students who are often less than enthusiastic at the prospect.

Anonymous asks:

Something that’s been on my mind for a bit that your professional word may be able to help with. Would you happen to know how ethnically diverse the Greek and Roman empires were?


next question please

…what, you want more?  Oh, fine, but for the record this is not the sort of thing people just “happen to know.”

Okay so I’m assuming by “Greek empire” (remember, kids: there was never a politically autonomous and unified state called “Greece” or “Hellas” until 1822) you mean Alexander’s empire (320s BC) and the Hellenistic successor kingdoms (323 BC – 31 BC), and by “Roman empire” you mean Rome starting from the time it becomes a major interregional power (say, following the second Punic War, which ended in 201 BC) rather than just Rome in the time of the Emperors.  You could spend like most of a book on each of these just corralling the data that might let us answer this question, but whatevs. Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”

Anonymous asks:

What can you tell us about the Batrachomyomachia, and how hilarious/awesome/hilariously awesome is it?

To be honest, not a whole lot.  The Batrachomyomachia is one of those texts that tends not to be taught or studied very much, because it’s quite short and is not traditionally regarded as a piece of high literature, and honestly there is more interesting ancient comedy/satire out there (the Frogs, the Apocolocyntosis, the Satyricon…).  You can read it in English here if you’re interested.  But I’ll see what I can do.

Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”

Anonymous asks:

How reliable was Herodotus’s account of the Greco-Persian Wars, especially considering that he was Greek?

well I mean it’s not like he isn’t not unreliable

Okay, so disclaimer number 1: people have literally spent their entire careers writing whole books that fail to give a definitive answer to this question.  It is impossible for any answer I give here to be anything but a ludicrous oversimplification.

Disclaimer number 2: reliable or not, he is the best we’ve got.  There just aren’t any surviving contemporary Persian sources that talk about the war in the kind of detail that Herodotus does, and Herodotus was literally the only person in the world writing something we would think of as “history” in his time. Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”