Herald of Opera asks:

It just occurred to me… with a name like “Great Thinker” and our primary source being the Atlantis guy talking him up, how sure are we that Socrates actually existed?

So… we’re pretty sure he existed, because Plato is our main source but not the only one who talks about him.  After his death,  we also have philosophical texts written about him by Xenophon, another of his students.  More importantly, while he was alive and long before Plato started writing philosophy (possibly even before Plato was born), Socrates was parodied by Aristophanes in his comedy, the Clouds, so it’s pretty definite that he wasn’t just completely made up in hindsight by Plato.  There are comments in some of Plato’s dialogues suggesting that he was trying to undo the play’s effect on Socrates’ reputation.  Also, although the events of the dialogues are fictionalised (with the exception of the Apology and maybe parts of the Phaedo), almost all the characters in them are real people, attested in other historical texts like Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War or Xenophon’s Hellenica, whose positions in the philosophical debates reflect their real reputations and life stories.  It would be… weird, put it that way, for Plato to construct such an elaborate fiction of a guy who never existed, tie it into the lives of so many other people, many of whom were Plato’s own friends, acquaintances and relatives (several of them dead by the time Plato started writing, most of them not peacefully), and give him a backstory deeply woven into the traumatic events of the Peloponnesian War.  If nothing else, I suspect it would have been in very bad taste.

Continue reading “Herald of Opera asks:”

A Dragonborn With a Trident On His Back Playing a Syrinx asks:

This is definitely Heracles https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dzvmPjWMKLaiNG6MOLkOgjcveh2lnEja/view?usp=drivesdk

…I mean, I can believe that it’s trying to be?  Heracles almost always has a club, though, and the ears of his lionskin aren’t usually that pointy; these look more doglike.  Honestly it kind of reminds me of an Age of Mythology Ulfsark.

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.