Leo M.R. asks:

I’ve a couple of questions about Cassandra, the Trojan princess/seer:

1) Were the conditions of her curse known to other people? I assume not – otherwise it’d defeat the purpose of the whole ‘will never be believed’ thing – but you never know.

2) How *did* her prophesizing work, anyway? Was it involuntary like she’d get pseudo-possessed à la Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter (which I imagine contributed to her madwoman status)? Or did she actively divined like she had to read the movement of birds or something (in which case, couldn’t she have just… *not*?)?

So, part of Cassandra’s deal is that, although we think of her as a character from the Trojan War, which we associate with the Homeric epics, the major surviving texts where she actually does anything are all tragedies (in fact, Cassandra is such a minor character in the Iliad that I don’t think Homer ever mentions her gift/curse of prophecy – it might even have been a later addition to the myth, although of course I can’t prove that). And Greek tragedies are all about mortals rushing headlong into terrible fates that they could easily have avoided if only things had gone a little bit differently. I think we’ve gotta see Cassandra’s prophecies as the same class of Thing as, like, Oedipus’ prophecy about killing his father and marrying his mother: even when you know it’s coming, you’re powerless to stop it, because that’s just the kind of thing Fate does to mortals who know the future.

Continue reading “Leo M.R. asks:”

I can’t think of a joke name asks: 

What do you think about the death of the queen

Well, it proves that Her Queenship’s original body was not biologically immortal, which actually shoots down several theories I previously considered fairly plausible. Jim the Editor and I are currently working under the assumption that, after a brief and decisive spiritual struggle, she took over the body of the Lesser Liz during their first official meeting as monarch and PM (no British Prime Minister since Thatcher could possibly have had the sheer evil resolve to resist her, but Truss may have been especially vulnerable because of their shared name). Now inhabiting the body and office of the new Prime Minister, and with her loyal son ruling as Charlie 3, she will seek to establish a new Holy British Empire by conquering the EU and Brexiting each of its member states, one by one. The Second Elizabethan Age has ended, but the reign of the dread Eternal Queen is only just beginning!

Other than that, I’m mostly concerned by what this might mean for the great Prophecy of the Queen of Pentacles in my ongoing Kingslocke of Heart Gold. I mean, I just posted the episode where I defeat the Champion this morning and I didn’t have either of the True Queens of Johto in my party; could that have been the final straw? Are these events symbolic of the final death of monarchy itself? What will happen if we don’t fulfil the Prophecy?

Also, does this mean Charlie 3 will be on all the money by the time I get home in December? That’s going to be weird.

Digidestined asks:

We all know that if you were in pokemon, you would be a grass and psychic trainer with an ace Vileplume, but what would be your digimon partner if you were a digidestined? Keep in mind even neglectful or neutral tamers have bonds on par with ash and Pikachu, so add in the digimon’s personality to compliment your own if you can.

so… I know this is a bit of a cop-out, but there is a Digimon that is a literal kiwi, and it’s in a line of plant-type Digimon, and I always thought as a kid “yes, that one.”  I dunno if any of those Digimon have ever had enough screentime to have an established personality.  In the games Kiwimon is usually the champion-level form of Floramon (Digimon evolution is a lot less fixed than Pokémon evolution and most Digimon have multiple documented paths across various games – I think Kiwimon’s ultimate form can be either Blossommon or Deramon, both of which I like), but from what I can remember, when both of those Digimon appear in the anime they’re two different individuals and have radically different personalities. Floramon is kinda ditzy and fun-loving, whereas Kiwimon is very taciturn and stoic. So honestly I think there is room to just say that individual Digimon of the same species can have totally different personalities, and mine would be something that drives me up the wall in exactly the right way to make me improve myself somehow.

Osprey asks:

What are your opinions on the current state of the monarchy? (Of the Commonwealth, I mean. Although, feel free to share your opinions about the Galarian monarchy as well…)

uh

to be honest I don’t really give a $#!t one way or another, and I especially don’t give a shit about Henry and Maggie or whatever their names are

Like, theoretically the Queen of England is my head of state here in New Zealand, but her power is even more vestigial and ceremonial than it is in the UK; nothing she decides actually affects anything.  I reckon when Lizzie 2 eventually kicks the bucket (which feels right now like it could happen pretty soon, given the recent death of Phil the Greek, but bear in mind that her mum lived to 101; I think Lizzie might just never die), the existential horror of King Charlie 3 will probably jolt people out of complacency a bit, but actually doing anything about it constitutionally just seems like so much of a hassle.  I mean, we’d have to change the curtains, and take down a bunch of plaques, and figure out what the hell the Governor General actually does so we can make someone else do it, and who has time for that $#!t?  At the very least, I think people probably won’t be terribly keen to put Charlie 3 on our coins and $20 note in Lizzie’s place, so I think that practice will most likely end with her death.  Something that possibly isn’t immediately apparent to non-Commonwealth people is that, even though the British monarchy basically does nothing, Lizzie is kind of a cultural landmark in her permanence and omnipresence.  We’ve technically had the same head of state since my grandparents (three of whom are now dead) were teenagers.  I think people are a lot more attached to her personally than to the monarchy as a concept now.  There’s this old joke about Oprah being the “queen of America” but I think it’s actually kind of a useful way of thinking about it: imagine if Oprah died, but she had a dramatically less charismatic son who’d once been recorded in a phone conversation daydreaming about what it would be like to live as his girlfriend’s tampon, and everyone in the United States was supposed to just treat him as “the new Oprah” and let him run the talk show and the book club, et cetera, et cetera, and everyone had to pretend he was just as good.  Even if you don’t give a $#!t about Oprah, something about that situation might seem a little off to you.

In some ways it would make a lot of sense to declare New Zealand a Republic with no constitutional ties to the UK; the trouble I have with that – and this is sort of specific to New Zealand – is that quite a few of our big political issues still hang off the Treaty of Waitangi, which is an agreement between the native Māori tribes and the British Crown, and… look, it’s a long story that probably isn’t worth getting into here.  The point is that I suspect there are a lot of people in this country who would like to use a clean-slate Republic of New Zealand to declare that the new government no longer has to honour any of the Crown’s previous commitments and obligations to our indigenous population under the Treaty, and I don’t like that notion one bit (not that the Crown ever has honoured them, mind you, but it’s the principle of the thing).  But then again, it’s… complicated.  We do also, like, have a king, here in New Zealand; we have the Māori King, Te Wherowhero VII.  We could totally replace the impotent ceremonial colonist monarchy with an impotent ceremonial indigenous monarchy.  I’m sure that wouldn’t be controversial at all (not least because the Kīngitanga movement is a development of the colonial period, not a traditional political structure, and doesn’t represent all Māori; Ngāpuhi in particular hate the Kīngitanga).

The other thing is that people in New Zealand just… reflexively don’t like having strong opinions about anything.  We had a referendum a couple of years ago to change the flag to something without a Union Jack on it, but the main finding of that whole exercise was that no one really cares what the flag looks like and none of us can think of anything worth replacing it with.  Which, with a rather elegant cyclicality, brings me back to my original point: I don’t give a $#!t

The Dag asks:

Which of the 7 Ancient Wonders would you pick to see in its prime?

Oh, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, easy.  That’s the one we know the least about.  The Pyramids are still there (albeit past their glory days); we have bits of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Pharos lighthouse was still there for most of the Middle Ages and we have the foundations; we can make a lot of educated guesses about the Colossus of Rhodes and Pheidias’ chryselephantine statue of Zeus because we have so much other Greek sculpture (I think we have some artistic depictions of the statue of Zeus too?  The Byzantines hung onto it for a while after the Pagan temples at Olympia were shut down).  For the Hanging Gardens, we literally have nothing to go on but second- and third-hand written descriptions.  To be honest, we’re not even completely certain they were in Babylon – a good chunk of Babylon has been excavated and there’s no sign of them, and I don’t think they’re mentioned in any known Babylonian cuneiform texts.  I’ve seen it argued that they were actually in Nineveh (near modern Mosul), the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which was kinda like… Babylon 2.0 for a while (that could conceivably have caused our Greek sources to get a little muddled).  Or perhaps they were just the rooftop gardens of the royal palace, and the Greeks got a little carried away in describing them.

But despite everything we don’t know, I think they must have been pretty special.  Building a rooftop garden, the size of a palace, in Baghdad, full of plants that don’t naturally grow there, with pre-industrial technology, shows a damned impressive command of irrigation and water management.  And besides that, what we’re describing is basically a botanical garden, a place you can go to see exotic plants that require special care.  To my mind, that’s a special moment in the history of science as well as engineering and culture, one that shows a real interest in understanding and controlling the variety and beauty of the natural world.  The Greeks saw elaborate gardens full of exotic plants as major distinctive features of Babylonian and Persian culture, and even though they sometimes looked down on their eastern neighbours for being “soft” or “effeminate,” they couldn’t deny the beauty and grandeur of their cultural achievements (our word “paradise” comes, through Greek, from the Persian word for garden).  The inclusion of the Hanging Gardens in the traditional “seven wonders” attests to that (although, admittedly, that list is mostly just one dude’s… like, opinion, man – honestly, what gets to be a “wonder” is a pretty interesting topic in itself).

Kyle the Dragon asks:

If you were a dragon, what would you hoard?

To be honest, I’m not really a hoard-y person; maybe it’s because I spent most of the last 7 years living in a foreign country not wanting to collect too much excess stuff I’d eventually have to pack up and ship a long distance, then had to come home at short notice and left behind most of the things I did own.  Maybe books… but books are heavy and take up a lot of space, y’know, and who doesn’t have an e-reader these days, even as a dragon?  Actually, I think dragon-Chris might hoard maps.  Maps of real places and imagined ones; maps that lead to buried treasure; maps of the body, mind and spirit; maps that are scrupulously accurate and maps that are half-dream; maps that help people conceive of the shape of their world and their own place within it.

Gsgdgd asks:

If there were one show you wanted your entire audience to watch, what would it be?

I’m not sure there is one; I don’t watch a lot of TV.  Um, I’m watching Schitt’s Creek right now and enjoying that; a little while ago I watched Bojack Horseman, which I thought was fantastic.  I watched the first season of Bridgerton with my mum; that was fun.  I don’t think any of those amount to “my entire audience should watch this.”  Jim the Editor and my brother both want me to watch One Punch Man, but I have yet to start it.  None of this answers your question.  Um.  I dunno, probably Black Books, honestly.  It’s a British sitcom about a misanthropic Irish drunkard who owns a bookshop in London (3 seasons of 6 20-minute episodes each).  It’s all on Netflix, or here on Youtube if you don’t have Netflix (whoever owns the rights, they don’t seem to care about getting it taken down).  The humour is… very 90s/early 00s British, in a way that has not seemed to resonate with Americans I’ve attempted to share the series with in the past, so I wouldn’t guarantee that everyone will like it, but… y’know, give it a go.

final fantasy friday, or whatever

look, I didn’t come up with the name; it’s Jim’s channel, he gets to decide what things are called

but yeah, we’re streaming Final Fantasy X, 9 am tomorrow NZ time/8 pm tonight UK time/when the fµ¢£ ever US time, sort your own time zones out, people

Come for the level grinding and creepy blue-haired villain, stay for me rambling unscripted about the Crown Tundra and Jim talking about the energy ethics conference he’s been helping to run all week

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:”