Rachel Mairs, The Hellenistic Far East: Archaeology, Language, and Identity in Greek Central Asia. University of California Press, 2016 (first published 2014).
This slender volume is specifically concerned to discuss the Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms in the region that today is eastern Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. Mairs focuses on the archaeological remains, uncovered by excavation and by survey; the challenges posed by the evidence and the state of publication of the evidence; the difficulties posed by unprovenanced items (as a result of looting) and the interpretative challenges of investigating “ethnicity” and “identity” in a region whose inhabitants are very lightly represented in the surviving literature (Chinese and Greek) and that from the point of view of outsiders; and in a region where very little epigraphic evidence has come to light that may illuminate the self-understandings of the inhabitants of ancient Bactria in the three hundred years after the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Because of its prominence in the evidence, Mairs looks in detail at the city of Ai Khanoum, the Hellenistic urban foundation that has a Greek inscription which claims to be copied from Delphi, and posits a Bactrian architectural koine to explain some of its more unusual (as a Greek city) features. Mairs also looks at the relationship between settled and nomadic people in the region, and examines the explanations given for the fall of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdoms.
While brief, this book is really interesting, particularly from the point of view of identity in the “Hellenistic” world.
From the Guardian: Murdered on the streets of Karachi: my friend who dared to believe in free speech.
From the Guardian, again: Cremated human bones in pot found in Crossrail dig. (I wouldn’t say “gruesome” ritual. Puzzling, maybe.)
From the Irish Times: It’s hard to accept yourself when your country doesn’t. (The one thing I like about the campaigning for this referendum is that it is making me feel as though Ireland is full of queer people, queer women, where before I didn’t… quite… believe that we were normal? – Yes, I’m getting used to using the word “we” when it comes to queer women. Took me a very long while to get comfortable with that.)
From the blog Per Lineam Valli (Along the Line of the Wall), a series all about Hadrian’s Wall. First post here.
Foz Meadows on how to learn to write about female desire. (This is an awesome post and I want to hug it. Because, desire itself aside, yeah, fanfiction? Once I started reading it? Actually gave me models for my own sexuality when I couldn’t really find many examples elsewhere.)
Strange Horizons roundtables “Representing Marginalised Voices in Historical Fiction and Fantasy,” with Joyce Chng, David Anthony Durham, and Kari Sperring, moderated by Vanessa Rose Phin.
Via Max Gladstone, “LIT MISERABLES, Or, Les Écrivains Misérables. Produced by Andrea Phillips, starring: Andrea Phillips [Ensemble], Max Gladstone [Javert, Marius], Fran Wilde [Gavroche], Sarah Pinsker [Eponine], Lynne Thomas [Fantine, Marius, Thenadiers, Eponine], James Sutter [Javert], Mishell Baker [Cosette], Martin Cahill.” This? This is awesome.
An interesting look at what bones from the ancient world can tell us.
In the new study, the researchers delved into why these babies were killed. Ancient Roman texts refer to infanticide as an accepted practice, and the only way people could control the size of their families in a time before reliable contraception. (In fact, Rome’s foundation myth involves twin boys, Romulus and Remus, who are left to die by their mother, but are saved by wild animals.)
The texts refer to infanticide in Rome itself, however, which had a different culture than its far-flung territories, such as those in Britain, Mays said.
And although the Roman preference for boys would suggest that Romans practiced sex-selective infanticide, Mays said, there is only one document to back up that assumption — a letter from one Roman soldier stationed in England to his pregnant wife, telling her not to bother keeping the baby if it’s a girl when it’s born.
A life of violence, and a violent death?
The Guardian had a piece on thirty-nine (yep, that’s right, 39) skulls uncovered in London during the eighties:
Scores of skulls excavated in the heart of London have provided the first gruesome evidence of Roman head hunters operating in Britain, gathering up the heads of executed enemies or fallen gladiators from the nearby amphitheatre, and exposing them for years in open pits.
“It is not a pretty picture,” Rebecca Redfern, from the centre for human bioarchaeology at the museum of London, said. “At least one of the skulls shows evidence of being chewed at by dogs, so it was still fleshed when it was lying in the open.”
“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”
Here’s what the Independent had to say.
Motto of the morning: let sleeping cats lie, even if they are on your laundry. Ouch.
I missed Locus Magazine’s tasteless April Fools post about Wiscon and burqas, but here’s some follow-up:
File 770, April Fails Day.
James Davis Nicoll, Locus apologises.
Aidan Moher has Thoughts On the 2013 Hugo Nominations.
And from Archaeology Magazine, news of the discovery of Pluto’s Gate:
STANBUL, TURKEY—Francesco D’Andria of the University of Salento announced that he has unearthed the structures of Pluto’s Gate, known as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman tradition, at the World Heritage site of Hierapolis in southwest Turkey. The remains of a temple, a pool, and a series of steps above a cave that emits poisonous gases were found, in addition to an inscription with a dedication to Pluto… and Kore.
More details at Discovery News.
Buzzfeed on King Henri IV’s Mummified Skull?
In 2008, two Frenchmen tracked a mummified head believed to belong to King Henri IV to Jacques Bellanger, a local tax collector. Bellanger reportedly purchased the skull in the 1950s for 5,000 francs from a woman who bought it at a Paris auction house in the early 1900s.
Hilary Mantel on Royal Bodies:
The royal body exists to be looked at. The world’s focus on body parts was most acute and searching in the case of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. No one understood what Henry saw in Jane, who was not pretty and not young. The imperial ambassador sneered that ‘no doubt she has a very fine enigme’: which is to say, secret part. We have arrived at the crux of the matter: a royal lady is a royal vagina. Along with the reverence and awe accorded to royal persons goes the conviction that the body of the monarch is public property
Equal Writes on Conan the Barbarian: Jason Momoa Performs Masculinity in a Skirt:
Half an hour into the movie and we finally get to see Jason Momoa in his manly skirt and very little else, because barbarians don’t wear clothes. Conan by this point has acquired a Black Best Friend, Artus (Nonso Anozie) who I think is supposed to be a pirate or something. Anozie was born in Lincoln and in real life has a rather posh British accent, but for this movie he does a Nigerian accent. I’m assuming this is to emphasise how ~Foreign~ and ~Exotic~ Artus is. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
Radish Reviews on Fan Fic Sensibility and the Id Vortex:
It is the idea that there is a locus of shame in pro fic that I find so intriguing and why I have different reasons for reading fan fic versus pro fic (I like both!). But every so often, there’s a piece of pro fic that has qualities that strike me as particularly fannish–they’re usually the books where, as I’m reading them, I’m thinking to myself, “This is a terrible premise for a book and I can’t stop reading it because I am completely sucked into it.”
How to Justify a Private Library.
Because other people have interesting things to say, and I’m trying to finish reading a couple of tomes on anthropology and faith healing, so my brain is not with the making of clever things to say.
But first, I want to mark a new departure. For the first time since I’ve been keeping track, the Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks at Tor.com features a majority of books by women: 6.5 to 4.5, with one anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. (If we count names on spines, we have 6.5 to 5.5, which gives us rough parity.) Thanks for that, guys – and I hope that parity’s the new normal for the Bookseller’s Picks.
The Mary Sue reports on an academic study of harassment in Halo 3:
Findings indicate that, on average, the female voice received three times as many negative comments as the male voice or no voice. In addition, the female voice received more queries and more messages from other gamers than the male voice or no voice.
Aliette de Bodard talks about racial passing and her reaction to Seraphina:
It’s a bit like… imagine an SFF book with a made-up universe which has a species with two genders, one of which is deemed inferior to the other, prone to hysterics, and only suited for bearing and raising babies at home. Would you really be praising the forward-thinking and awesome depiction of gender issues of such a book?
Jenny’s Library on Invisible Hoverboards and Zombies on Mute:
I would love more young adult science fiction and more conversation about young adult science fiction. The problem is that I get the impression from reading their pitch that Strom-Martin and Underwood’s issue isn’t even so much with the quantity or even the quality, but rather the flavor young adult science fiction that is currently popular. In doing so they ultimately limit and stifle conversation rather than encourage it.
And for the archaeology/history geeks:
New Graeco-Roman tombs uncovered in Alexandria.
The Carian Trail: a new long-distance walking trail opens in Turkey.