Spartacusploitation

So I’ve been watching some of the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and sand (actually each season seems to have a different subtitle…).  I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice that it kind of veers between frenetic splatter-action and soft-core porn. I’ve read they intentionally emulated Zack Snyder’s 300 film in the first episode or two, and it shows. The action sequences also owe something to Tarantino’s Kill Bill — geysers of blood, a bit like old samurai films, and crazy stunts, more like the Shaw Brothers’ work, only less of it. The special effects are not always convincing but they certainly out-splatter pretty much any other film in the “peplum” genre. The sex scenes — and there is clearly a quota that each episode must meet, with four or five topless scenes for the lead actresses and full frontal nudity for at least one actor or extra — are a little off-putting, juxtaposed as they are with ultraviolence. In fact about half of the sex scenes are intentionally repulsive, and this actually works in the show’s favor. The decadence of Rome is meant to be shown in a repulsive light. Moreover, despite the exploitation levels of sex and violence, the show is not that bad. Some of the acting is quite good — John Hannah and Lucy Lawless tend to steal the show in their scenes, but the whole cast is reasonably good. The plot is melodramatic and violent, and kept my interest. It also really works as an indictment of Imperial Rome. You can’t help but hate the Romans. They are portrayed as relentlessly decadent, greedy, venial, lustful, and basically evil in every way. A show about a bloody slave revolt probably has to dehumanize the Romans some in order to make the rebels into heroes. It’s too bad the show has to get so much history wrong.

Actually it gets a fair amount of the history right, in terms of the Roman world. Rome really was very dependent on slavery (a fact that Hollywood has usually been unwilling to depict). The show emphasizes the horrors of slavery pretty well, though I’m not sure if slaves were quite so callously killed on a whim as the show suggests. The sets are convincing. The costumes of civilians and nobles are generally accurate, and military kit looks right too (hell, the Romans’ shields are oval rather than the usual later imperial rectangle we see in every movie).  The gladiators’ equipment is mostly correct too, in so far as they depict mostly depict real gladiator styles. (The axe-men I’m very dubious about — the show keeps depicting guys with a huge battle-axe like something you’d see in a video game, and they also have several gladiators fight with a pair of double-bitted axes. Granted they look awesome, but like the guy with a medieval flail in the Russell Crowe Gladiator film, it is just Hollywood being Hollywood. The hoplomachi are depicted as fighting in melee with their spears rather than casting them — that seems possible but it’s not how I usually see them depicted.)

I like the very formalized manner of speaking the nobles usually use — I’m not sure if it would really be common in private conversations but it does class up the dialogue, even with the occasional gratuitous but hilarious cursing.

The main things I think the show gets wrong, unfortunately, are pretty central to the plot. First, the show depicts Romans as being pretty shameless about sex. Every party involves live sex shows. This helps establish the ruling class as decadent. But Caligula, Tiberius, and Nero actually shocked the Romans with their orgies; the show suggests everyone in Rome was pretty much on their way to a brothel or stumbling home drunk from a party out of the movie Caligula. Yes, the Romans had a pretty open attitude about sex and fewer hang-ups than we do in the U.S., but I don’t think they were all voyeurs and exhibitionists as the show suggests. Also, while slaves could be used for sex, it was considered somewhat shameful for a free citizen to do so, while the series suggests it was normal and acceptable.

Secondly, the show depicts most gladiatorial bouts as being to the death. Historians who have studied the actual records of the Roman games have concluded that very few bouts ended with the death of a gladiator. Certainly there were times when there was massive loss of life, but those would be the “re-enactments” of battles (staged by condemned criminals) and executions by beasts or gladiators (the latter of which do figure occasionally into the show). So we see death after death in the arena and almost no defeated gladiators being given the chance to submit. I suppose that helps elevate the drama too, but the arena was terrible enough without exaggerating the lethality for gladiators. In reality the gladiators more often “fought” animals or prisoners than other gladiators, and they rarely killed other gladiators.

Now I know that most “historical” shows and movies are terribly inaccurate and I’m not someone who can’t appreciate them as drama. In fact, Spartacus does a pretty good job of creating really compelling characters. The bad guys are interesting. The good guys are interesting. The situations they find themselves in, or create, are interesting. If you can accept that this is a drama which plays up the exploitative elements, you will find this show pretty enjoyable.

 

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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The woman who would be king

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Hatshepsut was a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. The most interesting thing about this pharaoh is that he was a woman, and despite her nephew and successor’s efforts to eradicate inscriptions and monuments relating to her rule, we know enough about her for her to be the subject of this book. Actually this book is largely composed of speculation and inference, as all of our understandings of the pharaohs must be, since the Egyptians mainly recorded accomplishments and praise, rather than any minutia about everyday life, motivation, or really the human side of the these god-kings.
The author, an archaeologist and Egyptologist, is clearly very knowledgeable about Egyptian daily life and religion, and her speculation is careful and convincing, perhaps most of all because she admits to many lacunae and areas of uncertainty. This book is a fascinating account of daily life in the royal household of ancient Egypt, and if anything goes into more detail than the casual reader can possibly digest. I eventually found myself skimming the details about ritual practice and some of the architectural projects. The author goes into a lot of disturbing detail about royal incest and the extremely sexual nature of some of the temple duties of priestesses and queens, but the intent is not to shock or titillate so much as provide a more complete picture of Hatshepsut’s world. (Still, it does make me wonder if the people who keep trying to appropriate Egypt’s legacy — Freemasons, Afrocentrists, etc. — understand what they are actually in for!) Cooney’s asides about Victorian museum curators hiding away certain ithyphallic reliefs and statues of Amon and Min due to their rudeness injected some humor. There is also a bit of gruesome detail about the prevalence of disease and parasites in ancient times, and a matter-of-fact but gory description of the embalming process, neither of which you’ll want to read while eating.

I read an uncorrected proof (through the Goodreads “first reads” giveaway), which had a few plans but lacked any illustrations. I assume the finished book must have a number of plates or details from the statues, inscriptions, and monuments to which the author constantly refers.

The author makes some great observations about the tendency for people — historians and regular folk alike — to ascribe bad motives when a woman expresses the desire to rule, but unfortunately is unable to really connect these observations to Hatshepsut specifically. From what we can tell, her rule was extremely effective, bringing wealth and prestige back to a tottering empire, and innovative in terms of reorganizing the political hierarchy to ensure loyalty to the pharaoh. She also has the distinction of seizing a throne without spilling a drop of blood, and in fairness to her and her nephew, I should point out that Thutmose III did not try to eradicate her memory entirely, but only conceal the fact that she rules not merely as regent during his toddlerhood but as full pharaoh for her entire lifetime, once she took the throne. This was not so much to destroy her legacy as to reaffirm his own legitimacy, and took place many years after her death, which Cooney interprets, quite plausibly, to mean that Hatshepsut’s rule was popular.

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I usually append some thoughts about how one might find some grist for D&D in my book reviews, but I did not find myself taking any notes while reading this book.  I would absolutely recommend this book if you intend to run a game set in a Egyptian style ancient kingdom, or if you were going to run the “Valley of the Pharaohs” game. It might also be source of ideas for a campaign involving courtly intrigue, and the intersection of religious and political power, since Hatshepsut had to work so hard to hold together her unique and unprecedented place.

 

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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St. Guinefort of Lyons

This is what they did recently in the diocese of Lyons. When preaching there against sorcery and hearing confessions, I heard many women confess that they had carried their children to St. Guinefort. I thought he was some saint. I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed.

But the castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog’s noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs. They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child’s little clothes on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of “Rimite” to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was done, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf’s form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog’s bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future. —  De Supersticione, Stephen de Bourbon

It’s probably worth noting that the legend of St. Guinefort, like so many saints, grew out of older folklore. There is a pretty solid disentangling of the story at Lapham’s Quarterly. Basically, the ‘faithful hound’ story (which has Welsh, Indian, and other versions) was apparently incorporated into the story of an actual saint, and garbled together.  The healing ritual described by de Bourbon is itself probably a sensationalized version of an older pagan ritual, as de Bourbon was a sort of inquisitor, rooting out heresy.  So there is probably a “real” saint somewhere … filtered through folklore, superstition, and an inquisitor’s penchant for finding the Devil behind things.

As far as I can tell there were not a lot of animals revered as saints. In fact the only other case I can think of is St. Christopher, who was often depicted as dog-headed (but ultimately still human).

The hagiographies of many human saints involve many animal-related miracles, such as animals raised from the dead or healed, animal companions, and extraordinary encounters with helpful wild animals.  For example several Irish saints resurrect animals like geese during their lives, and a number of English saints, working posthumously through their shrines, raised cattle and horses from the dead. Other saints speak with animals, are given warnings by birds, or are offered protection by wild animals.

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Alicorns

“Unicorn horns are highly sought after, since possession of one is a sovereign remedy against all poisons. Alternately, a single horn can be used, by an alchemist, to manufacture 2-12 potions of healing. Unicorn horns sell for 1,500 gold pieces or more on the open market. “AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual

So I’ve been reading Odell Shepard’s The lore of the unicorn — a treatise on unicorn lore, it should be noted, rather than a treatise on unicorns, as Shepard is principally interested in what writers said about them, how they were used as symbols, and the meaning of the symbolism and legends associated with unicorns.  It’s mostly interesting but also dry — it could well have been written in the nineteenth century, and reads like something a country vicar would have compiled in his ample free time … cf. Sabine Baring-Gould.  Still, there is some great stuff, and this post harvests some of the triva from an early chapter.

Historically, in the West, unicorn horns (or alicorns — the term has also been applied, incorrectly, to horned pegasi) were highly sought after treasures.  Filings from an alicorn were valued at ten times that of gold, by weight; a whole alicorn would be worth double that.  As the narwhal tusks which were sold as alicorns can weigh ten kilograms, a whole specimen was a rare treasure to be found only in a king’s treasury or a major cathedral.  By the late 16th century, however, nearly every prince had one or part of one as protection against poisoning, which had become a widely practiced art.  Deadly diseases like plague were considered to be a kind of poisoning, so to the medieval mind, a cure for poisoning was also a cure for diseases.

The anti-poison property of an alicorn was far from unique, however. A mixture of herbs, minerals, and animal parts called “theriaca” was manufactured as a cure-all, and used both as a salve and ingested medicine, but it was very expensive due to the complexity and time taken to create it, and would be roughly as pricey as alicorn powder.  The prince on a budget had many other options when collecting talismans against poison — many of them obtained from animals that were themselves poisonous or thought to be poisonous.

Bezoar stones (concretions of indigestible matter and minerals recovered from the guts of animals) could be dipped into a drink to purify it (bon appetit!)

Cerastes horns (the prominent scales, called “horns,” of the cerastes serpent) were said to weep or sweat in the presence of poison.  They were placed on the dining table in artful arrangements to detect poison.  Legend had it that the walls of Prester John’s palace were made with a concrete including cerastes horns to prevent any poison from ever entering his demesne.  From antiquity, Western scholars held that the cerastes serpent killed its prey by burying itself so that only its poisonous horns were above ground, and passersby who stepped on the horns would die instantly.  “Horned serpents” captured the imagination of Westerners from the time of Herodotus, who described them in his History.

Snake tongues would be hung, in bunches, on the table as well, and they too would weep in the presence of poison.

Glossopetra (the “tongue stone,” actually shark tooth fossils) were used in the same manner as snake tongues, and were thought to be the petrified tongues of snakes. They were also credited with warding off the evil eye.

Toad-stones, supposedly recovered from the bodies of toads, were placed in rings to prevent poisoning.  Surviving examples of these “toadstones” are probably sting-ray teeth.

Griffin’s claw (usually ibex or buffalo horns) was fashioned into a drinking horn, which would purify any beverage of poison.

Venetian glass or crystal was thought to shatter if any poison were poured into it, and was therefore a popular material for goblets and bowls.

Ruby (also called carbuncle) and amethyst, if placed over poisoned food, would make it inedible and thus prevent a poisoning.

A severed vulture’s foot was thought to clutch in the presence of poison, so candle-holders were fashioned with a claw positioned just so that if it closed, it would snuff out the candle.  (In the Middle Ages vultures were believed to be poisonous themselves.)

Terra sigillata was a specially prepared clay from Lemnos, cakes of which were imprinted with a seal depicting Artemis; hence the name.  It was used to make amulets which warded off poison, and as an ingredient in theriaca, or as a medicine in its own right.

Walrus tusks and rhinoceros horns were also believed to have some potency in this regard, yet they were were also used to counterfeit alicorns.  Some accounts say that special chemical treatments were used to give them the characteristic spiral of a true alicorn.  (Certain antelope horns which have a twists or spirals were also imported as alicorns.)

The heyday of the alicorn was in the 14th ro 16th centuries.  Belief in their efficacy decline slowly.  In Italy and France, belief in the alicorn’s power died out in the 1500s; in England, belief lasted into the 1700s.

One possible echo of the belief in alicorns is the practice of keeping stag horns as trophies.  The medieval bestiaries reported that stags ate snakes, and/or that their horns (or the smoke emitted by their burning horns) were fatal to snakes, and for this reason stag horns were hung over doorways to keep out serpents.

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Flagellants and dancers

As part of project I’m working on, I recently read Sidney Heath’s Pilgrim life in the middle ages (1911 ; link is to archive.org copy). One chapter that I really got some inspiration from was “Flagellants and dancers.”  I haven’t had the time to really delve further into these topics, but I thought Heath’s discussion was pretty interesting.  Flagellants are probably familiar to anyone who’s seen Monty Python & the Holy Grail (a more serious depiction of them features briefly in both The Seventh Seal and  Black Death) or played Warhammer Fantasy Battles.  The “Dancers” mentioned here don’t quite match the modern interpretation of the phenomenon (St. Vitus’ Dance/St. Anthony’s Fire, i.e. ergot poisoning) I’ve always read about.  So I wonder if there might not have been two distinct things going (religiously ecstatic dancers as described below and ergot-poisoned people running amok) which were conflated and swept together in one explanation.  I guess you’d have to look at the source material.  Anyway, since this is a very short and very vivid chapter from the book, I’m posting it in its entirety below.

Chapter IV: FLAGELLANTS AND DANCERS

One of the most extraordinary features of the Middle Ages, and the direct outcome of pilgrimages, were the wandering bands of penitents. These companies were numbered by hundreds, and each of them possessed some individual characteristic. Some were composed of the poor only, others were limited to men, while one or two were made up entirely of children. Occasionally a brotherhood would arise with membership extended mainly to those who held peculiar opinions. The great majority, however, were free to all Christians without distinction of age, sex, rank, or opinion, though each of them had some particular form of discipline for their adherents.

Thus every now and then these bands of people would journey from shrine to shrine, praying and mortifying as they went, and gathering recruits along the way. After exciting interest for a short time the larger number of these associations would dissolve as suddenly as they had appeared ; a few survived for years, while one or two underwent periodical revivals down to comparatively recent times.

The most persistent of these bands of fanatics were the dancers, the palmers, and the flagellants.

The dancers made their first appearance at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1373, when they were composed of a 96 Flagellants and Dancers ragged set of wanderers who made begging and vagrancy a profession. They had a secret system of initiation, at which it was said, as with most of these secret initiations, they practised all kinds of abominations. Wandering about in bands of thirty, or forty, their apparent poverty, their earnestness, and their frantic fanaticism gave them an extraordinary hold on the multitude.

Wherever they went their singular reputation caused large crowds to assemble to watch their performances, and thousands who went as sightseers became infected with the mania, which came to be regarded in the nature of a contagious disease that was even more dreaded than the plague.

Everywhere the dancers became the centre of a writhing mass of humanity making violent motions of worship, offering prayers in the form of convulsive shrieks, and acting as though they would take heaven itself by storm. Their hysterical ravings were regarded as prophetic. It was quite in vain that the axe beheaded hundreds of these maniacs, or that the gibbets broke down with the weight of their bodies.

The flagellants were unquestionably the strangest of all these itinerants of faith as they were the most tenacious of existence. Wherever the shrieks and groans of the gloomy flagellants alarmed the ears, those in the vicinity fled and hid themselves, for the penitential torrent of blood and tears absorbed all with whom it came in contact. There was no escape for any, rich and poor alike ; resistance was vain, remonstrance unheeded. Under the penalty of having the flesh flogged from their bones those who happened to cross their path were forced to become flagellants until they were released at the first celebrated shrine.

It was in 1260, about the time when the enthusiasm for the Crusades was flagging, that public associations began to spring up in Italy for the purpose of discipline. Multitudes of people, of all ranks and ages, practised this mortification of the flesh along the open streets in the hope of obtaining Divine mercy for their sins.

Perugia is said to have been the first scene of this madness, and a hermit named Rainier the instigator. The custom, after practically dying out, was revived in all its fury during the fourteenth century, and for ten years the flagellants perambulated and agitated Europe. This revival is said to have had its origin during a plague in Germany in 1349, when from the first the Teutonic knights met it with fierce opposition. In 135 1 these warriors assembled and set upon a body of flagellants, massacred thousands of them on the spot, and compelled the remainder to be re-baptized.

The flagellants propagated the extravagant doctrine that flagellation was of equal virtue with the Sacraments ; that by its administration all sins were forgiven, that the old law of Christ was soon to be abolished, and that a new law enjoining the baptism of blood administered by flogging was to be substituted in its place. They were not supported by the heads of the Church, and Pope Clement VII issued a bull against them, with the result that many of their leaders were taken and burned at the stake. The custom, however, continued to crop up at intervals. At the beginning of the fifteenth century flagellants are again mentioned in Lower Saxony. They rejected every branch of external worship, and entertained some wild notions respecting the evil spirit.

The infection, as in the former outbreaks, spread with great rapidity, and was only suppressed by the Kings of Poland and Bohemia expelling all flagellants from their territories.

As enthusiasm for these various sects began to decline active measures for their total abolition were adopted by the Council of Constance (1414-18), but a remnant of them continued in existence until the close of the century. Lastly came the palmers, a class of foreign pilgrims whose real history and condition are but little known. Their designation is thought to have been derived from the palms, branches of which they brought home from Palestine as evidence of their pilgrimage. The distinction between them and ordinary pilgrims was that the pilgrim had some home or dwelling-place, but the palmer had none. The pilgrim travelled to some specific shrine or holy place, but the palmer to all. The pilgrim journeyed at his own charges, but the palmer professed poverty and went upon alms. The pilgrim might give over his profession and return home, but the palmer must persist till he obtained his palm by death. The profession of the palmer was originally voluntary, and arose from that rivalry of fanaticism so prevalent during the earlier years of the Middle Ages. During the tenth and eleventh centuries men| were sometimes ordered to become palmers — to give up wife, family, home, and country — as a penance for their sins. 

Flagellants — a 15th century woodcut; image from the Wikimedia Commons.

Published in: on June 5, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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The book of miracles

I get marketing email from some publishers and mostly ignore it but once in a while something pretty amazing comes up.  Taschen — a publisher of art books — recently put out a facsimile of a 1550 book describing  and depicting wonders and visions, simply called “The book of miracles.”

The illustrations in the book are pretty awesome.  (The link above leads to their catalog page with a dozen more images.)

The Book of Miracles

Published in: on May 22, 2014 at 9:21 am  Comments (2)  
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St. Edmund and his miraculous severed head

So I recently finished reading an older book about pilgrimages in Great Britain: The Pilgrims’ Way: Shrines and Saints in Britain and Ireland by John Eric Adair.  It’s a fairly comprehensive guide to the major shrines (churches, chapels, wells, and ruins) of Great Britain, with some of the lore about them and their saints, and lots of photos of the places.

My favorite anecdote has to be St. Edmund of East Anglia. After King Edward was martyred by vikings in a St. Sebastian-style beating followed by archery practice, they tossed his severed head into the woods to deny him a decent burial. However, some loyal Saxons went searching for it and heard it calling out “here, here” so they could find it. It was being guarded against woodland scavengers by a wolf, who tamely followed them back to the church where the head was buried with the rest of his remains.  Wolves would later adorn decorations in his shrine, as a sort of saintly mascot.

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef017d40aa281a970c-500wi

After he was canonized and the the body was “translated” to a proper shrine in 903 AD (Wikipedia dates his translation to 1095, but then again the article jumps around regarding dates), the head was found to be miraculously re-attached! King Sweyn, who doubted the sainthood of Edmund, was killed by a blast from the relics, and later a Danish noble named Osgoth was driven insane for expressing doubts about the story, so Edmund had his revenge from beyond the grave. The shrine would be visited sailors hoping for good winds and by ladies hoping for fertility, who would perform the “Oblation of the White Bull” to ensure pregnancy.  The oblation is not quite as kinky as it sounds; it mostly involves petting a white bull and then taking an offering to the shrine.  It’s probably just another pagan survival.

Published in: on May 10, 2014 at 12:04 am  Comments (1)  
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men o bronze

The release of a new edition of De Bellis Antiquitatis, along with my hiatus from having to DM, and having just read a book on hoplite warfare, all converged to reignite my interest in ancients war gaming.  Or at least in building armies and painting them.

So this is the group shot of most of my Greeks (I have another dozen or so stands of Thracians, as well as some mercenary Greeks in my Persian and Carthaginian armies, and some unpainted hoplites probably).

greeks-panorama

Click to embiggen!

A lot of my Greeks are Spartans, naturally.  The lambda is really easy to paint onto a shield, and the red tunics look pretty awesome against the bronze everything else.

Come and take them.

Come and take them.

The general and piper are Zvedza; the rest are Nexxus recasts of the old Atlantic set.  The second line in the background is all Zvedza too.

greek-thracians-hatThese are the Thracians that I keep with the Greek army.  Like I said I have a whole army of them, I should post them next.  These three guys are HäT Industries minis.

greek-macedonainsMost ancient Greek city-states did not use a lot of cavalry (well Thessaly would be the big exception), but the Macedonians famously did.  Since my pikemen are actually hoplites with extra long spears, I use them interchangeably and the Macedonians are stored with my Greeks too.  Above we have mostly Zvedza cavalry (the guys way in the back are Nexxus/Atlantic) and some HäT hoplites/pikemen.

greek-pikes-hatHere’s another view of the HäT “pikemen”.  I think the shields are all off to the side because of the limitations of injection-molding plastics.  I wish they’d opted for separate shields instead but back when I was collecting plastics, I just bought whatever was available.  Nowadays there are so many sets available you could pick and choose.  Still, these figures are pretty solid and look OK.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Saint Patrick’s Purgatory

Forget leprechauns and banshees … here’s your St. Patrick’s Day adventure!

Fortunatus, we are told, had heard in his travels of how two days’ journey from the town, Valdric, in Ireland, was a town, Vernic, where was the entrance to the Purgatory; so thither he went with many servants. He found a great abbey, and behind the altar of the church a door, which led into the dark cave which is called the Purgatory of S. Patrick.  In order to enter it, leave had to be obtained from the abbot; consequently, Leopold, servant to Fortunatus, betook himself to that worthy, and made known to him that a nobleman from Cyprus desired to enter the mysterious cavern. The abbot at once requested Leopold to bring his master to supper with him.  Fortunatus bought a large jar of wine, and sent it as a present to the monastery, and followed at the meal time.

“Venerable sir!” said Fortunatus, “I understand the Purgatory of S. Patrick is here; is it so?” 

The abbot replied, ” It is so indeed. Many hundred years ago, this place, where stand the abbey and the town, was a howling wilderness. Not far off, however, lived a venerable hermit, Patrick by name, who often sought the desert for the purpose of therein exercising his austerities. One day he lighted on this cave, which is of vast extent.  He entered it, and wandering on in the dark, lost his way, so that he could no more find how to return to the light of day.  After long ramblings through the gloomy passages, he fell on his knees, and besought Almighty God, if it were His will, to deliver him from the great peril wherein he lay. Whilst Patrick thus prayed, he was ware of piteous cries issuing from the depths of the cave, just such as would be the wailings of souls in purgatory. The hermit rose from his orison, and by God’s mercy found his way back to the surface, and from that day exercised greater austerities, and after his death he was numbered with the saints.  Pious people, who had heard the story of Patrick’s adventure in the cave, built this cloister on the site.”

Then Fortunatus asked whether all who ventured into the place heard likewise the howls of the tormented souls. The abbot replied, ” Some have affirmed that they have heard a bitter crying and piping therein whilst others have heard and seen nothing.  None, however, has penetrated, as yet, to the furthes limits of the cavern.”

(From Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious myths of the Middle Ages)

(Yes, this is not the same St. Patrick, but a cool one nonetheless.  And actually you might sneak a banshee or two into the cavern, among the wailing souls of Purgatory.)

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tourist traps in the land of Prester John

Prester John, in his letter, was kind enough to point out some of the hottest destinations in his many kingdoms.

  1. A land without poison, venom, & frogs. “In one region grows no poisonous herd, nor does a querulous frog ever quack in it; no scorpion exists, nor does the serpent glide amongst the grass, not can any poisonous animals exist in it or injure anyone.”
  2. A Paradise of gems, with no evil spirits. “Among the heathen flows, through a certain province, the River Indus. Encircling Paradise, it spreads its arms in manifold windings through the entire province. Here are found the emeralds, sapphires, carbuncles, topazes, chrsolites, onyxes, beryls, sardius, and other costly stones. Here grows the plant Assidos which, when worn by anyone, protects him from the evil spirit, forcing it to state its business and name — consequently the foul spirits keep out of the way there.”
  3. Pepper fields. “In a certain land subject to us all kinds of pepper is gathered and is exchanged for corn and bread, leather and cloth.”
  4. The Fountain of youth and Pebbles of keen sight. “At the foot of Mount Olympus bubbles up a spring which changes its flavor hour by hour, night and day, and the spring is scarcely three days’ journey from Paradise, out of which Adam was driven. If anyone has tasted thrice of the fountain, from that day he will feel no fatigue, but will, as long as he lives, be as a man of thirty years. Here are found the small stones called Nudiosi which, if borne about the body, prevent the sight from waxing feeble and restore it where it is lost. The more the stone is looked at, the keener becomes the sight.”
  5. The sea of sand and tasty fishes.“In our territory is a certain waterless sea consisting of tumbling billows of sand never at rest. None have crossed this sea — it lacks water all together, yet fish of various kinds are cast up upon the beach, very tasty, and the like are nowhere else to be seen.”
  6. The river of rolling stones. (Closed Friday-Monday) “Three days’ journey from this sea are mountains from which rolls down a stony, waterless river which opens into the sandy sea. As soon as the stream reaches the sea, its stones vanish in it and are never seen again. As long as the river is in motion, it cannot be crossed; only four days a week is it possible to traverse it.”
  7. The lands of lost tribes of Israel. “Beyond this stony river there are ten tribes of the Jews. Though they presume they are kings, yet they are subject to us, and are tributaries to our majesty.”
  8. The pool of healing (Closed to non-Christians) “In a certain plain, is a fountain of singular virtue which purges Christians and would-be Christians from all transgressions. The water stands four inches high in a hollow stone shaped like a mussel-shell. Two saintly old men watch by it and ask the comers whether they are Christians or are about to become Christians, then whether they desire healing with all their hearts. If they have answered well, they are bidden to lay aside their clothes and to step into the mussel. If what they said be true, then the water begins to rise and gush over their heads. Thrice does the water thus lift itself, and everyone who has entered the mussel leaves it cured of every complaint.”
  9. An underground stream, filled with gems.“A subterranean rill which can only by chance be reached, for only occasionally the earth gapes, and he who would descend must do it with precipitation, ere the earth closes again. All that is gathered under the ground there is gem and precious stone.”
  10. Zone, a land with fire-salamanders. “These worms can only live in fire, and they build cocoons like silk-worms which are unwound by the ladies of our palace and spun into cloth and dresses which are worn by our Exaltedness. These dresses, in order to be cleaned and washed, are cast into flames.”
  11. The mirror of all-seeing. “Before our palace stands a mirror, the ascent to which consists of five and twenty steps of porphyry and serpentine … This mirror is guarded day and night by three thousand men. We look therein and behold all that is taking place in every province and region subject to our scepter.”
  12. Towers of true-seeing. “Now the columns and bases are of the same kind of precious stone as the steps through which men ascend. On the summit of the highest there is a watch-tower placed by some graceful skill, so that no one in the various kinds of laud subject to us can work any fraud, or treachery, or dissensions against us whatever, nor those among us, without it being clearly seen from that watch-tower, and without its being recognized who they are, or what they do. There are three thousand men of arms ever guarding this watch-tower night and day, lest by chance it be broken or overthrown to the ground.”

The last item is mentioned in a slightly longer but more archaicly phrased text here.

Gygaxian/adversarial DMs may want to take assume the all regions not noted for lacking poisonous creatures and evil spirits are infested with them.

Published in: on March 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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