Weekly Roundup of Archaeology, History and Historical Fiction April 22-28

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

An article in the New Yorker about The Iliad and parallels to modern war. This one argues those parallels have been over emphasized. I would agree with this sentence: “ The sight of Achilles in a flak jacket, searching for I.E.D.s with shaky hands and a twitchy trigger finger, gives us too simple and reassuring a peg on which to hang these noble old poems.” Achilles has his issues with his behavior in battle, but I don’t see him as shaky and twitchy. A lot of parallels have been drawn lately, Sophocles’ play, Ajax, has been used in treatment programs for soldiers with ptsd and other linkages. This article emphasizes the differences between the way we fight wars today and in the ancient world and thus the different experience of the soldier. I suspect there is truth both directions. I don’t think contradictions within complex notions mean the ideas are invalid. Click here for The New Yorker “A Misguided Impulse to Update the Greek Classics”

I suspect a lot of you will enjoy this fantasy short story from a local Phoenix author, Beth Cato, on Uncanny Magazine. Nuanced thinking about war, domestic/sexual abuse, women’s roles in society—all those topics that have been on our minds, and all played with via an intriguing tale of magic and friendship. Click here to read “With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips” by Beth Cato on UnCanny Magazine

Lately I’ve been drawing out detailed floor plans of every building in my novel, and street plans of the city, and plans of where the lake is in relation to the trails and mountains, and that crest of the hill I mention and all these other physical locations in my work in progress. It’s made the writing much better, although as a drawing-impaired person, no one will ever look at these plans for pleasure or enlightenment except me. I noticed this morning’s post in WriterUnboxed is all about the compulsion of writers to map their fictional worlds. I didn’t know there was such a compulsion. I thought this revelation of mine was idiosyncratic but apparently it’s more universal than I’d have guessed. So if you’re wondering how writers build those detailed worlds or are trying it yourself, get out a pencil. I commandeered an abandoned pad of graph paper and a really good eraser as my tools of choice. As I said, this isn’t a skill I’d make public, but it certainly has tightened my writing. If you want to hear about this experience through another writer’s eyes, read the post. I enjoyed it. Click here for Writer Unboxed “The Complex Power of Mapping the World of Your Novel” 

How beer was brewed in ancient Mesopotamia. Did you know people drank it through lengthy reed straws from big communal pots? Mostly barley and with lots of stuff floating in it—one kind was called “strained” so that must mean the others weren’t. The straws may have been a way of filtering your drinking experience, but beer was just as much part of daily sustenance as bread. The alcohol level was probably fairly low, but there’s plenty of discussion about inebriation, the good, the bad and the hilarious. And the divine. Beer came from the gods. Our best description of the process comes from a hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of beer. University of Chicago has paired up with brewing companies to recreate ancient beer. There’s Enkibru and Gilgamash if you’re interested.

Potent Potables of the Past: Beer and Brewing in Mesopotamia

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