Sunday, 15 May 2022


We quite enjoyed revisiting the topic of a mysterious, most-favoured herb of Antiquity called silphium (previously)—considered a gift from Apollo and used as condiment, perfume, aphrodisiac, and seasoning and with medicinal uses ranging from anti-haemorrhoidal to contraceptive, imported into the Greek and Roman world from a narrow, microclimate in Syria that was resistant to transplantation. Over-harvesting and over-grazing coupled with climate change curried its abrupt disappearance from cupboards and medicine cabinets two millennia hence and serves as a warning best heeded about our own culinary staples and how familiar and enriching flavours and seasoning might meet the same fate. Much more at the links above.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

never look a gift horse in the mouth

Though this kind of exact date for something semi-legendary, laden with cultural baggage and millennia hence is notoriously hard to pin down, the attestation by among others Eratosthenes, polymath and librarian of Alexandria who calculated the circumference and axial tilt of Earth to a remarkable degree of accuracy (thanks in part to his access to extensive geological data at the library), traditionally places the Fall of Troy, the end of the decade-long siege of the impenetrable city by the Achaean armies when they were let into the gates, hiding inside a wooden horse, a ruse thought up by Odysseus—a creature sacred to the Trojans, on this day in 1183 BCE. Left on the beach as an offering for their return home, the Greeks had apparently decamped. Many were suspicious, including Cassandra and Laocoรถn—with of course no one listening to the former and the latter being devoured by a sea serpent along with his sons sent by Athena to keep the priest’s mouth shut but they ultimately decided to keep the horse and celebrated the end of their long blockade with an evening of drunken revelry. Most of the population was massacred in their sleep as the Greeks sacked the city—save for Aeneas who went on to found Rome in some traditions, with most of the Greeks also denied a safe homecoming by the gods for their atrocious behaviour as victors and for their desecration of temples and holy sites and were doomed to wrack and ruin.

Thursday, 10 March 2022


stacy’s dad has got me down bad: a Fountains of Wayne cover from a different perspective  

imperial trans-antarctic expedition: the shipwreck of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 exploratory mission discovered  

beachcomber: eighteenth-century seaweed pressings speak to fecklessness and romance 

ithaca: an new AI model is helping scholars decipher and date ancient inscriptions  

x-wing: Star Wars space craft size comparison  

snowmen: David Lynch’s haunting images—evocative of Eraserhead from Boise, Idaho in the early ‘90s  

there’s a doll, inside of doll, inside a doll, inside a dolly: Robbie Williams’ 2016 Party Like a Russian was inspired by an encounter with the inner-circle of oligarchs when asked to perform at a New Year’s Eve party

Saturday, 29 January 2022


Considered one of the greatest operatic works of all time, the Italian language dramma per musica based on a 1705 stage play by French tragedian Prosper Jolyot de Crรฉbillon about the eponymous King of Crete by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had its premiere as the opener for court carnival season in Mรผnchen on this day in 1781. The piece in three acts with ballet interludes tells the story of the homecoming of the commander-in-chief who led the Cretan navy into the Trojan War, comrade of Ajax and rebuffed suitor of Helen, Idomeneus (แผธฮดฮฟฮผฮตฮฝฮตฯฯ‚—like The Odyssey)—grateful for peaceable relations again after decades of fighting, exercises clemency over prisoners of war brought from Troy, including Priam’s daughter Princess Ilia, though Argonaut Princess Electra is not happy about the potential competition to marry into the dynasty. In contravention to an earlier pledge that would have the king sacrifice his son to the sea on condition of a safe return, Neptune relents and spares the life of the king’s son Prince Idamante, on the promise that he relinquishes his throne to the younger generation, with the new king taking the Trojan princess as his queen. All are happy except Electra—her later parricidical frenzy attributed to this early rejection.

Friday, 17 December 2021

ante diem xvi kalendas ianuarias

First observed in the Roman Empire on this day in 497 BC and over the centuries expanded into a six-day feast ending on 23 December, Saturnalia was held in honour of the god Saturn with public banquets, role-

reversals, continual revelry and private gift-exchanges⁠—usually in the form of white elephant presents, wax or pottery statuettes (action figures, see also) of the divine called sigillaria. Theologically important for some Romans who saw the festive time as a revival of the Golden Age (just as some classicists and successor nations see the Romans), traditions heavily references its Athenian equivalent, called Kronia (ฮšฯฯŒฮฝฮนฮฑ—for Chronos), when the gods ruled the world and toil and class was unknown, though not anticipating the solstice and the gradual return of the sun after a break, dark winter, Kronia was held ahead of the first harvest in July, August during the first month of the Greek calendar beginning in the summer, Hekatombaiลn. Rumours of human sacrifice to appease Saturn were greatly exaggerated and like spread by Christian apologist (see above).

Sunday, 28 November 2021

what who called the ฮฝ variant? yes!

With WHO’s on First—JWZ brings us some comic-relief over the latest viral strain of concern, though to apparently avoid such hilarious confusion, went out of Greek alphabetical order, jumping ahead to Omicron (little o, as opposed to Omega, that’s big o) skipping nu and xi (ฮพ).

Sunday, 7 November 2021

facce di bronzo

Via the always superb Everlasting Blรถrt, we are not only introduced to the sensational discovery of the so-called Riace bronzes in the early 1970s but how the Italian mayor of the namesake town is planning a museum and further excavations on the fiftieth anniversary of their recovery from the waves off the Calabrian coast to see if there are more Greek warrior statues yet to be uncovered. Made in the fifth century BCE using the lost wax casting technique are among the few surviving examples of Greek artistry, most being melted down, and were found by accident by a snooping chemist called Stefano Mariottini in 1972 and are conjectured to be either anonymous Delphic soldiers as part of an ensemble monument to the Battle of Marathon or possibly as depictions of Erechtheus, foster son of Athena and legendary king of Athens, and Eumolpus, son of Poseidon and inventor of viticulture.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021


anamorphosis: a sixteenth century optical illusion in a work by Hans Holbein the Younger 

๐Ÿ’ง: the first episode on the Weirdness of Water, presented by the Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry  

uncharted: the region in Greece that was historically so inaccessible it was named Agrafa, literally off the maps—via Messy Messy Chic  

a people’s archive of sinking and melting: artefacts documenting the climate crisis  

odonym: a suite of applications to explore the toponymical decisions behind street names—see also 

fiat geld: origins of the trillion dollar coin  

spice like us: the geopolitics of nutmeg informed by its reputed efficacy against the plague

Sunday, 12 September 2021

from marathon to waterloo in order categorical

Though probably two separate epic long-distance races are being conflated, most scholars date the Battle of Marathon, a pivotal moment for Western civilisation in which the coalition of Greek armies defeated Persia and rebuffed their attempts at invasion, to this day in 490 BCE with the event preserved in the popular imagination by its feat of athletic endurance.
An Athenian scout called Pheidippides is dispatched from the city-state to Sparta to rally support for the battle—covering a distance on foot of over two-hundred-twenty-five kilometres in the span of a day, and then when the Greeks prevailed ran from the battlefield back to Athens to announce nenikฤ“kamen, ฮฝฮตฮฝฮนฮบฮฎฮบฮฑฮผฮตฮฝ, Joy to you—we’ve won and promptly dying of exhaustion before the city’s magistrates is probably a bit of romanticising and capitalising on the story for the reboot of the modern Olympics in 1896 that included such a long-distance run that matched the track from Marathon. Assailable as it was without a melodramatic death, the event was to become a staple for the games and controversially in 1908 London Games with the United Kingdom adding some three-hundred yards to the race in order to place the finish-line at Windsor Castle from the originating stadium. By the time of the 1924 Paris Olympics, the committee had declared this distance canon.

Monday, 6 September 2021

ฤlea iacta est

Via the ever excellent Everlasting Blรถrt, we are directed to this pair of Roman anthropomorphic dice, silver squatting figurines weighted (equitably presumably) to fall in one of six (tesserae, though usually in games in the Empire tossed in threes) positions.

The above phrase attributed to Julius Caesar by the historian Suetonius when the general brought his provincial army into the capital is like other quotations a likely translation from the Greek borrowing from the humorist Menander, «แผˆฮฝฮตฯฯฮฏฯ†ฮธฯ‰ ฮบฯฮฒฮฟฯ‚», let a die be cast in either form the phrase meaning metaphorically reaching a point of no return from whose juncture the decisions are irreversible.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

second triumvirate

Of course while the lurch towards despotism by the government and the governed did not go unnoticed, Rome never acknowledged that it shifted from being a republic to an imperial power and maintained the trappings of democracy amid tyranny and some aspects of the transformation were gradual and inuring but one pivot point is the Battle of Actium, which took place on this day in 31 BCE, with the fleets of Octavian, ambitious politicians and grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and adopted ‘son,’ and Cleopatra VII Philopator and Mark Anthony fighting in the Ionian sea. First allied (read more), Octavian had a falling out with Mark Antony after he abandoned his wife Octavia Minor, Octavian’s sister, to go to Egypt and foster a long-term liaison with Cleopatra, raising the son of Julius Caesar, Caesarion by the Pharaoh, as his own. Octavian convinced the Senate that the couple were a threat to Rome and were forming a separatist faction that would undermine Roman unity, installing a child king and moving the capital to Alexandria, and with this propaganda campaign and was able to gather his forces. With superior numbers, Octavian was able to claim victory, pursuing Antony and Cleopatra and their defeated ships for nearly a year back to the Egyptian capital where trapped they both dispatched themselves, and consolidated power ubi et orbi, adopting the title Princeps, Number One Citizen, and awarded the title of Revered One—Augustus—by the Senate for saving Rome.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021


united states of wildfire: as the climate emergency escalates, more North American residents are moving into the path of destruction unwittingly 

fitting in: Ze Frank (previously) reveals that even the coolest, calmest and most collected of us are all trying, coping  

d’oyly carte: an islet in the Thames with a derelict mansion built for an opera impresario will be restored to its former glory—via Things Magazine 

caped crusaders: Batman’s sidekick Robin finally comes out 

constrained systems: a tool-kit of alternative image editing effects—via Waxy  

matchi bล:a mesmerising stop-motion study of a magic match stick from Tomohiro Okazaki—via ibฤซdem

 bubblegum pop: the Osmonds 1968 song “Groove with what You Got”  

ฮฑฯ€ฮฟฮบฮฌฮปฯ…ฯˆฮท: Greek capital, archipelago beset by flames

Friday, 23 July 2021


The ancient Roman festival with games (ludi) honouring the god of the seas was held on this day as a propitious act in the middle of the hot summer and drought to coax back the waters and escape the oppressive heat of the city by repairing to the countryside and sheltering under umbrรฆ for a shaded repast. At first not enjoying the universal acclaim of his Greek counterpart Poseidon, Neptune was not broadly regarded as the patron and protector of maritime affairs but rather as a guarantor of personal agricultural success, though was later held in more esteem as Rome developed as a naval power and the holiday came to be marked with the flooding of the Pantheon to return and tame the waters.

Saturday, 3 July 2021


Though the term is outdated and can be confusing and offensive if applied to an intersex individual, it had never occurred to us question where the construction hermaphrodite came from. It is rooted in Greek mythology as illustrated uncharitably anachronistically in this 1460 woodblock tableau from Guillaume Vrelant of the encounter between the naiad Salmacis and the youth Hermaphroditus, the son of the Olympian gods Hermes and Aphrodite, a portmanteau of the parental names. Sexual predation and objectification of course abounds in the classical but Salmacis is uniquely the only female perpetrator—subject of course to double-standards, being roundly shamed for it, the cougar nymph encountering, a popular theme for early Renaissance paintings as well, the fifteen-year-old bathing in the pristine pond (sacred to her and where she was wont to gaze at her reflection like Narcissus) and lusting after him grabbed him tightly, praying to the heavens that they never be parted as Hermaphroditus struggled to get away. For reasons not explained—especially given the teen-ager’s high birth—Salmacis’ wish was granted and their bodies were fused into one. Further unaccounted for was Hermaphroditus’ request to his parents that anyone else bathing in the pool would also be transformed, unclear whether their son was capable of thinking just as himself any longer or whether he thought this new nature to be a curse or a blessing.

phaistos disc

Discovered on this day in 1908 by archaeologist Luigi Pernier whilst excavating the eponymous Minoan palace on Crete, the purpose and provenance of this Bronze Age artefact remain a matter of mystery and dispute among scholars. Comprising forty-five distinct glyphs, some two-hundred forty impressed signs on the obverse and reverse of the circular tablet, the script defies attempts at deciphering. Typographically significant, the characters (ideograms) are not inscribed—whatever they may signify—and rather are stamped from seals into a clay medium, subsequently fired at high temperatures and represent a sort of movable type with reusable letters. By frequency, the highest count for the representational glyphs are the plumed head ๐‡‘ , the bell-shaped Helmet ๐‡– and the Shield ๐‡› Whilst other corroborating artefacts have emerged, there is not enough context to properly decode this syllabary.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

lectori benevolo

Writing for Public Domain Review, Alex Tadel imparts some insight on classical literary culture through the lens of the brilliantly illustrated rarity Vergilius Vaticanus, a fourth century anthology containing Virgil’s Georgics and The ร†neid—itself one of the oldest sources of the text (see also), though we would still have that material without this deluxe, prestige bound folio crafted and bound at a time when most reading was circulated on papyrus scrolls but be denied the privilege of enjoying this one of a kind commission, acquired by the Vatican Library in 1600 and hence the latter part of the name. Much more on being well-read in Antiquity and the bookish set of the times at the link up top.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

our lady of perpetual help

The Marian aspect as represented in a fifteenth-century Byzantine icon, the Cretan artefact held in a Roman monastery since, is venerated with devotionals on this day as patron-protector of Haiti, parts of Valencia, the Philippines and the diocese of Leeds. Against a gold background representing the Kingdom of God and that there was no place not filled with the holy spirit, the Hodegetria (Greek for ‘She who points the Way’) presents her child, frightened (symbolised by his losing one sandal) and buffeted by tiny archangels that are bearing instruments of the Passion, on the left the lance and sponge of the Crucifixion and on the right, a cross and nails. All figures are captioned: MP-ฮ˜ฮฅ, Mother of God; ฮŸฮ‘ฮœ and ฮŸฮ‘ฮ“ Michael and Gabriel (with hortative modifiers) and the christogram IC-XC for Jesus Christ. The ritual novena prayers recited before an image of the icon include thanksgiving, petitions, prayers for the sick and divine praise.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

so many women. he invents so many disguises to seduce them. sometimes a swan or a bull, sometimes a shower of gold. why, he once tried to ravish me as a cuttlefish.

In general release in US theatres (2 July for the UK) on this day in 1981, Desmond Davis’ Clash of the Titans is loosely based on the myth of Perseus (see previously) and features creature effects from Ray Harryhausen with an all-star ensemble cast including Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Siรขn Phillips, Neil McCarthy and Pat Roach. To punish the Argon king after banishing Danaรซ and her infant son (see above), Zeus orders Poseidon to release the last of the Titans, the Kraken, to destroy Argos. On a quest to rescue Princess Andromeda, betrothed to the monstrous Calibos, Perseus is given a series of divine-crafted gifts to gain standing as a legitimate suitor to break the bond. 

Unable to exact revenge directly on Perseus as a demigod and favourite of Zeus, the maritime contingent of the Olympians plan to send the Kraken after Andromeda’s land, Joppa—to which the princess offers herself as sacrifice to save the city. Perseus embarks on a journey to save his fiancรฉe, aided by more gifts from the gods including the mechanical owl Bubo that Athena commissioned from Hephaestus rather than give up her own favoured owl (which some considered a knock-off of R2D2 though the creators insist that the concept predated Star Wars), by deducing how to defeat the sea monster with the severed head of the gorgon Medusa.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

flash crash

Triggered by a combination of human error—so called fat-finger trades that if not invalidated within thirty minutes after execution are considered legitimate—automated trading protocols set on edge by the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, over the course of thirty-six minutes of the trading on this day in 2010, US stock indices collapsed, loosing over a trillion dollars in wealth. The markets for the most part recovered quickly and additional regulatory safeguards were put in place to prevent the same thing from happening again. It held the record for the most volatile day for American stocks with the largest intraday change in valuation until August of 2015 when global markets faltered over concerns about the viability of the Chinese economy, but both events were pushed way down in the rankings by the crashes of 2020 caused by the pandemic.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021


Courtesy of our faithful chronicler, we are reminded how on this day in 1896, Charles Pierre de Frรฉdy, Baron of Coubertin revived the Olympic Games, held for the first time since they were banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I upon his decree that pagan practises be eliminated.&Held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, the festival (แฝˆฮปฯ…ฮผฯ€ฮนฮฑฮบฮฟฮฏ แผˆฮณแฟถฮฝฮตฯ‚, agony—that is, contest) was a religious and athletic event imbued with a mythological origin and significance held among all Greek city states. While untrue that there was a general secession in fighting whilst the Games were held, there was a truce and pilgrims were allowed free-passage through belligerent lands to attend. Legendarily, a race of ten spirit males called the Dactyls or Daktyloi were spontaneously generated when the Great Mother Rhea dug her fingers into the earth as she prepared to give birth to Zeus. These lesser gods who taught the arts of metal smithing and healing were also happy to help entertain the infant Olympian with sports competitions. Different traditions exist with multiples thereof but the hand of the Idaean Dactyls (see also) pitted Herakles, the thumb, against his brothers Aeonius (forefinger), Epimedes (middle finger), Iasus (ring finger) and Idas (little finger).