violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (books)
Putting this on Dreamwidth as well as Tumblr:

So I’ve been thinking about soulmate AUs. The kind where your soulmate’s name is written on your skin. How would that start? When would that start?

Not with the beginning of writing. For centuries, in China, in Sumer, in Egypt, in Mesoamerica, writing was used for accounting or religion, and nothing else. Most people would never be able write their names or recognize them if they were written. Only royalty, gods, and perhaps some property owners would.

Individual scribes might have had signatures. For that matter, for all we know individual Paleolithic artists might have had signatures. But most people wouldn’t. What would happen the first time someone was born with an unknown symbol on their hand?

Probably it would be an isolated mystery. Remember, in most of these scenarios there’s no actual guarantee that you’ll ever meet your soulmate (although most people seem to end up with one from the same general area. Which is statistically unlikely). No one would know what it meant. Maybe people with symbols would be seen as special, or divine, or demonic.

And then it might start happening more often - or stop happening, if writing stopped being used (like in Greece after 1200 BCE). But most of the time still no one would know what the symbol meant. And most people wouldn’t have symbols, because most people’s soulmates wouldn’t know how to write.

(Sometimes I think the theory is that people would have a thumbprint instead of a soulmate mark? But this would be basically useless for matching purposes - you would have no idea where to start. So from that point of view the first people with actual names would just have them instead of the thumbprints that everyone else had and didn’t know the meaning of.

Incidentally, using thumbprints for recognition isn’t universal in non-literate societies either. European society didn’t realize that fingerprints were unique until the late 19th century. In a lot of places, they weren’t used until people were already using signatures, and needed an option for illiterate people. Also, while they are an identifying mark, they really have no relation at all to your name. For most of human existence, having a physical marker of your identity really wasn’t that important.)

Only somewhere with at least moderately widespread literacy would someone be able to look at a mark and go “Oh, that’s my friend Imhotep’s name. What a coincidence!” And only somewhere with widespread literacy would Imhotep’s soulmate also be able to write their name. Most early languages were logographic, and in cuneiform names specifically were almost always logographic, so you wouldn’t even be able to sound it out.

Phoenician (starting 1050 BCE) was the first widespread writing system, and was simple enough and common enough that sailors could write in it. It was also the first phoenetic script which would allow you to easily approximate the pronounciation of the writing on your skin.

But still, most people wouldn’t have symbols. Most people would never meet anyone with their name on their skin.

This would be a problem in AUs where you never feel sexual attraction to anyone who isn’t your soulmate. Imagine religion and culture in a world where almost everyone is functionally asexual.

How long would it take, until someone realized that if people’s names matched up, they had some kind of bond? How long would it take before this was a generally accepted theory?

Also, how long before this was seen as at all important, given that most people with the status to know how to read would also have arranged marriages?

But once it was generally accepted, suddenly literacy would become a lot more important. People would demand to learn how to write. (Some people would learn that their soulmate’s name wasn’t in the local writing system. What happens then?) People would want to give their children more unique names (ancient Rome had about thirty given names for men total, and they named their daughters “first Julia” and “second Julia.”)

Anyway, around ancient Rome or so, when there would not only be a lot of literate people but also a lot of people able to recognize foreign alphabets, suddenly there would be a huge drive for 1) more literacy and 2) better long distance communication, so you could find the Caius or Ξανθίππη or שָׂרָה who had your name on their skin. And as this idea became more and more widespread, so would this desire. The same thing would be happening in China and Ethiopia and India.

This would revolutionize world history. There would be strong motivations both for exploration and for making peace with foreign cultures. Everyone in Rome with a Jewish soulmate would want to make sure they wouldn’t be killed before they could meet them. Everyone with a soulmate in a strange language would want to know at least what language it was.

Come to think of it, these are also all good reasons for why people wouldn’t believe in soulmates. Your soulmate can’t be one of the hated barbarians, so that symbol doesn’t mean anything!

And that’s leaving out the fact that lots of people still wouldn’t have a soulmate who could write, and completely ignoring the existence of polyamory.

So getting to a modern society with everyone just knowing that that was your soulmate’s name would involve a really complicated history, probably nothing at all like ours. And there would be huge pressure to ignore the existence of soulmates at all.

No conclusions here, just taking an illogical premise way too logically.

Fragment 31

May. 3rd, 2014 06:42 pm
violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (Default)
And this, which I could queue on tumblr when I wasn't feeling fragile and then went ack when I was about to repost it but look, people, I know Greek.

Sappho; translated by, um, me

That man seems equal to the gods
to me, who sits across from you
and from so close can hear your sweet

and lovely laughter, as they force
my heart to shudder in my chest.
For when I briefly look at you,
speaking is lost,

instead my tongue sticks, subtly
a fire runs under my skin,
my eyes see nothing, roaring fills
my ears,

cold sweat pours over me, trembling
grips all of me, and pale as grass
I am; I seem to be so close
to dying.

But all must be endured, since
a poor and [


Apr. 17th, 2014 02:55 pm
violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (Default)
Charlotte Smith

Oh! for imperial Polydamnia’s art,
Which to bright Helen was in Egypt taught,
To mix with magic power the oblivious draught
Of force to staunch the bleeding of the heart,
And to Care’s worn and hollow cheek impart
The smile of happy youth, uncursed with thought.
Potent indeed that charm that could appease
Affection’s ceaseless anguish, doomed to weep
O’er the cold grave; or yield even transient ease
By soothing busy Memory to sleep!
- Around me those who surely must have tried
Some charm of equal power, I daily see,
But still to me Oblivion is denied,
There’s no Nepenthe, now, on earth for me.


Apr. 16th, 2014 06:29 pm
violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (Default)
H. D.

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the luster as of olives
where she stands,
And the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees unmoved,
God’s daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

On account

Jan. 25th, 2014 11:43 pm
violsva: Geoffrey Tennant, offering a skull (have a skull)
Washed dishes
Called in prescriptions
Researched archaeological digs (OMG!)
Sent letters
Wrote about 300 words on a couple things, and I'll do more in a sec


Dec. 25th, 2012 11:51 am
violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (Default)
OMG I got TWO Yuletide stories!

La chasse à la renarde (The Fox-Hunt), which is unbelievably beautiful. I can't describe how much I love it. It's just gorgeous, and the language. And very Woolfian.

I feel about Virginia Woolf the way seven year old boys feel about Wayne Gretzky. And this, this is her, it's just amazing.

And A House is not a Home, which is simply sweet. I like Artemis being righteous. It's nice.
violsva: Sidney Paget illustration of Holmes and Watson, seated, with the caption "Cut out the poetry, Watson" (Holmes)
So, I seem to be writing a novel-length Holmes fic. Which, you know, is exactly what I needed when I'm also signed up for Yuletide.

So it's kind of huge, made up of lots of little cases, and this particular part/chapter is 6000 words long and I've only just got them meeting the suspects. Conversations, why do we have them? It'd be much easier to do this in stichomythia* and monologues.

Okay, maybe not. I've got the monologues down, though.

I don't know. If Holmes isn't talking to me maybe I'll get on to Mary's part, she seems to be more amenable.

Or, you know, I could work on the fic with a deadline. That'd be a good idea.

*Stichomythia is a fixed pattern in Greek drama, a debate consisting of two characters alternating single lines.
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Greek tragedies come in threes. Playwrights were invited to have their plays performed at the City Dionysia, a huge festival in honour of Dionysus where Athens showed off how cultured it was. This is important: Athenian values are being defended to outsiders, at least a little. Comedies were performed at smaller, local festivals, and they have a lot more jokes about politics.

People were paid to attend the theatre in Athens (starting around the deaths of Euripides and Sophocles, or a bit before, I think). It'd almost be worth the lack of indoor plumbing and the horrific sex roles.

Greek theatre was not like modern theatre - there was lots of singing, and the conditions of staging were entirely different, but that's a huge tangent and I'll talk about it if it becomes relevant. The origins of tragedy are something lots of people talk about but no one actually knows anything about, so we'll drop that too. These are the basics.

Every playwright got one full day for his plays. The tragedies were performed one after another, with short breaks in between. After the three tragedies came the satyr play, which used tragic meter to make lots of dirty jokes about some of the same themes the trilogy covered. Right after the death of Ajax, when you're still all shell-shocked and horrified, you get to watch a bunch of satyrs getting drunk while wearing giant strap-ons. This is what Aristotle called catharsis.

This is entirely different from the modern experience, even of Greek plays, since we only have one surviving complete trilogy, Aeschylus's Oresteia, which is missing its satyr play.

Aeschylus's trilogies (we think) were all focused on one myth each, like the Oresteia. Later on, playwrights mostly wrote individual plays about different myths, and then presented three together as a trilogy. We have three plays by Sophocles about Odysseus, but he wrote them for three different festivals.

So what is the Oresteia?

Cut for cannibalism, matricide, infanticide, filicide, mariticide, and war. )

You have no idea how many times I typed 'Troy' as 'Tory' in this post.


May. 4th, 2012 08:45 pm
violsva: full bookshelf with ladder (Default)
Names, right. Let's see if Windows bluescreens again before I can get this post up.

We have extant works attributed to three surviving playwrights:
Aeschylus c. 513 BCE - c. 455 BCE
Sophocles c. 495 - 405
Euripides c. 480 - 406
However, Prometheus Bound was almost certainly not written by Aeschylus and Rhesus was probably not written by Euripides. We've got no idea who did write them, though.

They've all got very different personalities, at least according to Aristophanes (author of our only surviving comedy from the period). Greek Old Comedy was all about making fun of politics and real people, and Aristophanes absolutely loved Euripides as a target. Also Socrates.

You see, the fifth century in Athens was a time of major philosophical changes, including the full establishment of democracy,* and the upper classes (who were the ones with time and leisure to write) spent most of their time complaining about them. So anyone with any attachment to the new philosophical ideas, like Euripides, was in for it. (Socrates, on the other hand, seems from Plato's accounts to have spent a lot of time attacking democracy, although he didn't write anything himself so we aren't sure).

Athens is the city in Greece we know the most about, because of all the surviving writings. On the other hand, we therefore mostly just have the perspectives of upper class Athenian men, at least from this period. So we don't know how typical it was. We know Sparta was entirely different, but the rest of Greece seems to have thought Sparta was weird too. But that doesn't mean the rest of Greece was just like Athens.

So what was Athens like? By the time Euripides was writing, Athens was the centre of a major maritime empire called the Delian league (after the island of Delos where they originally kept the treasury before moving it to Athens), which was originally started to stop the Persians from coming back but which quickly became mostly a source of income for Athens, and also protection for the islands that their grain supply came from. They refused to admit it was an empire but insisted upon having a say in everyone's government and didn't allow anyone to leave, much like America today.

The growth of Athenian power was a serious threat to Sparta as the former power, and to everyone who didn't want to sign up for the Delian League, and tensions grew until 430 when war started. It wasn't constant; there was occasional peace and interruptions for plague and poorly thought out foreign campaigns, but eventually in 404 Sparta won, and besieged Athens until they agreed to their terms. Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine has a wonderfully heartrending description of the Siege of Athens.

The upper classes had very little power officially and lots of power practically, as usually happens. In 411 they tried to overthrow the democracy and failed, and then at the end of the war they colluded with Sparta in getting rid of it. This failed too, eventually. It turns out if you give 30 people absolute power they act like assholes. Who would have thought?

But that's after the tragedians stopped writing.

Athens was a very multicultural city, although the non-Athenians had no say in government. It was a slave society - the concept of "paid servant" dates back to the Middle Ages and not before. Slaves could be from anywhere in the Mediterranean - usually they were war captives. People from all over Greece, and the Greek diaspora, came to Athens to do business, the way people normally move to big cities. They were called metics - resident foreigners. Freed slaves also went in this class.

The ideal in Athens was that women stayed home and were not seen on the public street - not until "she's old enough to be taken for someone's mother instead of someone's wife." They married at fifteen, didn't see or talk to any men except their husband and family, and went out only for religious occasions (where they had major roles).

Of course, this didn't work well for most people. Poor families couldn't afford to have a mostly unproductive family member. Widows even engaged in commerce. And slave women went everywhere. Greek ladies couldn't go to the marketplace, so they sent slaves. Greek wives couldn't be seen by their husbands' guests, but prostitutes were hired to attend dinner parties. Metic women sometimes had more freedom than citizens, and might be well educated. They often ended up as the mistresses of citizens specifically because they were intelligent and entertaining and well-read - even though in a wife this was discouraged.

And then the playwrights wrote women like Medea and Clytemnestra and Antigone and Electra and Alcestis and Deianira and Iphigeneia, not to mention all the goddesses. All these women are respectable wives or daughters, except maybe Medea, and yet they have unbelievably clear and mostly sympathetic voices. Even the evil ones. Even when they are arguing against the authorities.

*Such as it was. Athenian democracy allowed all adult free citizen men to go to the assembly in person and vote. Citizen was soon defined as "someone with two citizen parents," so there was no way to become a citizen unless you could get a majority to vote you in (or, later, buy your way in). Freed slaves? No. Foreigners? No. Fourth generation descendants of immigrants? No. Women? Yeah right.


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