Archive for the ‘Roman History’ Category

If you’re just joining me, you should know that I started blogging about my quick-starter world-building process a few weeks ago. You can go back and start here. Or, if you just wanted to read about the culture aspect, start here.

Like I stated above, we went over a quick and dirty culture build, starting with the building blocks: values/fears.

Once you’ve established that, this next step is pretty simple.

Let’s say you wanted your world to have a pantheon, or gods/spirits to worship.

Where would they look for them? In their values and fears.

A deity or deities can arise from each of the values, or one can encompass all of them. A single deity can be dichotomous – instilling values and fears.

Let’s look at the Romans: They valued many, many things, of course, and had dozens if not hundreds of deities of lesser or greater status, but for the sake of this article I am going to point out only a few.

The Romans possessed the greatest military force of its time. Ask any Roman in his day, and he might add that their avid worship of Mars (where we get the term “martial” of course) had as much to do with their prowess as did their physical conditioning, discipline and tactics. In any martial society, a way to replenish the population was absolutely necessary, so they venerated several deities presiding over different aspects (fertility, virility, pregnancy, sex, conception…). Feeding a population was also of utmost importance, so any deity related to the fertility of the land (Ceres as one of them, and she also held ground over life and death and rebirth of nature, and sacred law, and… you get it).

Fears can be leveraged in your culture, especially by people who are cunning enough to trick the people into thinking that whatever it is that they fear can be avoided, such as with sacrifices of people and treasures.

What if you don’t want supernatural beings acknowledged at all? How about that?

There are cultures that venerate or vilify actual historical figures (sometimes even alongside supernatural beings, imagine that! Ha!) Think of America’s Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere among others – who embodied values of strength, resilience, and the idea that men should be free. There’s the opposite, those who are infamous like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. But there could be a smaller villain in your culture, something like:

“Now you young’uns, don’t you go traipsing off up to that old cabin at wood edge yonder. That there’s the gateway on to Hell itself, old Shakey Jake butchering them youngfolk gone creeping up there and putting his curse on all round it. That’s why nothing grows in fifty paces all around. And it don’t matter he’s been dead for nigh on a century – if’n he’s done sold his soul so’s he can walk the earth again.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes you can even reach a serendipity – where you have a value that some venerate and others vilify (like Hitler who was adored by some seriously misguided people), and this is beyond awesome for you as a writer, because it means that there’s conflict! Conflict is at the heart of every story, and if you can build that into your very culture, then you can easily insert it into your characters’ lives and give them somewhere to “go” in the story’s arc.

So, what kind of values did you come up with, and how are you using them?

As anyone who is Irish, or who wants to be, knows, this Sunday, 17 MAR 2019, is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a time to turn our thoughts to Ireland, a land rich with tradition, creativity and inspiration. There are stories like The Quiet Man, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and The Crying Game. They Irish have given us the Wee Folk (see Darby O’Gill), bands like the Cranberries, (RIP Dolores O’Riordan), the Dropkick Murphys (okay, okay, they’re just a heavily-Irish-influenced band-born-in-America, but  man, they give one hell of a show!) and Flogging Molly (ditto, on both counts!). The island’s birthed horrors like banshees and U2 (okay, okay, I liked U2 up until Zooropa. But now I just run screaming). Speaking of horror, there was a particularly awesome game inspired by and taking place on the Emerald Isle, Clive Barker’s Undying (EA, if you are reading this, pull your head out of your collective rear. Single-player games are NOT dead. You’re suffering from Ford-itis: if you made something people wanted to play, they would buy it. Or let someone else finish Patrick Galloway’s story. I am sure I am not the only one with a few ideas…)

All that is just to say that it’s not just another holiday, especially not just one to tilt back plenty of emerald-tinted pints, but named for a Catholic saint (although, that’s not a bad idea…Or try a little whiskey…)

Now for the disclaimer: I am not Catholic. Not even close, and I find the word “abhorrent” to be terribly insufficient to describe the abuses and cover-ups that have occurred over the decades (probably centuries!). However, I find the whole deal with saints and their stories pretty fascinating. If you’re a regular visitor, you may have read my little spiel on Valentinus, AKA Saint Valentine, several weeks ago. First the red, and now with the Green, as I tackle Saint Patrick!

Like the rest of them, he got the rename treatment from his Latin name, Patricius. He wasn’t really even “Irish” but sent there as a missionary in the fifth century, originally coming from a place in Britain that is now known as Ravenglass (how cool is that name!?) . Among several works attributed to them, he wrote an autobiography, one in which claimed to have been kidnapped by pirates(!) and subsequently escaped, returned to his family in Britain but then ended up back in Ireland to come spread the Word and convert the Celts.

Just like Saint Valentine’s Day, there are a few symbols that evoke the holiday, but none moreso than the shamrock. Where did that come from? According to legend, Patricius himself plucked one from the ground and used it to illustrate the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And what about the whole snake thing? That one happens to be my favorite, how Patricius kicked them all (along with the other reptiles) off of the island. I imagine a reptile roundup, herding the snakes and the geckos and the komodo dragons and forcing them off of the cliff like a bunch of lemmings! Alright, so it’s far more likely that Ireland never HAD any snakes, but it’s great fodder for some good stories… I have to be fair here, too. I actually LIKE snakes, and don’t mind at all when I find a shed skin in the house, or see one slithering away just as I flip on the switch. Not really fond of finding them in the toilet bowl, still alive…

I could go on and on, but what kind of writer am if I don’t encourage you to go read about these things for yourself? Here’s a link to get you started.

And, if you’ve ever felt an “Erin go Brach” shout-it-out moment coming on, let me know below!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

As anyone with a significant other knows (maybe after several dozen hints dropped, or even outright reminders), tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, a day meant to celebrate romantic love all over the world. Yes, all that in spite of its Christian origins, just like Christmas itself and its various permutations in other cultures and traditions. Unlike Christmas, however, it’s not really a public holiday (at least not one where everyone has the day off!)

I’ve been fascinated by the day, not because of its connections with romance and love, although the chocolate thing wins me over. But then, maybe we should just have national “romance the chocolate days”. No, my interest comes more from its associations with ancient Roman history. Like Christmas and Saint Nicholas*, its origins are probably (and by “probably” I mean “very likely”, since we’re dealing with the Romans here) far more grimdark.

No one is absolutely sure of the exact origins, not least of reasons being a lot of Roman Christian martyrs went by the name Valentinus, all doing things that could roughly be associated with it. (Then again, Christianity is about love, though not romantic love** per se, so the confusion is understandable.) In one case, Emperor Claudius visited one of the Valentines in prison, conversing with him and attempted to get him to renounce his Christianity. Valentine in turn tried to convert Claudius, which earned him an execution, but not before he healed his jailer’s daughter of her blindness. Another variation features the same Valentine, only this time he converted the jailer’s household. There are others, plenty of others. The idea of cards come from these legends too, as he exchanged letters with a girl (in some cases it is again the daughter of his jailer) whom he taught to read, and signed them “Your Valentine” (or was it “Valentinus Tibi”?).

So what about that heart shape? How did it get so… weirdly simplified? The symbol itself is much older than its current connotations equivocating it with the anatomical one beating in most peoples’ chests. A seed pod or a leaf shaped was thought to inspire the symbol. In an illuminated manuscript, there’s a reference within a letter of a man giving his woman his “heart” although it looks less like a heart and more like a wedge of apple and some cite it as one of the first examples of the symbol meaning “love”.

Now, what REALLY symbolizes love for me… well, let’s just say…

You can keep your Valentine’s Day cards.

Gimme chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

 

*One of my favorite stories about Saint Nicholas is how he resurrected the remains of missing children who were butchered and put into a barrel to cure and later be sold as “ham” by the greedy butcher during a famine. Nicholas suspected the butcher and proved him the murderer. He saves a lot of innocents from being executed or caught other officials in acts of corruption. That would make an interesting set of detective stories, if anyone is so inclined to write them– Saint Nick, P.I.

**Read Song of Solomon from the Bible and tell me that’s “just an allegory of Christ’s love for the church”. First, it’s Old Testament. Second, it reads a LOT like ancient erotic poetry from the region at that time (said another way, it would be like making a porno and said it was symbolic of chaste love). Third, considering its namesake, don’t forget the conditions that gave him his life. Christians weren’t ever meant to be prudes and married couples should fully celebrate intimacy and love.