Wednesday, February 17, 2016

History Mystery

1,500 words down now of Daniel pontificating about the "heretic Pharaoh" Akhenaten and the falcon-headed god Horus. So far I've name-dropped Phillip Glass, John Adams (the composer), Steve Martin, Mother Theresa, Peter Cushing Doug McClure and Caroline Munroe, made passing reference to Einstein and Mussolini, and of course mentioned Amenhoptep III, Tutankhamen, Nefertiti, and Smenkhkare, as well as Isis and Osiris. Oh, yes, and Merlin, the Bourbon kings of France, those lippy Hapsburgs, cribbed a little from James Randi, and obliquely hinted at "Doctor Atomic" -- an opera I was privileged to attend at its world premier.

Let Teal'c make a few Teal'c-isms, let Jack make a few jokes, nearly (but cut it) referenced the Broad Street Pump, directly quoted from the novelty song "King Tut," continued my theme of depicting Samantha Carter as a fan of "Creature Features" (Science Fiction B movies, especially from the 50's and 60's), showed Daniel beginning to rethink some of his positions...

Yeah, you can cover a lot of ground in 1,500 words.

The chapter plan is 3,000 words of "Briefing Room" stuff, basically, "What do we know and what are we going to do next?" And 2,000 words of my little Minoan fantasy, which is being really difficult (I decided I needed a lot more look and feel so I read up on Minoan arts and architecture. And, well, the look is very pleasant and natural, open sunny rooms painted with dolphin frescoes and basically it all clashes with the idea of regular tributes of Athenian youths getting sacrificed to the bull-headed monster that lurks in the center of a dark underground labyrinth.)

And, yeah, so I do have some defense other than work and other distractions as to why this has been the longest wait between updates yet, by several orders.

Tangentially related to the above:

Do you know how difficult it is to write recent history? What I mean is, my last fanfic was set in 1995. This one is set in nominally 2001-2004 (the release dates of the Tomb Raider games and the season of Stargate SG1 don't line up quite the way I would like them.)

And, yeah, a lot of stuff is relatively easy to track. Top music hits, recent movie releases, general fashion (usually by the decade, with fractions harder to come by), political news (who is in power, who is at war). Local hotels, air schedules (for all your ellenjay needs), specific items of clothing or technology...well, basically you have to drill backwards for those. Start with what you think is around and popular, then research item by item to try to get good dates out of it.

And deal with the fact that the majority of your search hits don't care when the thing in question came out or when the slang in question was current. All they care is it was there when they wrote the web page. Dating it usually requires other sources.

And once again, reality is more unbelievable than fiction is allowed (to paraphrase, rather, to massacre Mark Twain.) Turns out a Minoan king could very much war with and later demand tribute from Athens. Because not only does the town go back a lot further than the Hellenic era (in fact, continuously inhabited for at least 5,000 years), it was also called Athens far before the classical era.

Well, sort of. It was named and associated with the goddess Athena, who appears to have been around in the Mycenaean age. She may have derived from a Minoan snake-goddess, for that matter. But the form of the name...! Again, few references really care when "Athena" was called "Athena." It suffices to them to say there was a clearly related name in the period under discussion.

This is the writer's problem. It is one thing to describe a current-day historian or archaeologist theorizing about "Athens." It is quite another to write from the point of view of a Mycenaean and try to figure out what they called anything.

Well, eventually everything is translation convention anyhow. You aren't usually writing in Linear A, and the language of the reader is used not just for verbs and particles but even class nouns; "food" or "clothing" when not speaking of a specific historical delicacy or habiliment. 

This extends beyond historical language, of course. Works in contemporary English usually say "Germany" and "China" despite those nations having entirely different names for themselves within their own language. In the well-trod areas of history, one tends to use the familiar (often Greek or Latin) names for peoples as far separated from those cultures as Persian or Egyptian monarchs. The philosopher Kǒng Fūzǐ is usually named with the coinage of a 16th-century Jesuit as "Confucius." Basically, unless one is writing for a specialized audience or needs to make a particular point, one uses the form of the names the audience is most likely to have encountered previously (even if they may not be entirely correct).

The trouble comes with reader expectations. Present them with a name that seems to them to be too modern and it will yank them out of the narrative. So even though "Athenian" is defensible for numerous reasons both in usage and even in actual historical linguistics, it is likely to strike my reader as ahistorical to my Minoan setting.


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