Friday, September 30, 2016

How to Get on Your High Horse

Just a quick thing I noticed one day, reading one of the many books on the Scytho-Siberian cultures: (both "Amazons" by Adrienne Mayor and "World of the Scythians" by Renate Rolle mention this)
How does one mount a horse if he's not using stirrups?
Something I didn't know - that the ancient Greeks mounted their horses by clutching at the mane and swinging, or using a lance as a pole. (this is according to Xenophon's detailed instructions)
Scythians (as we know via Herodotus) trained their horses to kneel on command.

We even have lovely depictions (probably) of horse training from the Chertomlyk mound:


Reading about this, I remembered the "Alexander" movie. See, his horse Bucephalus was said to be of a Scythian breed. And there's something interesting, if you watch two different scenes of Alexander mounting Bucephalus:
Young Alexander hops on the Greek way: (around 2:54)

While older Alexander riding to the battle of Gaugamela mounts the Scythian way: (from 0:45)

It could well be a coincidence, but I like it nonetheless.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wondrous Women With Swords

Just a quick one today. Yesterday we got a trailer for the Wonder Woman movie:

I've never read any WW comics, I'm not a fan, but it looks surprisingly entertaining.
One thing that caught my eye was the sword she wields.

Now, during her first movie appearance in Batman vs. Superman, WW had a different sword, which I didn't like a lot:

It looks vaguely late-medieval or early renaissance, maybe inspired by the cinquedea:
Why would Wonder Woman have a sword like that, what historical sense does it make? Of course, the handle is WAY too long and looks pretty stupid.

Her new sword looks like this:

Now, by itself it's not mindblowing, but a few things about it intrigue me. Firstly, the shape of the guard reminds me of this sword from grave Delta in Grave Circle B at Mycenae: 

The handle and pommel are more reminiscent of (mostly fantasy invented) twisted "celtic" hilts, but the general shape isn't too far from some Scytho-Siberian swords. 
Now, Wonder Woman is an Amazon, so some Scythian influence would be appropriate. 
Looking closer at the guard's dragon heads, they really do remind me quite a bit of these Scythian dragons from Central Asia:

Here's a close comparison:

If that's intentional, that's quite neat. Good to see Holywood designers take inspiration from historical designs. (Honestly, I wish someone did WW entirely dressed in this style, not the comicbook nonsensical "armour". But I fully understand why they went with the established style.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Swords and Orcs

It's been a while! Months even. I'm still working on Six Ages, so I don't have anything not under the death spell of an NDA I could show.
That said, two supplements for The One Ring RPG have been released fairly recently (Horse Lords of Rohan and Erebor) and I did a few pieces for them:

(goblin man and half-orc)

(Angrenithil - "Moon Iron", a sword made by both dwarven and elven smiths)

(a dwarven masked helmet)

(a war horn made of a drake's skull)

© 2016 Sophisticated Games and Cubicle 7 Entertainment Middle-earth, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the characters, items, events and places therein are trademarks or registered trademarks of The Saul Zaentz Company d/b/a Middle-earth Enterprises and are used under license by Sophisticated Games Ltd and their respective licensees.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Throwback Inktober

I'd love to participate in Inktober, but it's hard to find time, as always.
I do lots of inking for Six Ages, but of course can't show any of it. :))
So here's something I did last year, for HeroQuest Glorantha.

And a bonus color painting I did for 13th Age: Glorantha.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Herakles-Nergal, meet Herakles-Kanishka!

Two swords

This morning I was thumbing through my copy of Costume of the Ancient Eurasia by Sergei A. Yatsenko and a certain piece of sculpture caught my eye:

This is identified as "Nergal from Hatra". 

Found in Iraq, obviously Parthian, it immediately reminded me of a statue in the Government Museum of India, from the Mathura school:

This is usually recognized as a statue of Kanishka, the great king of the Kushan empire.

Now, they might not look that similar at first. What stood out to me especially was the sword! Why? It's a Central Asian type of sword, sometimes called Sarmatian type 1, believed to be derived from Chinese western Han dynasty swords of an earlier period. (often found in Sarmatian graves, typically with jade fittings - disc pommel, chunky box-like crosspiece, a scabbard slide and another piece for the bottom of the scabbard)

The scabbard slide isn't apparent in the Hatra sculpture, perhaps due to poorer ability of the sculptor (it's definitely less realistic and finely carved), but otherwise the form is very close. Especially the pommel, which in both cases ISN'T a disc (as is typical for the Sarmatian/Han swords), but some kind of curved shape, sometimes interpreted as an animal (snake or bird) head.

The basic form of the costume is similar, but that's not surprising between two cultures with a nomadic tradition.

I'm not the first one to point out the similarities either, John M. Rosenfield in The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans draws a comparison between Kanishka and this statue of a Parthian officer (also from Hatra), emphasizing the importance of the sword being displayed:

Same could be said for king Uthal's statue:

Nergal? Herakles? What?

I tried to find out more about why this relief is thought to be depicting Nergal. The other important thing I noticed about the figure - he also carried an axe.

In her paper titled "My Lord With His Dogs", Lucinda Dirven says:
A great many of these shrines are centred around the cult of a Herakles-figure, who was worshipped in Hatra under the name of Nergal.
Now, Nergal is usually worshipped like so:
 Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle. He has also been called "the king of sunset". Nergal evolved from a war god to a god of the underworld. In the mythology, this occurred when Enlil and Ninlil gave him the underworld.

I've not heard of an aspect associated with Herakles before. Wiki says there was a solar aspect of him as well, which I'll have to beleive. Still, nothing that would suggest an axe attribute to me. (axes, clubs or maces are typically attributes of thunder gods, or the non-thunderous serpent slayers. This would make sense for a Heraklean aspect, not so much for Nergal.)
The pronaos of the shrine yielded a plain bronze plate with the inscription nrgl klbʾ. 23 The cover of an offering box representing a dog in relief was, according to the fragmentary inscription, made for Nergal.24 The base of a statuette of which only the bare feet, lion skin and club remain, has an inscription that dedicates the object to nrgl klbʾ. 25 In the same shrine, an alabaster statuette of a dog was found, with an inscription on the plinth mentioning three dogs (fig. 1).26 Although Nergal is not mentioned in this text, it is probable that the dog refers to his cult. The same holds true for a small altar with a representation on the front of a male figure raising an axe.2
Lion skin and a club sound appropriately Heraklean. Perhaps it was through the lion skin that the connection to Nergal was made? (Nergal being depicted as a lion)

Dirven then follows with:
The dogs have a snake for a tail, and from the collar around their neck hangs a bell. In addition to the dogs, the god is associated with snakes and scorpions. Of special note are the two snakes that rise like a crescent from the god’s shoulders.
I'm most likely reaching, but various thundergods are associated with serpents (for obvious reasons) and snakes, some even with scorpions. (Frex: A Czech "weather saying":  "Na sv. Jiří vylézají hadi a štíři." = On st. George's day the snakes and scorpions crawl out.)

And what of Kanishka and his massive mace?  I see both the axe and mace as divine weapons (swords representing the earthly warrior weapon). The mace is described by Rosenfield (p.179) as a "makara", referring to the carved metal head, depicting a monster.
The Makara possessed a dual nature in early Indian art. On one hand, it was the emblem of the fructifying principle inherent in moisture - a king of water demons, on the other it was the emblem of passion and death.
Rosenfield then lists several examples of Makara bringing destruction, as well as another aspect of the club being a symbol of justice. (held by the ruler)

Again, I might be reaching, but I'm reminded of the duality of Thunder Gods' axes, hammers and maces in various IE cultures - beside the destructive thunderous use of the weapon, the other end of it often had other effects:
- The Balts would throw axes in the fields, put them in the path of newlyweds and under their bed before their first night together. (all to increase fertility)
- In the Voroněž region, Slavs would throw an axe over their herd and into a fire, to ensure fertility of cows and also their safety.
- In the Ukraine, axes were used in birthing rituals and later put into newborn's cradles.

And let's not forget that Thór's hammer Mjölnir and Irish Dagda's club could also raise the dead!
(all examples from Perun the Thundergod by Michal Théra)

Where am I going with this?

It would be quite interesting if Kanishka, famous for his efforts in spreading of Buddhism, had himself sculpted as a thunder deity.

Then again, we know Herakles made it into the Buddhist pantheon as Vajrapani, guardian of Buddha himself!

This depiction is Gandharan, from the 2nd century AD. So perhaps it's not that much of a reach.

In summary: I noticed two swords looked kinda similar. Turns out I wasn't seeing things and that while we might end up with a bit of a divine goulash, looking for these connections is fun. :)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What's in the Box?!

Last week I found a box full of old drawings of mine. Most of these were drawn 15-13 years ago. (I was 14-16). It's quite fun to see where this whole art thing started.

On top there were notebooks full of roleplaying stuff. I used to DM for our group, so there are many maps and I also drew scenes from the adventures we played through.

 (this was a really fun game, we played while hiking. So no dice rolls, just roleplaying. I didn't even have a story prepared in advance, had to make it up on the go. And yes, I was obviously into Mike Mignola's artwork. :))

This is a map of the world we played in. Yeah, a single continent (more like an island) with all the climates we could ask for. :D Classic.

I sure went through the angsty teenager phase too. 

My learning years, this was an attempt to (very poorly) ape Ron Tiner. 

This is pure gold. :D I had no idea who Drizzt was, but a gaming magazine mentioned he used two scimitars and was something like an elf. Obviously, his face has to be in shadow (I don't know what he's supposed to look like! Red eyes though.). Why the blue feathery cape, or why he's sitting on a mouldy dragon skeleton and a pile of gold? No idea. This one is probably one of the oldest bits in the box.

A comic I started drawing while visiting my grandmother. As far as I understand the story, it's a cyberpunk world where the Inuit people took over thanks to some kind of technology or drug they invented or discovered. I think I started reading Shadowrun at the time. :)


A Hellboy comic I never finished. The story (as I remember it) was about Hellboy and an undead knight teaming up to tame a hellhound that escaped from Hell in the 15th century. It starts with a very James Bond-like moment, Hellboy is chasing a shaman through a dimensional portal and the spell backfires, exploding the shaman all over the place. (Hellboy is fine, of course, he always falls everywhere.)

To finish up, here's a silly doodle thing. No idea why the sound of an arm being hacked off would be "SLAP". 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Writing With Responsibility

For a while now, writing and re-writing the script for Oak and Thunder, I've been wrestling with the main character. Specifically (and I'd say this is a common issue) with her sex being different from my own.
Can I do this? Will she end up a caricature, do I even have a chance of empathing out what a woman would think, do and say in the situations I describe?
After reading quite a few "How to"s and various writing guides specifically aimed at this problem, I decided not to worry about it too much. Of course I'm reading female writers' work, of course I will ask women for feedback, but ultimately I want to write a solid character, giving it the same treatment as all the other ones.

All this research however allowed me to see how many different (sometimes quite contradictory) ideas there are out there, about writing female and minority characters in stories.
Some of them stood out to me as reasonable or useful - chief example among these was Ursula Le Guin's method/philosophy. I highly recommend her collected essays - "The Language of the Night":

Now, in OaT, my main character is a woman, her best friend would be probably described as non-heterosexual and many characters in the story are not "white".
The thing is, none of these choices were made (primarily) for the sake of inclusivity, being progressive, or activism. They sort of happened, mostly springing out of the setting I chose or from myself. 
My primary goal is to write an interesting story, not a political statement.
"Recent American SF has been full of stories tackling totaliarianism, nationalism, overpopulation, pollution, prejudice, racism, sexism, militarism, and so on: all the "relevant" problems...But what worries me is that so many of these stories and books have been written in a savagely self-righteous tone, a tone that implies that there's an answer, and why can't all you damn fools out there see it? Well, I call this escapism: a sensationalist raising of a real question, followed by a quick evasion of the weight and pain and complexity involved in really, experientially, trying to understand and cope with that question....If science fiction has a major gift to offer literature, I think it is just this: the capacity to face an open universe. Physically open, psychically open. No door shut."
Le Guin, a very vocal feminist, of course wrote some books held up as examples of SF activism - " The Left Hand of Darkness" among them, a story set in a world of androgynous beings who develop temporary sex+gender only at the time of mating. It would seem she's not fond of easy answers, of black and white interpretations of the world. (her essays on Tolkien and his concept of good and evil are great, a firm rebuttal to anyone claiming T.'s work uses a simplistic and childish sense of morality)
"The recent fantasy best-seller Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a serious book, unmistakably sincere. It is also intellectually, ethically and emotionally trivial. The author has not thought things through. He is pushing one of the beautifully packaged Instant Answers we specialize in this country. He says that if you think you can fly very fast, why, then you can fly very fast. And if you smile, all is well.
What we need in literature today are vast philosophic horizons-horizons seen from mastheads, from airplanes; we need the most ultimate, the most fearsome, the most fearless "Why?" and "What's next?"...What is truly alive stops before nothing and ceaselessly seeks answers to absurd, childish questions. Let the answers be wrong, let the philosophy be mistaken - errors are more valuable than truths; truth is of the machine, error is alive; truth reassures, error disturbs. And if answers be impossible of attainment, all the better! Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow's stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud."
(emphasis mine) 

In other parts of the book, Le Guin warns wannabe-writers from becoming preachy. What we write comes from us, it's inevitable our view of the world, ethics etc. will seep into it. It's the easily given answers to real questions and problems that lead to preachiness and eventually - propaganda.

From "Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin":
"I have often been told by critics that my writing is too didactic, my adult books, that the moral is too clear. And I'm always embarrassed and afraid they're right, because the book as I wrote it was sort of an argument to me, and when it's written, it all sort of becomes clearer. And so it seems perhaps more didactic, and less a sort of an ongoing argument which usually it was, while I was writing it. I never wrote a book, ever, with the intention of teaching something...Some of my stories are openly polemical, but that's a bit different, art and polemics can go together."
and in another answer:
"Art is action...Any practice, any art, has moral resonances: it's going to be good, bad or indifferent. That's the only way I can conceive of writing - by assuming it's going to affect other people in a moral sense. As any act will do...Taken as a whole, overt moralizing is not an admirable quality in a work of art, and is usually self-defeating...I don't want to get on hobbyhorses in my fiction, saying that this is "good" and this is "bad"."
I'd very much like to avoid moralizing and preaching  in my own stuff, as well as criticizing or shunning the work of others for not doing so.

I think everyone should make whatever they think is right and good. And if not create, then support, help others create whatever it is you enjoy or whatever you feel is important.
(at this point I listed a few things being made where I thought they were "doin' it 'rong", but then I took my own advice and deleted it. Judge not...etc.)

To finish this post, I'm borrowing a quote from Nuno Miranda Ribeiro:
(from comments on this blog:
"I think that Ursual K. Le Guin, and don't trust me fully, because as someone who admires her, I am biased, does not try to think for the reader. She uses her view on society, of course, but what she does is what she calls (and I trust her, because I admire her) "thought experiments", where she, by the artifice of science fiction, creates situations (societies, civilizations, moments in history) where elements of human nature, of the dynamic of society, of the complexity of gender relationships, can be looked upon. But then she never tells the reader, "this is what you should think about it".
I would like to make this my approach to writing, as much as I can.