Where do Monsters Come From? Tracing the Leviathan from Ugarit to Final Fantasy

Rounding out a busy week for the blog (who would have thought that Aegean stuff in Doctor Who would have been so popular?), I have another article up on Eurogamer. This one’s a bit of a sequel to my one looking at the afterlife of Ba’al and traces the sea monster Leviathan from Ugaritic poem to triple-A video-game.

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http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-09-30-where-do-monsters-come-from

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A Visual Guide to the Aegean Bronze Age in Doctor Who

Most people probably don’t associate Doctor Who with the Aegean Bronze Age. I mean, why would you? They’ve only done two stories set there and one is entirely missing from the archives. But when you delve a bit more closely, there’s a thread of Bronze Age stuff running through from the very first episode and lasting at least until the end of seventies.

Here’s the TARDIS in the very first episode of Doctor Who, in November 1963. Isn’t it lovely?

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And that funny-looking chair is a replica of the stone one found in the ‘throne room’ at the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete. Continue reading

Breath of the Wild and telling stories through archaeology

I’ve been planning to write something about the archaeology of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for a while now (ever since my post on cyclical time in Zelda), and recently Eurogamer asked me to write something for their website. So here’s my debut as a freelance games feature writer. Enjoy!

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-07-27-zelda-breath-of-the-wild-archaeology

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Unlocking the Secrets of Karpathia the Keybearer

This week marks 65 years since Michael Ventris announced his decipherment of Linear B, so it seems like a good opportunity to write about something from the tablets that I’ve long been curious about.

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The Linear B documents from Mycenaean Greece are notoriously laconic, mostly consisting of accounts and administrative records. Among these, even the slightest glimpse of personal character or hint of drama is enough to make a tablet stand out. My absolute favourite is Ep704, from the palace of Pylos. This tablet is mainly a record of land-allocations to temple personnel at Sphagianes, but the last line throws up some intriguing questions.

Karpathia the Keybearer holds two communal (plots); although she is obliged to work these two, she does not work them.

Continue reading

Imagining the Future in Bricks: The Designs of Lego Space (Part 2 – the 90s)

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Last time we left it with the transition into the 90s and the beginning of the controversial neon era of Lego space. This is where it gets difficult for me to analyse things at all objectively. Although I had inherited some early Classic Space from my uncle and had picked up the odd small Futuron and Space Police set, it was with the early 90s sets that I was the right age to really get obsessed in a big way. Everything about these sets is, for me, coloured by nostalgia and immense affection. For a lot of the Lego fan community, this is a ‘silver age’, a come-down after the heights of Classic Space, but nothing will ever supplant the holy trinity of M:Tron, Ice Planet and the second Blacktron theme in my affections. Even so, let’s try and look at them as analytically as we can. Continue reading

Imagining the Future in Bricks: The Designs of Lego Space (Part 1 – 70s and 80s)

Space Lego.

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Have there ever been two words that go together quite so evocatively and conjure such boundless possibility? From 1978 to 1999 Lego released an unbroken sequence of original space sets, more than twenty years’ worth of spaceships, bases, rovers and robots. I was lucky enough to grow up right in the middle of this, a geeky kid as fascinated by space and science fiction as I was by knights and castles. Needless to say, I had a lot of space Lego.

I’ve written elsewhere about my own experience of a childhood lived through Lego bricks, about how those little plastic pieces lent physical reality and material texture to my imagination, how they continue to encode memories of my early life. What I’m interested in here is the world of Lego Space itself, and how it drew from outside inspiration. These ship designs and imagined spaces that mean so much to me – loosely defined but vividly depicted – where did they come from?  What were the influences on the small group of predominantly Danish designers who created them? Continue reading

The Afterlife of Baʿal

(or, What This Ugaritian Storm-God Looks Like Now Will Astound You!)

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Ba’al on a stele from Ugarit, now in the Louvre

 

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Reconstruction of the Temple of Ba’al on the acropolis of Ugarit. From Callot 2011

 

Ever since excavations began at the Syrian city of Ugarit in 1929, the importance of the god Baʿal has been clear. Among the first Ugaritic texts discovered at the site were mythological tablets recounting the legends of this god; Baʿal’s temple was excavated in prime position on the city’s acropolis, close to that of his father Dagan. While the supreme god El occupied the pinnacle of the Ugaritian pantheon, as more and more ritual and religious documents have been recovered from Ugarit, it’s become unquestionable that the city’s people felt a particular fondness and affinity for Baʿal, the archetypal king who had his palace on Mount Saphon overlooking the city.

But Baʿal was not solely an Ugaritian god and knowledge of him was far from lost with the destruction of the city around 1176 BC. Through the distorting filters of hostile Judaeo-Christian writings and the medieval and later traditions of demonology and the occult which reinterpreted them, Baʿal has enjoyed quite an afterlife which has taken him from Canaanite king and storm-god to lurid demon in the court of Satan. In this incarnation he’s spread through popular culture. It’s a massive amount of cultural baggage to have built up even before those first Ugaritic texts were discovered. Continue reading