The Writing Systems of The Legend of Zelda

I wrote a little while ago about the storytelling of the Legend of Zelda games, flushed with excitement for the then-forthcoming latest instalment ‘Breath of the Wild’. Well, that came out five weeks ago now, and I’m still playing it. As anyone who’s glanced at a video games review site recently will know, it’s very, very good. At some point I’ll write something about the archaeology of Breath of the Wild, which I find fascinating, but for now I want to bring all this Zelda talk a bit closer to the day job and talk about writing systems.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Zelda series has always placed game mechanics and fun over world-building and internal consistency. It’s largely eschewed the reams of invented lore that populate the bookshelves of other fantasy games, and it’s certainly not the kind of series that would bother itself with Tolkien-esque invention of fictional language. But, perhaps curiously, it has been very willing to experiment with inventing writing systems, and in true Zelda style there’s little consistency from one game to the next, which means it offers us some remarkable diversity. Continue reading

The first CREWS conference: Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets

Last week the CREWS Project held its first international conference. Read about it here!


Last week the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge played host to the CREWS Project’s first international conference, Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets.[1] This was a wonderful opportunity for us to bring together experts on ancient writing systems from around the world and discuss each other’s research.

As with all good academic conferences, despite having a unifying theme – early alphabets – the range of papers was extremely broad. We heard about writing systems from across thousands of years of history and thousands of miles, from the earliest probable alphabetic inscriptions from the Sinai peninsula or the Egyptian desert at Wadi el-Hol, through the Phoenician and Ugaritic alphabets of the Levant, to ancient Greece, Italy and Spain. We heard from epigraphers, linguists and archaeologists, and people who stand somewhere in between.

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Sock Puppets and Cult Leaders: The False Prophet Alexander

My friend Daniel has written an excellent post about the cult of Glycon, the ancient sock-puppet snake-god Abonoteichus. I highly recommend checking it out.


Content warning:  Cults, Sexual Abuse, Snakes

One of the strangest stories from the ancient world comes from the pen of the Second Century CE writer Lucian of Samosata.  Lucian, a Greek-speaking Syrian, was part of the great flowering of Greek culture under the Roman Empire that we refer to as the Second Sophistic.  To generalize greatly, the Second Sophistic was characterised by great erudition, self-consciously elaborate language, and a playful attitude toward history, myth and literature.  Lucian is one of the most emblematic of this movement, and many of his works are wonderful examples of wit, learning and subtle self-parody.

The work I’m discussing today, though, is a bit more exotic.  Apparently at the request of a friend named Celsus, Lucian recounts the career of a notorious con-man who has become known as the False Prophet Alexander.  Combining stage-magic, razzmatazz and careful puppetry, this man briefly created a new religion,

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CREWS at the Cambridge Science Festival 2017!

I wrote a bit for the CREWS blog about the outreach event I attended for the Cambridge Science Festival.

UntitledIt’s been a busy week for the CREWS Project. We’ve just held our first conference – Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets – which we’ll be writing more about soon, but before that, last weekend we took part in the Cambridge Science Festival at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

The Science Festival is a major event giving the public the chance to find out more about the research that goes on at Cambridge. There are countless talks and events all across the University, aimed at a broad range of audiences. In particular, the Science Festival attracts families and small children, so we were keen to be involved and to share our enthusiasm for ancient writing.

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Under-Appreciated Monsters of the Ancient World #2 – The Devourers

louvre-stele-quotbaal-foudrequot_0It’s time for another under-appreciated ancient monster from antiquity – or rather multiple monsters – because today we’re looking at the Devourers (ʾaklm), demons from Ugaritian mythology who faced off against Baʿal Hadad, the storm-god and patron deity of the city. Unfortunately no pictures of the Devourers exist, so I’ve had to make do with this image of Baʿal himself, on a stele from Ugarit and now in the Louvre.

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Time, History and Storytelling in the Legend of Zelda

the_legend_of_zelda_-_a_link_to_the_past_logoThere’s a new Legend of Zelda game out next week. Those of you who don’t follow video games may wonder why that’s a big deal. The short answer is that the Zelda games are generally excellent and that, in an industry where publishers often pump out new iterations to major franchises at a rate of one or more a year, the last main Zelda game came out six years ago. I’m not going to write here about what makes the Zelda games so good – many others have done that much better than I could (this is a good account of the origins of the series, and these YouTube videos are an excellent exploration of its design choices). Instead I want to talk a bit about how the series uses time, history and myth. Continue reading

Under-Appreciated Monsters of the Ancient World #1 – The Sucker


KTU 1.96. From Del Olmo Lete 2010

Everyone knows the Minotaur or the Cyclops, or the various strange creatures of ancient Egypt. In this occasional series I’m going to shine the spotlight on some of the other mythological nasties of antiquity, who are just as cool in their own ways but don’t get nearly enough love.

Today, The Sucker, or ‘Old Big-Eye’.

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