thirty-three things tagged “history”

I am 20

In 1967, the Films Division of India1 asked all kinds of 20-year olds about their dreams and how they felt about the future of a nation that was, itself, 20 years old. Here’s the original video. A lot of the kids who speak English in the video (starting at 5:00) attend the august Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

A colorized and edited version of that video went viral. Here’s a most fascinating “Where are They Now?” follow-up by the author where he tracks down seven people in the video. It’s a mix of Hindi and English. Lessons learned: Life is way too short, way too fickle, and almost never pans out the way you think it will. Privilege helps a lot.

  1. Which I just realized is a thing. ↩︎

On Old Gods

In the succession of religions, there are only so many ways the old gods can end up. They can fade away, in which case they are lost to us for good; they can be held up to scorn as pagan demons who persisted in their old, evil ways; or they can be recruited into the new faith as its servants and defenders.

[…] This pattern of subjugation and conversion had already occurred during the rise of Buddhism in India with the Vedic gods and demons (the deva and the asura). Indra, the storm god of the warriors, became Sakra, who piously requested teachings from the Buddha. Brahman, the creator god, turned into a defender of the Law. Lesser deities too resurfaced in new roles. The nymph-like yaksi came to decorate the gates of the stupas at Sanchi, and heavenly nymphs became angelic musicians, scattering flowers in the air (they remained scantily dressed, as fertility deities should). Satyr-like yaksas ran errands for Yama, the old moon god who now supervised the Buddhist hells, and so on. Their fate is not unlike that of the gods of Old Europe. Those who did not fade away ended up either as denizens of hell or as saints in the Christian calendar.

[…] This is not an uncommon fate for the old chthonic gods. In India an equally insatiable “Face of Glory” is stationed outside temples, supposedly to scare away the evil spirits. In Rome, the griffin was the guardian of the sarcophagus (which means “meat-eater”). In medieval Europe, gargoyles likewise crouched watchful on eaves. In Egypt, Anubis the Jackal – Dog-Man by another name – witnessed the weighing of souls. In Buddhism, Mara the Devil holds samsara in his jaws. In Tang China, a pair of life-size hounds with human heads (and sometimes single horns) stood guard near the dead.

Whalen Lai, "From Protean Ape to Handsome Saint: The Monkey King, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29-65

Fundamentals of Lambda Calculus for People Who Love Birds

This (beautifully formatted and well-paced-and-delivered and surprisingly sparsely attended) talk by Gabriel Lebec on the fundamentals of Lambda Calculus is one of my favorite talks ever.

As Lebec explains, the lovely bird names come from this book called “To Mock a Mockingbird” by mathematician and logician Raymond Smullyan. The naming is simply delightful. As Matthew Gilliard explains:

The premise is that there are enchanted forests which contain many (or sometimes very few) talking birds. Smullyan dedicated the book to Haskell Curry - an early pioneer in combinatory logic and an avid bird-watcher. The birds, which I suppose represent the combinators, have an interesting characteristic:
Given any two birds A and B, if you call out the name of B to A it will respond by calling out the name of some bird to you.

This bird whose name A calls when you call B is denoted as AB. Once you have several birds in place, a single call can cascade around the forest with each call following rules depending on who produces it.

The very first bird we are introduced to is the Mockingbird whose characteristic behaviour is that whatever name you call to the Mockingbird, it will reply as if it is the bird whose name you called. This is denoted:

Mx = xx

For any bird x we can say that Mx (the result of calling x to a Mockingbird) is the same as xx (the result of calling x to a bird of type x). It really does mock other birds! And what’s more, the existence of the Mockingbird, in combination with various others, unlocks some really fascinating group behaviour from these birds.


Soon we discover that birds have certain properties: The can be fond of other birds, they can be egocentric if they are fond of themselves. The can be hopelessly egocentric if they only ever talk about themselves. There are happy birds, normal birds, agreeable birds and many others. We also meet other types of birds with specific properties - the Lark, the Kestrel, Sage birds, Bluebirds, aristocratic birds, Eagles, the list goes on and on. Luckily there is a Who’s Who list of birds in the back to keep track.

On ‘Deliberate’ Genocide in the Americas by CommodoreCoCo More Pasta

Responding to this chilling comment:

You are failing to understand genocide itself. INTENT, is the word, DELIBERATION. Deliberation to destroy an ethnic group. There was NEVER a deliberate attempt to destroy native culture in the Americas. In fact, you have laws since the 1512 protecting their rights and equalising them to Iberian Crown subjects, “Las Leyes de Burgos”.

Because, you see, unintentional genocide is A-OK.

I see I’ve been summoned. Your comments in this thread make it clear that nothing will change your position. It’s a difficult position to combat, because it’s in such a defiance of literally anything written on the topic in at least the last 50 years. You are not operating off the same foundations of evidence that others are, and for that reason I suspect they, like me, are not terribly interested in arguing. Because it’s unlikely your drivel will be removed, I’m posting some quotes and links for those who see this thread later and think you might have even begun to approach a point supported by any specialist on the topic. I do not intend these to be comprehensive; there are myriad examples of “deliberate attempts to destroy native culture in the Americas” in, well, literally any single book or article you can pick up about the era. Rather, because you’ve instead there never was any such thing, I’ve provided some obvious examples.

A primary goal of the Spanish colonial regime was to completely extirpate indigenous ways of life. While this was nominally about conversion to Catholicism, those in charge made it quite explicit that “conversion” not only should be but needed to be a violent process. Everything potentially conceivable as an indigenous practice, be it burial rituals, ways to build houses, or farming technologies, was targeted, To quote historian Peter Gose:

only by rebuilding Indian life from the ground up, educating, and preventing (with force if necessary) the return to idolatry could the missionary arrest these hereditary inclinations and modify them over time.

Francisco de Toledo, Viceroy of Peru, made clear in a 1570 decree that failure to comply with Catholicism was an offense punishable by death and within secular jurisdiction:

And should it occur that an infidel dogmatizer be found who disrupts the preaching of the gospel and manages to pervert the newly converted, in this case secular judges can proceed against such infidel dogmatizers, punishing them with death or other punishments that seem appropriate to them, since it is declared by congresses of theologians and jurists that His Majesty has convened in the Kingdoms of Spain that not only is this just cause for condemning such people to death, but even for waging war against a whole kingdom or province with all the death and damage to property that results

The same Toledo decreed in 1580 that Catholic priests and secular judges and magistrates should work together to destroy indigenous burial sites:

I order and command that each magistrate ensure that in his district all the tower tombs be knocked down, and that a large pit be dug into which all of the bones of those who died as pagans be mixed together, and that special care be taken henceforth to gather the intelligence necessary to discover whether any of the baptized are buried outside of the church, with the priest and the judge helping each other in such an important matter

Not only was the destruction of native culture a top-down decree, resistance was explicitly a death sentence.

The contemporary diversity of Latin America is not the result of natural “intermixing,” but the failure of the Spanish to assert themselves and the continuous resistance of the indigenous population. As early as 1588, we see letters from local priests airing grievances about the failure of the reduccion towns they were supposed to relocate native families to:

‘the corregidores are obliged, and the governors, to reduce the towns and order them reduced, and to build churches, take care to find out if the people come diligently for religious instruction and mass, to make them come and help the priest, and punish the careless, lazy, and bad Indians in the works of Christianity, as the ordinances of don Francisco de Toledo require, [but] they do not comply. Rather, many of the towns have yet to be reduced, and many churches are yet to be built, and a large part of the Indians are fled to many places where they neither see a priest nor receive religious instruction.

Reduccion was not a voluntary process, nor was it a question of simply “moving away.” Not only did it involve the destruction of native religious sites, it frequently involved the destruction of entire towns to repurpose building material and ensure people could not return. In fact, where we do see more voluntary participation in Spanish colonial structures, usually because of the political legibility and opportunities it provided, the resulting syncretism becomes an ever greater source of anxiety for the Spanish. Indigenous elites could selectively participate in Catholicism and game the system to their benefit- not something the state wanted to admit could happen.

These quotes come from Gose’s chapter on reducciones uploaded here.

I will also provide this section from the conclusion of Nicholas Robins’ book Mercury, Mining, and Empire; the entirety is uploaded here. The quoted chunk below is a summary of the various historical events presented in that chapter.

The white legend held much historiographical sway throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, and in no small part reflected a selective focus on legal structures rather than their application, subsumed in a denigratory view of native peoples, their cultures, and their heritage. As later twentieth-century historians began to examine the actual operation of the colony, the black legend again gained ascendance. As Benjamin Keen wrote, the black legend is “no legend at all.

Twentieth-century concepts of genocide have superseded this debate, and the genocidal nature of the conquest is, ironically, evident in the very Spanish laws that the advocates of the white legend used in their efforts to justify their position. Such policies in Latin America had a defining influence on Rafael Lemkin, the scholar who first developed the term genocide in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. As developed by Lemkin, “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor,” which often included the establishment of settler colonies. Because of the intimate links between culture and national identity, Lemkin equated intentional cultural destruction with genocide. It was in no small part a result of his tireless efforts that in 1948 the United Nations adopted the defintion of genocide which, despite its shortcomings, serves today as international law. The fact that genocide is a modern concept and that colonists operated within the “spirit of the times” in no way lessens the genocidal nature of their actions. It was, in fact, historical genocides, including those in Latin America, that informed Lemkin’s thinking and gave rise to the term.

Dehumanization of the victim is the handmaiden of genocide, and that which occurred in Spanish America is no exception. Although there were those who recognized the humanity of the natives and sought to defend them, they were in the end a small minority. The image of the Indian as a lazy, thieving, ignorant, prevaricating drunkard who only responded to force was, perversely, a step up from the ranks of nonhumans in which they were initially cast. The official recognition that the Indians were in fact human had little effect in their daily lives, as they were still treated like animals and viewed as natural servants by non-Indians. It is remarkable that the white legend could ever emerge from this genocidogenic milieu. With the path to genocide thus opened by the machete of dehumanization, Spanish policies to culturally destroy and otherwise subject the Amerindians as a people were multifaceted, consistent, and enduring. Those developed and implemented by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in Peru in the 1570s have elevated him to the status of genocidier extraordinaire.

Once an Indian group had refused to submit to the Spanish crown, they could be legally enslaved, and calls for submission were usually made in a language the Indians did not understand and were often out of earshot. In some cases, the goal was the outright physical extermination or enslavement of specific ethnic groups whom the authorities could not control, such as the Chiriguano and Araucanian Indians. Another benefit from the crown’s perspective was that restive Spaniards and Creoles could be dispatched in such campaigns, thus relieving cities and towns of troublemakers while bringing new lands and labor into the kingdom. Ironically, de Toledo’s campaign to wipe out the Chiriguano contributed to his own ill health. Overall, however, genocidal policies in the Andes and the Americas centered on systematic cultural, religious, and linguistic destruction, forced labor, and forced relocation, much of which affected reproduction and the ability of individuals and communities to sustain themselves.

The forced relocation of Indians from usually spread-out settlements into reducciones, or Spanish-style communities, had among its primary objectives the abolition of indigenous religious and cultural practices and their replacement with those associated with Catholicism. As native lands and the surrounding geographical environment had tremendous spiritual significance, their physical removal also undermined indigenous spiritual relationships. Complementing the natives’ spiritual and cultural control was the physical control, and thus access to labor, offered by the new communities. The concentration of people also inadvertently fostered the spread of disease, giving added impetus to the demographic implosion. Finally, forced relocation was a direct attack on traditional means of sustenance, as many kin groups settled in and utilized the diverse microclimates of the region to provide a variety of foodstuffs and products for the group.

Integrated into this cultural onslaught were extirpation campaigns designed to seek out and destroy all indigenous religious shrines and icons and to either convert or kill native religious leaders. The damage matched the zeal and went to the heart of indigenous spiritual identity. For example, in 1559, an extirpation drive led by Augustinian friars resulted in the destruction of about 5,000 religious icons in the region of Huaylas, Peru, alone. Cultural destruction, or ethnocide, also occurred on a daily basis in Indian villages, where the natives were subject to forced baptism as well as physical and financial participation in a host of Catholic rites. As linchpins in the colonial apparatus, the clergy not only focused on spiritual conformity but also wielded formidable political and economic power in the community. Challenges to their authority were quickly met with the lash, imprisonment, exile, or the confiscation of property.

Miscegenation, often though not always through rape, also had profound personal, cultural, and genetic impacts on indigenous people. Part of the reason was the relative paucity of Spanish women in the colony, while power, opportunity, and impunity also played important roles. Genetic effacement was, in the 1770s, complemented by efforts to illegalize and eliminate native languages. A component in the wider effort to deculturate the indigenes, such policies were implemented with renewed vigor following the Great Rebellion of 1780–1782. Such laws contained provisions making it illegal to communicate with servants in anything but Spanish, and any servant who did not promptly learn the language was to be fired. The fact that there are still Indians in the Andes does not diminish the fact that they were victims of genocide, for few genocides are total.

Lastly, I would direct readers to the following article: Levene, Mark. 1999. “The Chittagong Hill Tracts: A Case Study in the Political Economy of ‘Creeping’ Genocide.” Third World Quarterly 20 (2): 339–69.

Though it talks about events a world away, it’s discussion of genocide is pertinent here. From the abstract:

The destruction of indigenous, tribal peoples in remote and/or frontier regions of the developing world is often assumed to be the outcome of inexorable, even inevitable forces of progress. People are not so much killed, they become extinct. Terms such as ethnocide, cultural genocide or developmental genocide suggest a distinct form of ‘off the map’ elimination which implicitly discourages comparison with other acknowledged examples of genocide. By concentrating on a little-known case study, that of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, this article argues that this sort of categorisation is misplaced. Not only is the destruction or attempted destruction of fourth world peoples central to the pattern of contemporary genocide but, by examining such specific examples, we can more clearly delineate the phenomenon’s more general wellsprings and processes. The example of the CHT does have its own peculiar features; not least what has been termed here its ‘creeping’ nature. In other respects, however, the efforts of a new nation-state to overcome its structural weaknesses by attempting a forced-pace consolidation and settlement of its one, allegedly, unoccupied resource-rich frontier region closely mirrors other state-building, developmental agendas which have been confronted with communal resistance. The ensuing crisis of state–communal relations, however, cannot be viewed in national isolation. Bangladesh’s drive to develop the CHT has not only been funded by Western finance and aid but is closely linked to its efforts to integrate itself rapidly into a Western dominated and regulated international system. It is in these efforts ‘to realise what is actually unrealisable’ that the relationship between a flawed state power and genocide can be located.

Genocide need not be a state program uniquely articulated to eliminate a people or their culture. Rather, it is often disguised in the name “progress” or “development.” This connects to the Spanish colonial economic system, based on what Robins (above) calls the “ultra-violence” of forced labor in mines.

The Iyers, The Iyengars, The Lowells, The Cabots, and God

This is the city of Madras
The home of the curry and the dal
Where Iyers speak only to Iyengars
And Iyengars speak only to God.

I’d read this years ago some place and forgot where. Thought it would be in some Religious Studies textbook back from when I was (briefly) a Religious Studies major. Nope! It was the great Paul Erdős!

Erdős said he’d modelled it after this ditty about the privileged New England families famously known as the ‘Boston Brahmins’.

This is good old Boston
The home of the bean and the cod
Where the Lowells speak to the Cabots
And the Cabots speak only to God.

From Vijaysree Venkataraman’s article.

A Big Collection of Bog Bodies by Gabe Paoletti More Pasta

In many cases, you’re staring at the face of someone who lived centuries ago. That was their hair, their nose, their eye-lashes, their sleep. Very few things are more fascinating than this.

Borremose Man

The Borremose Man died in the 7th century BCE. He was bludgeoned to death from the back of his head and had a rope with a slip knot tied around his neck. It is believed that he was a human sacrifice. He was found in the Borremose peat bog in Himmerland, Denmark in 1946. Shortly after, two other, less well preserved, bodies were discovered in the same marsh. Credit: Danish National Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Tollund Man

The face of the Tollund Man. Credit: Sven Rosborn/Wikimedia Commons

Yde Girl

The Yde Girl died sometime between 54 BCE and 128 CE at an approximate age of 16 years old. She suffered from scoliosis and had long reddish blonde hair that was preserved by the swamp. She was buried with a ritually tied woolen braid around her neck suggesting she was killed as a human sacrifice. However, due to damage to the body at the time of discovery, the cause of her death is unknown. She was found outside the village of the village of Yde, Netherlands. Credit: Drents Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Grauballe Man

The Grauballe Man died during the late 3rd century BCE when he was around thirty years old. He was found naked, with no indication of any clothing around him. His neck was slit from ear-to-ear in a bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1955. His well-preserved hair was likely dark brown during his life but was turned red by the bog. Historians believe he was likely a human sacrifice. Credit: Sven Rosborn/Wikimedia Commons

Tollund Man

The Tollund Man was an approximately 40-year-old man who was killed sometime between 375 and 210 BCE. He was found with a noose around his neck, indicating he was hanged to death, as well as a sheepskin cap on his head. He was found in a bog outside of the Danish town of Silkeborg in 1950. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Damendorf Man

The Damendorf Man died around 300 BCE and had his body squashed flat by the weight of the peat that accumulated on top of him. He was found in a bog outside the German town of Damendorf in 1900 with a leather belt, shoes, and a pair of breeches. Credit: Bullenwächter/Wikimedia Commons

Bocksten Bog

The Bocksten Man likely lived sometime between 1290 and 1430. He was a tall, slender man, most likely in his 40s at the time of his death. He was killed and impaled with two wooden poles, one that went directly through his heart, to the bed of a lake that would later become a bog. This impaling likely happened after his death as he also has a large wound on his head. He was found in a bog near Varberg Municipality, Sweden in 1936. His hair was found perfectly preserved, and he was also discovered with a hooded garment and an engraved leather sheath. Credit: Peter Lindberg/Wikimedia Commons

Arden Hair

The Arden Woman lived during the 14th Century BCE and was around 20–25 years old at the time of her death. She was found in the Bredmose bog in Hindsted, Denmark in 1942. Police said the corpse was found in a ‘question mark’ shape. Her well-preserved hair was dark blond, drawn into two pigtails, and coiled around the top of her head. Unlike some bog bodies, she was found with garments and with no evidence of a violent death. Credit: P.V. Glob/Wikimedia Commons

Grauballe Man

The full body of The Grauballe Man. His hands were so well preserved that researchers were able to take the fingerprints of the over 2,000-year-old body. Credit: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

Bog Bodies

The Clonycavan Man was an Irish man who died sometime between 392 BCE and 201 BCE. He was 5’2, with a squashed nose, crooked teeth, and gelled-up hair. He was killed by an ax blow to the back of his head. The Clonycavan Man was discovered in 2003 in Clonycavan, Ireland when he was picked up by a modern peat harvesting machine that mangled his lower body. His rich diet, imported hair gel, and death near a hill used for kingly initiation led historians to theorize that he was a king who was ritually sacrificed after a bad harvest. Credit: Mark Healey/Wikimedia Commons

Kreepen Man

The Kreepen Man was a body discovered in a bog in 1903 near Verden, Germany. The body had twisted oak and willow branches binding his hands and feet. After its discovery, the body was sold to The Museum of European Cultures in Berlin but was destroyed when the city was bombed during WWII. Hair found at the site believed to belong to the Kreepen Man, date to between 1440 and 1520, but without the body, the genuine date of death is unknown. Credit: Andreas Franzkowiak/Wikimedia Commons


The Huldremose Woman died sometime between 160 BCE and 340 CE and was over 40 years old at the time of her death. She had a rope around her neck indicating she may have been strangled or hanged to death. There is also a laceration on one of her feet. She was found with an elaborate wool plaid cape, scarf, and skirt. She was found by a school teacher in 1879 in a peat bog near Ramten, Denmark. Credit: Kira Ursem/Wikimedia Commons

Weerdinge Men

The Weerdinge Men are two naked bog bodies found in Drenthe, the Netherlands in 1904. They would have lived sometime between 60 BCE and 220 CE. One of the men had a large cut in his abdomen, through which his intestines spilled out, which some historians believe indicates that he was cut open so an ancient druid could divine the future from his entrails. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Röst Girl

The Röst Girl is thought have died sometime between 200 BCE and 80 CE in a bog in the Schleswig-Holstein state of Germany. She was discovered in 1926, but the cause of her death is unknown because her body was destroyed during WWII. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Old Croughan

The Old Croughan Man lived sometime between 362 BCE and 175 BCE and would have been around 20-years-old at the time of his death. This torso, missing the head and lower body, was discovered in 2003 in a bog near Croghan Hill in Ireland. From his arm-span, it is believed he would have been 6’6. Credit: Mark Healey/Wikimedia Commons

Roter Franz

Roter Franz died in the Bourtanger Moor, on what is now the border of Germany and the Netherlands, sometime between 220 and 430 CE during the Roman Iron Age. The name Roter Franz (meaning Red Franz in English) is derived from the red hair and beard discovered on the body. He was killed when his throat was slit and had an arrow wound on his shoulder. Credit: Axel Hindemith/Wikimedia Commons

Bog Bodies

The Osterby Head was discovered in 1948 in a bog to the southeast of Osterby, Germany. The man whose head this belonged to lived sometime between 75 and 130 CE and was 50 to 60 years of age when he died. Evidence shows that he was struck in the head fatally and then beheaded. His hair was tied in a Suebian knot, indicating he was likely a free man of the Germanic Suebi tribe. Credit: Andreas Franzkowiak/Wikimedia Commons

Kraglund Man

The Kraglund Man was discovered in 1898 in Nordjylland, Denmark. He is believed to have been male, but there is little documentation, and the body has been lost. He was the first bog body to be photographed before being moved from where it was discovered. Credit: Georg Sarauw /Wikimedia Commons

Rendswühren Man

The Rendswühren Man was a 40 to 50 years old man who died in the 1st century CE. He is believed to have been beaten to death and was buried with his clothing, a rectangular wool cloak, and a fur cape. He was discovered outside the town of Rendswühren in Germany in 1871. Credit: Andreas Franzkowiak/Wikimedia Commons

Rendswühren Man

A picture of the Rendswühren Man taken in 1873, two years after he was discovered. Credit: Johanna Mestorf/Wikimedia Commons

Roum Head

The Roum Head was found in Himmerland, Denmark, and belonged to a man in his 20s who died during the Iron Age. The find was originally titled as “The Roum Woman” until traces of beard stubble were found on the face. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Haraldskær Woman

The Haraldskær Woman was discovered in a bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1892. When she was discovered, she was believed to be Queen Gunnhild of Norway, a quasi-historical figure from around 1000 CE who was said to have been drowned in a bog. Thinking it was their ancient queen, the Danish monarchy had the body placed in an elaborate glass-covered sarcophagus inside St. Nicolai Church in central Vejle, Denmark. In 1977, radiocarbon dating proved that the woman actually lived nearly 1,500 years before the revered queen, and likely died in the 5th century BC. She was around 40 years old at the time of her death. Credit: McLeod/Wikimedia Commons

Gunhild Glass

The Haraldskær Woman in her glass-covered sarcophagus. Credit: Västgöten/Wikimedia Commons

Kayhausen Boy

The Kayhausen Boy was a child aged 7 to 10 years old who is thought to have been killed died between 300 and 400 BCE. He had an infected socket at the top of his femur that would likely have made him unable to walk. His killers bound his hands and feet with cloth torn from a fur cape and stabbed him four times. His body was discovered in a sphagnum bog in Lower Saxony, Germany in 1922. Credit: Department of Legal Medicine, Universitatsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

An Annoyed, Shivering, Nude Woman with Large Lapis Lazuli Glasses

Carved by someone in Ancient Egypt between 3700–3500 BCE.

Bone figure of a woman c. 3700–3500

[…] most of them represent nude females with their feminine attributes emphasised by carving and careful drilling. With their slim figures, narrow waists and full hips they present an ideal of the female body that will change little over the course of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Their enduring concept of beauty also included a full head of hair (the bald ones may have had wigs) as well as large and alluring eyes.

Google Arts and Culture

45 Jokes from The Laughter Lover by John T. Quinn More Pasta

Translation copyright 2001 John T. Quinn; all rights reserved.


Philogelos (The Laughter Lover) is a collection of some 265 jokes1 likely made in the fourth or fifth century CE. Some manuscripts give the names of the compilers as the otherwise-unknown Hierocles and Philagrios. Other manuscripts drop the name of one or other or both.

Although The Laugher Lover is the oldest surviving example, joke-books already had a long pedigree. According to Athenaeus 614d-e, Philip the Great of Macedon had paid handsomely for a social club in Athens to write down its members’ witticisms. At the dawn of the second century BCE, Plautus twice has a character refer to joke-books (Persa 392; Stichus 400).

Modern scholars such as Rapp and Baldwin have noted how women are infrequent targets of the humor - earning, in fact, attack under only one category of their own, “Horny Women”, a category containing just two jokes. Yet one may wonder, for instance, whether the jokes under “Misogynistic Men” have as their primary target the female sex rather than the men who hate them. Baldwin also remarks on the virtual absence of homosexual themes in the collection.

I have included in this selection all jokes in which women are mentioned or appear as characters. Also included are jokes that seemed particularly relevant for gender studies. I follow the Greek text edited by R.D. Dawe (Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 2000). All the headings, except the last one (“Miscellaneous”), have some manuscript warrant. I decided to translate the alternate versions of the same joke to underscore the fact that these jokes represent primarily an oral rather than a written tradition; the humor lies in the conceit and not in a canonical text.

Select Bibliography

  • Baldwin, Barry, trans. with commentary, The Philogelos or Laughter-Lover (Amsterdam, 1983)
  • Jennings, Victoria, review of R.D. Dawe’s text, BMCR 01.04.05
  • Rapp, Albert, “A Greek Joe Miller” Classical Journal 46 (1951), pp.286-290 & 318
  • Thierfelder, Andreas, German trans. with commentary, Philogelos, Der Lachfreund (Munich, 1968)



#27. An intellectual, falling sick, had promised to pay the doctor if he recovered. When his wife nagged at him for drinking wine while he had a fever, he said: “Do you want me to get healthy and be forced to pay the doctor?”

#43. When an intellectual was told by someone, “Your beard is now coming in,” he went to the rear-entrance and waited for it. Another intellectual asked what he was doing. Once he heard the whole story, he said: “I’m not surprised that people say we lack common sense. How do you know that it’s not coming in by the other gate?”2

#45. An intellectual during the night ravished his grandmother and for this got a beating from his father. He complained: “You’ve been mounting my mother for a long time, without suffering any consequences from me. And now you’re mad that you found me screwing your mother for the first time ever!”

#51A. An intellectual caught sight of a deep well on his country-estate, and asked if the water was any good. The farmhands assured him that it was good, and that his own parents used to drink from that well. The intellectual expressed his amazement: “How long were their necks, if they could drink from something so deep!”

#51B. An intellectual visiting his country-estate asked if the water in a well there was good to drink. He was told that it was good, and that his own parents used to drink from the well. The intellectual was amazed: “How long were their necks, that they could drink from something so deep!”

#53. An intellectual was eating dinner with his father. On the table was a large lettuce with many succulent shoots. The intellectual suggested: “Father, you eat the children; I’ll take mother.”3

#57. An intellectual got a slave pregnant. At the birth, his father suggested that the child be killed. The intellectual replied: “First murder your own children and then tell me to kill mine.”4

#64. An intellectual bought a pair of pants. But he could hardly put them on because they were too tight. So he got rid of the hair around his legs.5

#69. An intellectual checked in on the parents of a dead classmate. The father was wailing: “O son, you have left me a cripple!” The mother was crying: “O son, you have taken the light from my eyes!” Later, the intellectual suggested to his friends: “If he were guilty of all that, he should have been cremated while still alive.”

#70. An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had ‘departed’, the intellectual replied: “When he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?”

#72. An intellectual had been at a wedding-reception. As he was leaving, he said: “I pray that you two keep getting married so well.”

#73. The same intellectual said that the tomb of Scribonia was handsome and lavish, but that it had been built on an unhealthy site.6

#97. Upon the death of his wife, an intellectual was out shopping for a coffin and got into a big fight over the price. When the salesman swore that he couldn’t sell it for less than fifty thousand, the intellectual said: “Since you’re under an oath, here’s the fifty thousand. But throw in for free a small casket, in case I need it for my son.”

#98. A friend met an intellectual, and said: “Congratulations! You’ve got a baby boy!” The intellectual replied: “Thanks to buddies like you!”7

Men on the Make

#106. A professional beggar had been letting his girlfriend think that he was rich and of noble birth. Once, when he was getting a handout at the neighbor’s house, he suddenly saw her. He turned around and said: “Have my dinner-clothes sent here.”

#107. There was another man, just like the last one - a big talker, but in fact impoverished. By chance he got sick, and his girlfriend, coming into his place without warning, found him lying on a humble mat made of reeds. Turning over, he claimed that the doctors were responsible: “The best and most famous doctors in the city ordered me to sleep on a mat like this.”


#114. An Abderite saw a eunuch and asked him how many kids he had. When that guy said that he didn’t have the balls, so as to be able to have children, the Abderite asked 9

#115. An Abderite saw a eunuch talking with a woman and asked him if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can’t have wives, the Abderite asked: “So is she your daughter?”

#116. An Abderite who was a eunuch had the misfortune to develop a hernia.10

#252. An unlucky eunuch developed a hernia.

#117. An Abderite shared a mattress with a man who suffered from a hernia. In the night, he got up to relieve himself. When he returned, he accidentally (since it was still dark) stepped right on the spot of the hernia. When the man let out a howl, the Abderite asked: “Why weren’t you lying down heads-up?”11

#123. An Abderite followed custom and cremated his dead father. He ran home and said to his ailing mother: “There are a few fire-logs still left. If you want to stop suffering, get yourself cremated on them.”


#145. When a jokester who was a shopkeeper found a policeman screwing his wife, he said: “I got something I wasn’t bargaining for.”

#151. When a jokester saw a pimp renting the services of a black prostitute, he said: "What’s your rate for the night?12

#151 (bis) A. When a jokester saw an ophthalmologist busy rubbing away on a girl, he said: “Watch out, young man, that you don’t, in healing her sight, ruin her ‘I’”.13
#151 (bis) B & #260. When a jokester saw an ophthalmologist busy rubbing away on a girl in her prime, he said: “Don’t, in healing her sight, ruin her depths.”

#262. A jokester went abroad; there, he developed a hernia. Coming home, he was asked if he had brought a present back. “Nothing for you - just a headrest for my thighs.” 14

#263. Someone needled a jokester: “I had your wife, without paying a dime.” He replied: "It’s my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?’


#159. A Kymean constructed a huge threshing-floor and stationed his wife on the opposite end. He asked her if she could see him. When she replied that it was hard for her to see him, he snapped: “The time will come when I’ll build a threshing-floor so big that I won’t be able to see you and you won’t be able to see me.”16

Rude People

#187A. A rude astrologer cast a sick boy’s horoscope. After promising the mother that the child had many years ahead of him, he demanded payment. When she said, “Come tomorrow and I’ll pay you,” he objected: “But what if the boy dies during the night and I lose my fee?”

#187B. A rude star-gazer cast a sick boy’s horoscope. After promising the mother that the child had many years ahead of him, he demanded payment. When the mother said, "I’ll pay tomorrow, " he objected: “But what if the boy dies during the night? Do I lose my fee?”


#197. An incompetent schoolteacher was asked who the mother of Priam was. Not knowing the answer, he said: “It’s polite to call her Ma’am.”."17

#201. A man, just back from a trip abroad, went to an incompetent fortune-teller. He asked about his family, and the fortune-teller replied: “Everyone is fine, especially your father.” When the man objected that his father had been dead for ten years, the reply came: “You have no clue who your real father is.”

#202. An incompetent astrologer cast a boy’s horoscope and said: “He will be a lawyer, then a city-official, then a governor.” But when this child died, the mother confronted the astrologer: “He’s dead – the one you said was going to be a lawyer and an official and a governor.” “By his holy memory,” he replied, “if he had lived, he would have been all of those things!”

#204. An incompetent astrologer cast a man’s horoscope and said: “You are unable to father children.” When the man objected that he had seven kids, the astrologer replied: “Look after them well.”18


#219. A glutton betrothed his daughter to another glutton. Asked what he was giving her as a dowry, he replied: “A house whose windows face the bakery.”


#227A. While a drunkard was imbibing in a tavern, someone approached and told him: “Your wife is dead.” Taking this in, he said to the bartender: “Time, sir, to mix a drink up from your dark stuff.”19

#227B. While an intellectual was imbibing in a tavern, someone approached and told him: “Your wife is dead.” The intellectual said: “Time, my good man, to mix me some dark wine.”

People with Bad Breath

#232. A man with bad breath, kissing his wife over and over, said: “My Lady, my Hera, my Aphrodite.” And she said, turning away: “My - o Zeus an ozeus!”20

#234. A man with bad breath asked his wife: “Madame, why do you hate me?” And she said in reply: “Because you love me.”

#239A. A young actor was loved by two women, one with bad breath and the other with reeking armpits. The first woman said: “Give me a kiss, master.” And the second: “Give me a hug, master.” But he declaimed: "Alas, what shall I do? I am torn betwixt two evils!’21

#239B. An actor who was a jokester was loved by two women, one with bad breath and the other with reeking armpits. One said: “Give me a kiss.” And one said: “Give me a hug.” But he declaimed: “Alas, what shall I do? I am torn betwixt two evils!”

Horny Women

#244A. A young man said to his libido-driven wife: “What should we do, darling? Eat or have sex?” And she replied: “You can choose. But there’s not a crumb in the house.”

#244B. A young man said to his libido-driven wife: “What should we do, darling? Eat or have sex?” And she said: “You can choose. But we don’t have a crumb.”

#245A. A young man invited into his home frisky old women. He said to his servants: “Mix a drink for one, and have sex with the other, if she wants to.” The women spoke up as one: “I’m not thirsty.”
#245B. A young man was hosting frisky old women. He said to his slaves: “Mix a drink for the one that wants it and have sex with the one who wants that.” And the women said: “I’m not thirsty.”

Misogynistic Men

#246. A misogynist stood in the marketplace and announced: “I’m putting my wife up for sale, tax-free!” When people asked him why, he said: “So the authorities will impound her.”22

#247A. A misogynist paid his last respects at the tomb of his dead wife. When someone asked him, “Who has gone to rest?,” he replied: “Me, now that I’m alone.”

#247B. While a misogynist was paying his last respects to his wife, someone asked him: “Who has gone to rest?” He replied: “Me, now that I’m alone.”

#248A. A misogynist was sick, at death’s door. When his wife said to him, “If anything bad happens to you, I’ll hang myself,” he looked up at her and said: “Do me the favor while I’m still alive.”

#248B. When a misogynist took sick and his wife said to him, “If you die, I’ll hang myself,” he looked up at her and said: “Do me the favor while I’m still alive.”

#249. A misogynist had a wife who never stopped talking or arguing. When she died, he had her body carried on a shield to the cemetery. When someone noticed this and asked him why, he replied: “She was a fighter.”23


#250. A young man was asked whether he took orders from his wife or if she obeyed his every command. He boasted: “My wife is so afraid of me that if I so much as yawn she shits.”

#251. The lady of a house had a simple-minded slave. But when she got a peek at just how thick his other head was also, she lusted after him. She put a mask over her face so that he wouldn’t recognize her, and played around with him. Joining her game, he had sex with her. Then, grinning as he usually did, he reported to his master: “Sir, sir, I fucked the dancer and the mistress was inside!”24

Other Ancient Jokes On the WWW

Permission is hereby granted to distribute for classroom use, provided that both the translator and Diotima are identified in any such use. Other uses not authorized in writing by the translator or in accord with fair use policy are expressly prohibited.

  1. An exact count is elusive because some jokes appear twice in the collection, often with minor modifications. ↩︎

  2. This is the only joke with homoerotic undertones. It was a common trope that a boy lost his desirability as a “beloved” when his beard filled in. I have adopted Baldwin’s suggestion of reading a further joke here in a play on the Greek word that means both “anus” and “gate”. ↩︎

  3. The main stalk of the lettuce is the “mother” and its shoots are the “children.” Mythological background helps color the black humor: Cronus swallowed his own children; Oedipus married his mother. ↩︎

  4. The father’s suggestion was likely the “common sense” attitude. Fathers in the classical world could indeed reject their infant children and have them killed. ↩︎

  5. Originally barbarian garb, trousers became fashionable in late antiquity. The intellectual here adopts this he-man style – but proceeds to pluck out the hair on his legs & groin in the manner of an effeminate. ↩︎

  6. The same jest appears in the collection as #26, but without the name “Scribonia.” The most famous Scribonia was the second wife of the emperor Augustus, whom he divorced on the alleged grounds of moral turpitude. Baldwin doubts the identification, conjecturing that the Augustan Scribonia would not have had a notable tomb. But reality hardly needs to intrude on a joke. Thierfelder noticed that in Philogelos the initial formula “The same” links two jokes with similar content – but thought #73 an exception to the pattern. However, if the joke’s Scribonia is indeed the famous one, the use of “The same” in #73 is not an exception, for both #72 and #73 allude to divorce and remarriage. Perhaps even we are to understand that the remark in #73 was made at the wedding-reception which is the setting of #72, where mention of tombs, and of Scribonia, would have been ill-omened. ↩︎

  7. The intellectual gives thanks for the congratulations, but the rest of us understand the thanks as a comment on how his wife got pregnant. ↩︎

  8. Abdera was a city in Thrace, whose inhabitants bore the brunt of dumb-ethnic jokes since at least the days of Cicero in the first century BCE. ↩︎

  9. The joke is missing its punchline in the manuscripts. “But do you at least have some grandchildren?” has been suggested as a possibility. It seems to me, rather, that the jest should hinge on the otherwise more-explicit-than-necessary mention of the missing balls, and I have completed the joke accordingly. ↩︎

  10. In the most common type of hernia suffered by men, some of the lower intestine enters the scrotum (which, of course, a eunuch lacks), distending it. For a joke on that swelling, see #262. ↩︎

  11. Part of the joke plays on “head” as “tip of the penis”. The collection plays on the obscene meaning of the word also in #251 & #262. Brushing up against an erect penis would have been a warning sign to the Abderite not to step down on the man. ↩︎

  12. In Greco-Roman antiquity, black-skinned people were often compared to the night. ↩︎

  13. The doctor is rubbing ointment into her eye, but the jokester foresees a more sexual sort of friction. My use of “I” aims to capture some of the pun in the Greek word which means both “eye” and “girl”. ↩︎

  14. A play on the obscene meaning of the word “head”, as in #117. ↩︎

  15. The people of Kyme, a coastal city of Asia Minor, are made the butt of more jokes in the Philogelos than even the people of Abdera. Strabo, at the start of the first century CE, remarks on the proverbial stupidity of the Kymeans. ↩︎

  16. Commentators have puzzled over the joke. I take it that the humor is quite simple, and hinges on the expression “it was hard for her” – the wife means only that she can just barely see him, but the husband misconstrues it to mean that she doesn’t like looking at him. ↩︎

  17. No wonder the schoolteacher was at a loss: there were six different names current for the mother of the king of Troy. ↩︎

  18. “Look after them well”: the astrologer insinuates that his client won’t be able to have another child, if one that he already has were to die. ↩︎

  19. The drunkard wants wine that is dark-colored as a sign of mourning – to the extent that imbibing after hearing such news is a sign of mourning at all! ↩︎

  20. Unable to find a suitable English equivalent, I have reproduced the Greek, in which “ozeus” is a word for “person with bad breath.” ↩︎

  21. The declamation is a line in tragic diction; however, no known Greek tragedy contains this line. ↩︎

  22. The joke depends on the fact that black-market goods, sold without the proper tax assessment, were subject to confiscation. ↩︎

  23. The bodies of war-heroes in archaic Greece were sometimes honored by being carried on a shield. ↩︎

  24. Dancing-girls often wore masks as part of their outfit. The “straight meaning” against which the punchline plays is this: the slave worries that the lady was unexpectedly inside the house, and so had caught him having unauthorized sex. In the middle of this joke, Dawe emends the text slightly and indicates a lacuna. I follow Jennings in preferring to ignore these changes. ↩︎

The Medieval Friendzone

A young Elizabeth I found herself on the throne of England immediately “besieged by suitors” to whom she made “no firm promises” but sent very nice-sounding letters. One such suitor was a young Eric XIV of Sweden. He was so thirsty, he offered to come to England to visit her. That’s when she fired off this missive on the 25th of February, 1559.

Elizabeth I to King Eric XIV of Sweden


Most Serene Prince, our very dear Cousin,

A letter truly yours both in the writing and sentiment, was given us on 30 December by your very dear brother, the Duke of Finland. And while we perceive therefrom that the zeal and love of your mind towards us is not diminished, yet in part we are grieved that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection. And that indeed does not happen because we doubt in any way of your love and honour, but, as often we have testified both in words and in writing, that we have never yet conceived a feeling of that kind of affection towards any one. We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in future… I have always given both to your brother, who is certainly a most excellent Prince and deservedly very dear to us, and also to your ambassador likewise, the same answer with scarcely any variation of the words, that we do not conceive in our heart to take a husband but highly commend the single life, and hope that your Serene Highness will not longer spend time in waiting for us.


On The Intellectual, Artistic, and Cultural Wealth of Pre-Colonial Africa by RegularCockroach More Pasta

The Alt-History YouTuber Whatifalthist decided to dip his toes into real history again and made a YouTube video in which he supposedly breaks down his top 11 historical misconceptions, in which he says a section entitled “7: All of Pre-Colonial Africa.” As a massive enthusiast of pre-colonial Subsaharan African history, I decided I’d take a look at this section, I thought it would be interesting to take a look, but what I saw was very disappointing.

He starts by making the claim that Africa was not a monolith and that the development of urbanized societies was not consistent throughout the continent.

Africa was simultaneously primitive and advanced. You could find places like Tanzania where 100 year ago, 60% of the land was uninhabitable due to disease, and the rest was inhabited by illiterate iron age societies.

Now, this section is true in a hyper-literal sense. However, the problem is that this statement also applied to pretty much the entire world in the pre-modern age. Every continent has large swathes of land that are either unoccupied or inhabited by peoples who could be considered “illiterate iron age societies” by Whatifalthist’s standards. In short, the presence of nonliterate societies is in no way unique to Subsaharan Africa.

Then, he posts the cursed map. I don’t even know where to begin with everything wrong with this image. Supposedly displaying levels of development (whatever that means) before colonization, the map is riddled with atrocious errors.

Maybe the worst error in the map is Somalia, which he labels in its entirety as “nomadic goat herders.” Anyone with a passing knowledge of Somali history will know how inaccurate this is. Throughout the late middle ages and early modern period, Southern Somalia was dominated by the Ajuraan sultanate, a centralized and literate state. While much of rural Ajuraan was inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, these pastoralists were subject to the rule and whims of the urban elites who ruled over the region. Mogadishu was one of the most influential ports on the Indian Ocean throughout the medieval and early modern periods. In modern Eastern-Ethiopia, the Somali Adal sultanate was another example of a literate, centralized, urban state in the Eastern horn of Africa. Ok, maybe he was only referring to Somalia in the era immediately before European colonization. Well, even then, it’s still inaccurate, as there were plenty of urbanized and literate societies in 19th and early 20th century Somalia. In fact, the Geledi sultanate during its apex was at one point even capable of extracting regular tribute payments from the Sultan of Oman. (Read about this in Kevin Shillington’s History of Africa, 2005).

He also insulting labels the regions of Nigeria and Ghana as “urban illiterate peoples.” This is especially untrue in southern Nigeria, considering that the region literally developed a unique script for writing in late antiquity that remained in use until the late medieval period. Northern Nigeria being labelled as illiterate is equally insulting. The region, which was dominated by various Hausa city-states until united by the Sokoto Caliphate, had a long-standing tradition of literacy and literary education. Despite this, Whatifalthist arbitrarily labels half the region as illiterate and the other half as “jungle farmers”, whatever that means. In modern Ghana, on the other hand, there existed a state called the Ashanti kingdom. How widespread literacy was within Ashantiland in the precolonial era is not well documented. However, during the British invasion of the empire’s capital at Kumasi, the British note that the royal palace possessed an impressive collection of foreign and domestically produced books. They then proceeded to blow it up. I’d also like to mention that he arbitrarily designates several advanced, urban, and, in some cases, literate West African states in the West African forest region (such as Oyo and Akwamu) as “jungle farmers.”

He also questionably labels the Swahili coast as “illiterate cattle herders”, and just blots out Madagascar for some reason, which was inhabited by multiple advanced, literate states prior to colonization.

Now, with the cursed map out of the way, I want to get onto the next part of the video that bothered me. Whatifalthist makes some questionable statements in the section in between, but nothing major, and actually makes some good points in pointing out that many of the larger, more centralized states in Western Africa were just as advanced as those in any other part of the world. However, he then goes on to say this:

“However, as institutions went, they were quite primitive. No African state had a strong intellectual tradition, almost all were caste societies without any real ability for social advancement. You never saw parliaments, scientific revolutions, or cultural movements that spread to the rest of the world coming out of Subsaharan Africa.”

Just about everything in this statement is incredibly wrong, so I’ll break it down one piece at a time.

“No subsaharan African state had a strong intellectual tradition”

This is grossly untrue. The most famous example of intellectual traditions in West Africa comes from the scholarly lineages of Timbuktu, but intellectual traditions in the region were far more widespread than just Timbuktu, with Kano and Gao also serving as important intellectual centers of theology, philosophy, and natural sciences.. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, there is a longstanding intellectual tradition which based itself primarily in the country’s many Christian monasteries. Because of this monastic tradition, Ethiopia has possesses some of the oldest and best preserved manuscripts of anywhere in the world.

“Almost all were caste societies without any real ability for social advancement.”

Keep in mind, this was true in pretty much every settled society until relatively recently. Even then, the concept that pre-colonial African societies were any more hierarchically rigid than their contemporaries in Europe and Asia is questionable at best. Arguably the most meritocratic civilization of antiquity, Aksum, was located in East Africa. Frumentius, the first bishop of Aksum and the first abuna of the Aksumite church, first came to Aksum as a slave. The same is true for Abraha, who was elevated from slave to royal advisor and eventually was given a generalship, which he then used to carve out his own independent kingdom in modern Yemen. These are, admittedly, extreme and unusual examples. Like in the rest of the world, if you were born in the lower classes in pre-colonial Africa, you’d probably die in the lower classes. This was not necessarily true all the time though. In the Ashanti kingdom, a common subject who acquired great amounts of wealth or showcased prowess on the battlefield could be granted the title of Obirempon (big man), by the Asantehene.

You never saw parliaments

Yes you did. Just for one example, the Ashanti kingdom possessed an institution called the Kotoko council, a council of nobles, elders, priests, and aristocrats.This institution is pretty similar to the House of Lords in Great Britain, and possessed real power, often overruling decisions made by the Asantehene (Ashanti King).

“You never saw scientific revolutions.”

I’m not sure what exactly he means by “scientific revolution”, but there were certainly numerous examples of scientific advancements made in Subsaharan Africa, some of which even had wide-ranging impacts on regions outside of the continent. The medical technique of innoculation is maybe the most well known. While inoculation techniques existed in East Asia and the Near East for a long time, the technique of smallpox inoculation was first introduced to the United States through an Akan slave from modern-day Ghana named Onesimus. This may be only one example (others exist), but it’s enough to disprove the absolute.

“Africa had no cultural movements that spread to the rest of the world.”

Because of the peculiar way it’s phrased, I’m not sure exactly what he meant by this. I assume he means that African culture has had little impact on the rest of the world. If this is indeed what he meant, it is not true. I can counter this with simply one word: music.

In the next part of the video, Whatifalthist switches gears to move away from making embarrassingly untrue statements about African societies and instead moves on to discussing colonialism and the slave trade.

“Also, another thing people forget about pre-colonial Africa is that Europeans weren’t the only colonizers. The Muslims operated the largest slave trade in history out of here. Traders operating in the Central DRC had far higher death-rates than the Europeans. The Omanis controlled the whole East Coast of Africa and the Egyptians had conquered everything down to the Congo by the Early 19th century.”

So, I looked really hard for figures on the death-rates of African slaves captured by Arabian slavers in the 19th century, and couldn’t find any reliable figures. Any scholarly census of either the transatlantic or Arab slave trades will note the unreliability of their estimates. Frankly, the statement that “the Islamic slave trade was the largest slave trade in history” sounds like something he pulled out of his ass. Based on the estimates we do have, the Arab slave trade is significantly smaller than the transatlantic slave trade even when you take into account that the latter lasted significantly longer. Regardless, is it really necessary to engage in slavery olympics? Slavery is bad no matter who does it. Now, I would have enjoyed it if the YouTuber in question actually went into more details about the tragic but interesting history of slavery in East Africa, such as the wars between the Afro-Arab slaver Tippu Tip and the Belgians in the 19th century, the history of clove plantations in the Swahili coast, etc. But, instead, he indulges in whataboutisms and dives no further.

The root of the problem with the video are its sources

At the end of each section, Whatifalthist lists his sources used on the section. Once I saw what they were, it immediately became clear to me what the problem was. His sources are “The Tree of Culture”, a book written by anthropologist Ralph Linton, and “Conquests and Cultures” by economist Thomas Sowell.

The Tree of Culture is not a book about African history, but rather an anthropological study on the origin of human cultures. To my knowledge, the book is largely considered good, if outdated (it was written in the early 50s), as Linton was a respected academic who laid out a detailed methodology. However, keep in mind, it is not a book about African history, but an anthropological study that dedicates only a few chapters to Africa. No disrespect to Linton, his work is undeniably formative in the field of anthropology. I’m sure Linton himself would not be happy if people read this book and walked away with the impression that it was remotely close to offering a full, detailed picture of African history.

Sowell’s book is similarly not a book on African history, but is better described as Sowell’s academic manifesto for his philosophical conceptions of race and culture. Ok, neat, but considering that the book only dedicates a portion of its contents to Africa and that most of that is generalities of geography and culture, not history, it’s not appropriate to cite as a source on African history.

This is ultimately the problem with the video. Instead of engaging in true research with sources on African history, Whatifalthist instead engaged in research with anthropological vagueries and filled in the historical blanks with his own preconceptions and stereotypes.

TL;DR: I did not like the video. I can’t speak for the rest of it, but the parts about Africa were really bad.

Sorry for the typo in the title

Thanks for the gold and platinum! Much appreciated.

Citations (in order of their appearance in the post):

  • Cassanelli, Lee V. Pastoral Power: The Ajuraan in History and Tradition.” The Shaping of Somali Society, 1982.
  • Chaudhuri, K. N. Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: an Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Mukhtar, Mohamed Haji. “Adal Sultanate.” The Encyclopedia of Empire, 2016, 1–3.
  • Luling, Virginia. Somali Sultanate: the Geledi City-State over 150 Years. London: HAAN, 2002.
  • Nwosu, Maik. “In the Name of the Sign: The Nsibidi Script as the * Language and Literature of the Crossroads.” Semiotica 2010, no. 182 (2010).
  • Mohammed, Hassan Salah El. Lore of the Traditional Malam: Material * Culture of Literacy and Ethnography of Writing among the Hausa of Northern Nigeria, 1990.
  • Lloyd, Alan. The Drums of Kumasi: the Story of the Ashanti Wars. London: Panther Book, 1965.
  • Kane, Ousmane. Beyond Timbuktu: an Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.
  • Bausi, Alessandro. “Cataloguing Ethiopic Manuscripts: Update and Overview on Ongoing Work.” Accessed March 22, 2021. https://www.csmc.*
  • McCaskie, T. C. State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Brown, Thomas H. “The African Connection.” JAMA 260, no. 15, 1988.
  • Berlin, Edward A., and Edward A. Berlin. Ragtime: a Musical and Cultural History. University of California Press, 2002.
  • “The Mediterranean Islamic Slave Trade out of Africa: A Tentative Census.” Slave Trades, 1500–1800, 2016, 35–70.
  • The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Uprooted Millions. Accessed March 22, 2021.

Chamunda from Odisha

This is one of the most seriously badass representations of Shakti I’ve seen in a while.

Chamunda from Odisha

The goddess is shown seated on obsessed boy (Corpse or Preta). The corpse is placed on a pedestal. The deity has a skeletal body, veins can be seen clearly. Its face is ferocious and wrathful; eyes are popping out with open mouth and frown on face. This may be influenced by the concept of Yogeshvari as third eye shown prominently over the forehead. The hair stands are erected (urdhvakesha) which look like fire flames (jvalakesha) (Rao 1989). The hairs are tied firmly with a snake and skull. On the right side of headgear a small hand in abhayamudra is depicted; same feature can be seen on left but it is an eroded condition. The goddess is wearing a skull garland, mundamala consist of 44 skulls and sarpakundalas in ears. A snake encircling around the neck. The deity is shown wearing a bajubandh made by the design of snake, Same ornaments are replicated at wrist and ankle. It is an artistic excellence where snake is shown holding its own tail in mouth which has formed a beautiful circle. The deity is shown wearing ornate mekhala. The parikara of the image is ornate depicting the elephant skin in low relief. The representations of pair of owls carrying garland is shown on portion of elephant’s ear on a left side. The depiction of peacock, bell and conch shell can be observed on a right side. The depiction of devotee is seen beside the right foot of the deity. The devotee is shown sitting in vajrasana has a prominent headgear with circular karnakundalas. It is holding a sword in its right arm shown wearing an ornate bajubandha and keyur. The devotee is in namaskarmudra, head is shown slightly raised upwards watching a divine appearance of the goddess. The five jackals are shown fetching flesh from corpse which is beneath of the deity. The small female attendant (11.5 cm) of the goddess is shown on a left side of the pedestal below the left foot of the corpse. This female attendance replicates the main goddess shown in skeletal form holding dagger and kapala in right and left hand respectively.

Unkule R, Joge G, Mushrif V, “Early Medieval Representation of Human Anatomy: A Case Study of Chamunda Stone Image from Dharamsala, Odisha”, Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology 5 (2017): 191‐200

Ghost Structures

This is such a wonderful idea. Stand opposite the glass and you’d know what Kruševac Fortress in Serbia looked like in its heyday:

Kruševac Fortress

Franklin Court in Pennsylvania is another example of how one could illustrate architectural history.

Franklin Court was the site of the handsome brick home of Benjamin Franklin, who lived here while serving in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin died here in 1790; the house was torn down 22 years later. Today the site contains a steel “ghost structure” outlining the spot where Franklin’s house stood and features the Benjamin Franklin Museum […]

National Park Service

Franklin Court

Dorothy Counts

04 September, 1957

Dorothy Counts, the first and at the time only black student to enroll in the newly desegregated Harry Harding High School in Charlotte (NC), is mocked by protestors on her first day of school. Bystanders threw rocks and screamed at Dorothy to go back to where she came from.

The man walking beside her is probably Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a friend of the family and a professor at the black college Johnson C. Smith University. After a string of abuses, Dorothy’s family withdrew her from the school after only four days. Children had been enrolling for the new school year and tension was particularly high in the south for districts trying to comply with the US Supreme Court’s ruling that states should desegregate their schools with deliberate speed.

World Press Photo

I cannot imagine what she must have felt.

“There was unutterable pride, tension and anguish in that girl’s face as she approached the halls of learning, with history jeering at her back,” he later said. “It made me furious. It filled me with both hatred and pity. And it made me ashamed. Some one of us should have been there with her.”

Michael Graff, quoting James Baldwin, “This picture signaled an end to segregation. Why has so little changed?”, The Guardian

Photos by Douglas Martin.

Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin

How many people were really being sacrificed every year in the Aztec Empire before the Spanish arrived? I’ve heard claims it was in the tens of thousands or much lower. by 400-rabbits on Reddit More Pasta

I’ll try and cover a few of your specific points, starting with the fact Apocalypto did not intend to portray the Aztecs, but the Maya. The film does (poorly) mash in some aspects of Aztec sacrifice, if only to further its goal of being colonialist apologia and torture porn. Fortunately, the sheer awfulness of the movie makes it a good jumping off point to talk about actual practices of sacrifice.

To start with, there were slaves in the Aztec world and a portion of them did come from slave raids. The whole notion of actual warriors going out to get slaves for sacrifices, however, is a bit ridiculous. While slaves would sometimes be used for sacrifices in particular circumstances, the majority of sacrifices stemmed from war captives. Taking a captive was considered a rite of passage for a young warrior and a requirement for military and social advancement. Note, however, that simply snatching up some schmuck from a podunk village was not a standard practice; the expectation was taking a captive in battle. Also, later in the Imperial phase of the Aztecs, certain opponents became so little regarded that even taking several of them in battle earned little more than a shrug, as this passage from Sahagun illustrates:

And if six, or seven, or ten Huaxtecs, or barbarians, were taken, he gained thereby no renown.

Conversely, taking captive from more formidable opponents, such as those from Atlixco and Huexotzinco (which were coincidentally in the hard-fought borderland with Tlaxcala), earned great acclaim. So the notion of Aztec warriors raiding villages too small to apparently even have maize fields does not make sense.

Once captives were taken there are some scant mentions of using cages. From the same book of Sahagun:

And there in battle was when captives were taken. When it had come to pass that they went against and conquered the city, then the captives were counted, there, in wooden cages: how many had been taken by Tenochtitlan, how many by Tlatilulco…

So using cages was a real thing, but there’s no indication they were anything but temporary measures. For instance, they were also used during the sale of slaves, or when holding prisoners during trials. Captives were not simply rounded up and kept indefinitely like cattle in pens. Instead, captives were treated, well, like slaves, to be housed by their captors until the time of their sacrifice.

Were those sarifices a public spectacle? Well, yes and no. Many of the sacrifices were public events, and some specifically so in a way that demonstrated the power of the Aztec state. Rulers and dignitaries of foreign, even enemy, nations would be invited to witness these displays as a form a intimidation.Apocalypto portrays these sorts of events as a wild bacchanal of primitives gyrating in a wild, unhinged frenzy. In fact, if we turn to sources like Duran or Sahagun, we see that even the most public and bloody ceremonies were highly regimented rituals of specific songs, dances, offerings, and adornments, each with its own meaning. There was an aspect of spectacle, but ultimately these were religious rites.

We can see the combination of somber and spectacle in accounts of the “gladiatorial” sacrifice which took place during Tlacaxipehualiztli. After weeks of preliminary rituals, captors would bring their captives to a particular calmecac, Yopico, in the Sacred Precinct. There the captor would lead his captive up to a raised platform upon which lay a large heavy stone. Tied to the stone and armed with a macuahuitl whose blades were feathers, the captive would face up to four elite warriors (and a fifth left-handed one if he managed to “defeat” the four), but would ultimately be sacrificed on that stone once he faltered.

So there’s certainly some spectacle there and the whole notion of “gladiatorial” combat evokes the Colosseum, but there’s some substantial differences. For one, there’s some dispute as to the “public-ness” of this event. Sahagun mentions no one but the priests and the warriors, which does not preclude the presence of others. Duran, meanwhile, says the “entire city was present,” although the location of the particular calmecac where the combat took place was a smaller building off in one corner of the Sacred Precinct, which present problems for mass viewing.

More importantly though, the intentions were different. Even this particular sacrifice, which was among the largest (dozens are mentioned as sacrificed over the course of a day) and the combat making it among the most dramatic, the core aim was not to provide tititallation, but serve both as a sort of graduation ceremony for warriors who had taken a captive and also a way of providing “sustenance” to the gods. On that latter part, just as important as the actual combat was the captor taking the blood of his sacrifice, collected by the priests in a bowl, and going from idol to idol having them take a “drink” from the bowl. Considering the symbolic impetus of Aztec warfare was to engage in battle in order to “feed” the gods, this act not only completed that divine onus, but the entire gladiatorial spectacle re-created the process of warfare/capture/sacrifice. This was not just bread and circuses, in other words.

Speaking of bread, Tlacaxipehualiztli accounts have direct references to the consumption of human flesh, with the captive being divided up for the home and neighborhood of his captor. Famously, the captor would decline to feast on his own captive, saying:

“Shall I perchance eat my very self?” For when he took the captive, he had said: “He is as my beloved son.” And the captive had said: “He is my beloved father.”

This passage from Sahagun does end, however, by noting that the captor might partake of someone else’s captive.

As we’ve already seen with the feeding of the gods, the notion of captives as divine sustenance was an important symbolic concept, so we can’t simply see the act of consuming a captive in nutritional (or even culinary!) terms. This was the mistake Harner made in his 1977 article, “The Ecological Basis of Aztec Sacrifice,” which Marvin Harris would proclaim as having “solv[ed] the riddle of Aztec Sacrifice” in his book published the same year, Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures. Actually, Harner made a number of mistakes, but the strict cultural materialist approach they used is notable for excluding any cultural explanations of societal behaviors in favor of ecological causes. So already we have to understand that Harner and Harris were using a flawed approach to Aztec sacrifice.

The other thing we have to understand is that Harner was not a Mesoamericanist and did not have a thorough understanding of the society he was proclaiming to explain. If he did have a deeper understanding he might not have made so many glaring errors in his hypothesis. To briefly sum up his position, Harner believed Aztec society was uniquely protein deficient, seeing as how it lacked the large domesticated animals of Afro-Eurasia, which was made up of empires “based on economies with domesticated herbivores providing meat or milk.” In response to this, the Aztecs turned to preying on their neighbors to meet this dietary need. Harris expands on this view and tries to blunt criticism of how many sacrifices would have been needed to feed the vast population of the Aztecs, by positing that even if only the elites were engaging in cannibalism, that would be enough to sustain this “cannibal empire.”

Unfortunately for Harner and Harris, the foundation of their argument was flawed, because they were ultimately viewing the Aztecs through an ethnocentric lens. They focus, almost exclusively, on dogs and turkeys as sources of protein, with lesser mentions of waterfowl, fish, and wild game like deer and rabbits. Both disparage the use of tecuitlatl, the spirulina algae that was collected form the lake and pressed into cake, which is like disparaging McDonalds – it may be a food of subsistence for some, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t eaten by peasant and presidents alike. Indeed, their approach basically glosses over the innumerable foodstuffs eaten in Mesoamerica that are strange to the Western palate. Even as Harner quotes Cook and Borah saying “just about everything edible was eaten,” he refocuses on dogs, turkeys, and men.

Ortiz de Montellano, in his 1978 article, “Aztec Cannibalism: An Ecological Necessity?” to Harner to task by listing all of the various other protein sources in the Aztec diet which are attested to in the literature, which included iguanas, snakes, frogs, and salamanders, as well as various insects and insect larva. He further notes that Harner ignores the traditional Aztec staples like amaranth and chia, the former of which is a grain high in protein and the latter a seed with good protein and fat content. The fat content is key, as Harner and Harris see this as an important key to understanding Aztec cannibalism: it wasn’t just protein deficiency, but also fat deficiency. This ignores not only chia, but also crops like avocados. Ortiz de Montellano further notes that Harner does not address the fact that the core Aztec cities were the recipient of tribute bringing innumerable bushels of maize, amaranth, and chia to the populace, before noting that humans are actually a very inefficient source of protein and that the number of sacrifices required simply do not add up.

Increasing the number of sacrifices per annum is thus vital to Harner and Harris. Unfortunately, they rely on some dodgy numbers regarding Aztec sacrifice. Harner starts by taking an estimate from Cook of 15K sacrifices per year throughout the Aztec empire, on the basis of a population of 2M. He then revises this number upward, citing personal communication with Cook. The end result is Harner posits 250K sacrifices a year in a population of 25M. The problem is that we have no reason to think that an increase in population would lead to a proportional increase in sacrifices, yet this is essential to Harner’s idea of sacrifice as ecologically driven. Under his cultural materialist model where sacrifice is intrinsically tied to the dietary needs of the population, they must be proportional, but he is essentially pulling numbers from nowhere.

The problem is that our actual reports of captives taken do not support those numbers, though they are scanty and far between. Adding up the numbers of sacrifices mention by Sahagun in his book on ceremonies likewise does not add up to the numbers Harner needs, but we can likewise not rule out additional sacrifices going unmentioned. The truth is we do not have good numbers for how many people were sacrificed. We do not, however, have any reason to believe that the numbers of sacrifices in Tenochtitlan, which was the center of an unprecedented religious focus on sacrifice, would be replicated throughout other regions of Mesoamerica, even those areas subject to the Aztecs. As Brumfiel points out in her chapter “Figurines and the Aztec State: Testing the Effectiveness of Ideological Domination,” outside of the central Aztec cities, we see a markedly different archaeological profile of religious figures, which she suggests points towards a highly militaristic and sacrifice-driven state cult of war gods, which gave way to a more traditional model of agricultural deities and less sacrifice-focused practices in the countryside.

The end result is that we have no reason to accept Harner’s proposition that 1% of the total population of Mesoamerica was sacrificed every year, particularly since the late Postclassic is marked by a substantial increase in population as the same time he and Harris are proposing a life of cannibalistic subsistence. The Aztecs certainly focused on and increased the rate and importance of human sacrifice beyond what had been previously seen in Mesoamerica. None of the actual ecological or dietary data suggest their society needed to rely on cannibalism, and the focus on that aspect of their society tends to overlook other ways in which the Aztecs were a highly organized and functional pre-modern agricultural society, whose population boomed and whose marketplaces were stocked with non-people foodstuffs.

Aztec sacrifice was a complicated and, to the modern Western view, bizarre practice, but it was not the sole aspect of Aztec society. It was, however, neither as alien to practices found in Afro-Eurasia, nor a perfect analogy to them. It wasn’t sadists fattening up captives in cages; the practice had a logic to it. Aztec sacrificed evolved from a general pattern of sacrifice in Mesoamerica going back millennia, and the religious and social aspects of Aztec sacrifice were adapted to the realities of their time.

Bas Uterwijk’s ‘Post Photography’

Bas Uterwijk’s AI portraits1 look just like photo shots, but are largely generated by an algorithm. He uploads drawings and paintings, often images of people who lived before the invention of photography. With the help of a neural network he creates realistic interpretations that appear as if they were made in a photographic process.

Each work is a quest for the visual character of the person portrayed. By combining art-historical and archaeological elements, Uterwijk achieves a layered and fascinating result.

Website (Google translation of Dutch text)

First came by this remarkable generation of the DOOM guy’s face:

Bas Uterwijk - Doom Guy

And here are Alexander, Caesar, Zuck, and Jesus.

Bas Uterwijk - Alexander

Bas Uterwijk - Caesar

Bas Uterwijk - Zuck

Bas Uterwijk - Jesus

More of his work on Instagram.

  1. Looks like he uses ArtBreeder with StyleGAN2. ↩︎

Ottoman Food

I found out I am to thank the Ottomans for a lot of my favorite things to eat and drink:

  • Baklava (which dates back two thousand years, to the Assyrian Empire)
  • Coffee made the Right Way™
  • The modern kebab
  • Shawarma
  • Sherbet
  • Dolma (stuffed food) and Sarma (wrapped food)
  • An ancestor of the hummus: a chickpea spread flavored with cinnamon, pine nuts, and currants. Consumed with bread and popular in the 15th century
  • Ayran: My absolute favorite thing to drink on a hot day. Couldn’t find many differences between ayran and the laban I grew up drinking.

The Song of Seikilos

This is the "the oldest surviving complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world" and dates from “either from the 1st or the 2nd century AD.” It was found engraved on a tombstone and was “dedicated by Seikilos to Euterpe, who was possibly his wife.” (Wikipedia)

While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and Time demands his due

😭 💗

Iowa Is Awesome by @CockroachED on Reddit More Pasta

I am so proud to be an Iowan. Iowa is fucking awesome, and here is why:

  1. In 1838, before we were even a state, our Supreme Court upheld the law that in Iowa escaped slaves couldn’t be forced to return to a slave state. The same year it became law an unmarried women could own property. In most of the rest of the US either category having any rights was laughable and were considered property themselves.

  2. We were involved in a war with Missouri. The Honey War! was a border dispute that we Iowans may not have started but we sure as hell won.

  3. We were the second state in the union to allow interracial marriage (1851) almost a century before it became legal in the rest of the US.

  4. In 1851 Iowa legislated that, “the property of married women did not vest in her husband, nor did the husband control his wife’s property”.

  5. In 1857 University of Iowa, my alma mater (Go Hawkeyes!!), was the first state university to have a degree program open for women.

  6. For the American Civil War, Iowa contributed more men than any other state per capita. This despite the fact not a single major battle occurred on Iowan soil.

  7. Iowa outlawed segregated schools in 1868. We were the second state in the union to do it and we did it close to a century before the rest of America.

  8. Iowa elected the first women to public office in the united states, in 1869. That same year we were the first state to allow women to join the bar and we had the first female US attorney. This paved the way for Iowa to have the first female practice law before a federal court.

  9. Iowa was passing civil rights act, prohibiting discrimination in public, all the way back in 1884.

  10. Iowa was the third state (tip of the hat to Wyoming and Colorado for beating us to the punch)to give women the right to vote in 1894.

  11. Iowa has the first mosque in the US and the only exclusively Muslim cemetery.

  12. In 1953, amongst all the states of the union, only Iowa defeated a McCarthyistic legislative measure to impose a teacher’s loyalty oath.

  13. Iowa was the first to have an openly gay man run for a seat in Congress. And the guy was a Republican!

  14. In 2007, Iowa was the second state to allow full marriage to gays and lesbians.

  15. In Iowa we protect our children from from bullying due to sexual orientation AND gender identity.

tl;dr: And for the two part cherry on the cake…

16) 2008 Democrat Caucuses, Iowa became the first in the nation to select Barack Obama as their choice for president. This when almost all political pundits thought he wasn’t a viable candidate. For some perspective on the Iowa is 95% white. You have to go to the North Pole to find a whiter place.

17) Norman Borlaug is an Iowa native son, born and bred. Who is Norman Borlaug you ask yourself? Look him up! He was the greatest man who ever lived, a man who saved a billion lives (No hyperbole).

QED Bitches.

The Korn Shell

Good talk by Siteshwar Vashisht at FOSDEM 2019 on maintaining the Korn shell and old codebases in general. I came by his work while reading up on the fish shell. Featured this nugget

He talks about how they removed dead/inapplicable code and micro-optimizations, refactored a lot of legacy code, improved tests, switched to a new build and CI system, and so on.

Began with this baffling one-liner that won the International Obfuscated C Contest in 1987

main() { printf(&unix["\021%six\012\0"],(unix)["have"]+"fun"-0x60);}

And reminded me of this Aaron Sorkin-esque story about David Korn which I heard via BLN

Greg Sullivan, a MicroSoft product manager (henceforth MPM), was holding forth on a forthcoming product that will provide Unix style scripting and shell services on NT for compatibility and to leverage UNIX expertise that moves to the NT platform. The product suite includes the MKS (Mortise Kern Systems) windowing Korn shell, a windowing Perl, and lots of goodies like awk, sed and grep. It actually fills a nice niche for which other products (like the MKS suite) have either been too highly priced or not well enough integrated.
An older man, probably mid-50s, stands up in the back of the room and asserts that Microsoft could have done better with their choice of Korn shell. He asks if they had considered others that are more compatible with existing UNIX versions of KSH.

The MPM said that the MKS shell was pretty compatible and should be able to run all UNIX scripts.

The questioner again asserted that the MKS shell was not very compatible and didn’t do a lot of things right that are defined in the KSH language spec. The MPM asserted again that the shell was pretty compatible and should work quite well.

This assertion and counter assertion went back and forth for a bit, when another fellow member of the audience announced to the MPM that the questioner was, in fact David Korn of AT&T (now Lucent) Bell Labs. (DavidKorn is the author of the KornShell).

Uproarious laughter burst forth from the audience, and it was one of the only times that I have seen a (by then pink cheeked) MPM lost for words or momentarily lacking the usual unflappable confidence. So, what’s a body to do when Microsoft reality collides with everyone else’s?

“Calcium-Carbonate Concretions”

Michael LaPointe writing for The Atlantic on The Pearl of Lao Tzu

But elsewhere in the Miner letter, the curator terms the specimen a “pearlaceous growth,” and stresses that it ought not to be classified as a precious pearl. The gems we commonly know as pearls are formed within the organic tissue of saltwater oysters, whose inner shells possess nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which generates a pearl’s signature luminescent sheen. Compared with these gems, Tridacna-clam pearls are more like porcelain. Indeed, the Pearl of Lao Tzu cuts an ugly figure. Some might liken it to a lump of white clay; others might think it’s an alien egg.

Under U.S. trade law, it’s perfectly legal to call such objects pearls; any shelled mollusk—even a snail—can make a pearl. But gemologists traffic in precious pearls, and discard the rest with a pejorative classification: calcium-carbonate concretions.

I think it looks like a big ‘concretion’ of hardened, polished, chewing gum. Like a misshapen mozzarella ball.

Pearl of Lao Tzu