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A Little Bit of Celebration for the Day

Look who is growing!

Diana1

It’s my Great Pyrenees puppy, Diana of Themyscira. She is known affectionately around the house, though, as Thunderfloof. She has been an enormous help to me in weathering the winter depression I get; with her, I managed to sail my raft over the surface of depression’s gray sea without sinking fully in, this winter.

She is beautiful and good-hearted:

Diana2

Look who else has been growing! Even more exciting – It’s my son, Círdan Leto, named for the Shipwright in The Lord of the Rings and for the Duke and the God Emperor in the Dune series. He is exploring. He is two now – how swiftly Lady Time leaps when children dance with her!

CirdanCirdan1

My daughters are also thriving. River is excelling at math and science, and Inara is now trying to learn to run – she’ll run a few steps, stumble, and try again, a few times a week. That is how much she thinks of the prediction she was once given that she would never stand or walk…

Thank you all for following my work! Whether you’re doing it on this blog, on Facebook, or on Patreon – where you can get the behind-the-scenes look at everything that’s getting created and help fund more of it. It means so much to me.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the books! The next up – working vigorously on it now – will be Ansible: Season Three.

Stant Litore

Books

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Reminder to Self

Reminder to Self: I am not writing for everyone.

That reader over there, in tears and a little overwhelmed with life, who tonight could really use the adrenaline rush of riding a tyrannosaur across an orbital space station, that’s who I’m writing for.

That reader over there who has just been bricked up behind an authoritarian wall of out-of-context biblical verses and can’t draw a good breath of air and who would really appreciate having that house-of-cards wall shattered and spun into a life-affirming, take-you-over-the-rainbow, blow-the-roof-off-the-church-and-come-to-Jesus whirlwind, that’s who I’m writing for.

And that boy in me, fighting giant invisible birds with a stick in the forest behind his farm, that’s who I’m writing for.

Can’t write for everyone. But I can write for them.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Here in the American West

Uranium

There is so much to love about this story. First, the couple involved have such great names for characters in a story: Stephen Jennings and Rachel Rivera. Second, the uranium and the rattlesnake were both legal in Oklahoma (the open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe, not so much). Third, the vehicle was stolen. Fourth, Rachel Rivera was a felon. Fifth, Jennings told the cops (jokingly, one assumes, but let’s not assume, because we’ve got us a story to tell) that with his pet snek and the jar of uranium, he figured he might make a super snake. Sixth, the poor guy got pulled over for … having expired tags. So there’s Jennings, backcountry rebel in his stolen ride with his felon Rachel in the passenger seat with her firearm ready, his deathkillsnake in the back, his jar of uranium, his bottle of Kentucky’s not-quite-finest firewater, all ready to rev it up and head straight across the American West to spread a trail of mayhem, carnage, and slithery wonder … and then he gets pulled over because the tags got too old. The best laid plans of snakes and men go oft awry, and bureaucracy is the grim reaper who comes for us all in the end.

And if that isn’t a quintessential American story, I don’t know what is.

Stant Litore

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I’m Not Here to Write You a Small World

Bookshelf of Stant Litore's fiction

tl;dr: Whether we’re comfortable or uncomfortable with “diverse characters” in fiction has everything to do with how we’ve defined our communities. I’m not adding anyone to the fictional world or “forcing” them into the story. I’m just refusing to subtract people who are already in the world we share together.

Let’s talk about “diverse characters” for a moment.

Every once in a while, a reader will object, with a tone of moral indignation, that they don’t like “PC” fiction (I think they mean “politically correct”; I don’t think they’re objecting to thriller novels about desktop computers) or that they don’t think I should be “forcing diversity” or writing “political fiction” or “ramming a message down their throat” or “rubbing a message in their face.” (About nonconsensual throat-ramming: It’s always weird to me when a reader describes a fictional story that contains elements they dislike using metaphors for bodily invasion or assault, but that’s a topic for another time.)

What I have been thinking about is why there is a seemingly fundamental disconnect between these particular readers and other readers (including myself) who I write for. I think it has to do with how we have defined our communities – in religious terms, with who we recognize as our neighbors.

When I tell a science fiction story with Muslim characters, or characters with various ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, levels of physical ability, etc., these objecting readers think I am “forcing” these elements on them because what they have defined as their community does not include or welcome people who are different from them in these ways, and the presence of people different from them is seen as an invasion or violation.

But I don’t write the characters I write because I have a “message.” Or to be “PC.” Or to ram a character “down someone’s throat.” I write the characters I write because people in my community, people I love, my family and friends and colleagues – they inspire and are reflected in the characters I write. My characters are influenced by people I’ve known.

There is a 150-year-old Chinese gunslinger in a wheelchair in my current work in progress not because I want to rub diversity in a reader’s face, but because my daughter is in a wheelchair and she is as fierce as a gunslinger, and because several of my dearest college friends were from China (Yi and I used to stay up all night playing Starcraft; I usually lost), and because I think in a future scifi novel, people might live to 150.

And I wrote into Ansible: Season Three a love story between two bi women not because I have a “political” message in mind but because some people very dear to me are bi. And they have love stories. When I write science fiction stories about people marooned in alien bodies in which they never felt at home … I know people who live that experience, though their bodies are not literally extraterrestrial. (That’s the scifi part.)

To me, the presence of these fictional characters is not an invasion of the reader or an authorial intrusion that I have jammed into the story; their presence is just a given. These are people. Readers who object often think that I am “adding” people into the fictional world that they don’t want there, and who they think I shouldn’t want there. Unwelcome people. But I’m not adding anyone to the fictional world. I’m just refusing to subtract people who are already in the world we share together.

If I write a hijabi bi superheroine, I didn’t write her because I want us to be “PC.” I wrote her because I wanted to tell her story. It would be utterly exhausting to censor my fiction and shrink my imagined worlds and their casts of characters merely in order to accommodate the bigotries or discomfort of some readers.

If your own world is small, then good stories might make you feel uncomfortable. And maybe they need to. Because good stories make our world bigger.

But if it is truly too uncomfortable, there are so many stories out there that are written with smaller worlds inside them. Readers can go read those stories and inhabit those smaller worlds if that is truly what they want. But I don’t have any obligation to my readers to write them a smaller world. That is not what I do.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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For writers: Want to write characters who are very different from you? Find affordable books, resources, and classes on Writing the Other here.

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Something I Want to Say

I have been told a few times recently that I cannot love God or serve God faithfully without condemning my LGBTQ+ neighbors, or without supporting policies and actions that threaten their rights, their lives, or their wellbeing. A few of my siblings in the faith believe that.

And I answer, “I think you are confusing me with someone who worships a small god. My God is not a small god. My God does not care about outward appearances; my God cares about the heart. My God is less interested in whether you squat or stand when you pee than with whether you love. I say ‘my God’ but he is not ‘my’ anything; I am trying to be his. I would be ashamed of owning a god, especially a small one. The God I love never told me to sit in judgment over my neighbor. He told me to love my neighbor, recklessly and deeply and without conditions, as he does.”

_______________________

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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New From Stant Litore: Colosseums for Dinosaurs

Look what’s here!

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Colosseums for Dinosaurs is an omnibus edition of all the dinosaur stories. It includes The Running of the Tyrannosaurs, Nyota’s Tyrannosaur, and The Screaming of the Tyrannosaur.

Once each year on orbital space stations, nano-engineered young women compete on the backs of dinosaurs in races as brutal and bloody as any witnessed in the Roman Circus 3,000 years before. Highly skilled and capable of superhuman feats, these gladiators live isolated lives—except for the resurrected beasts with whom they form their deepest bonds. Tonight, on the red sands of the arena and inside the hollow asteroid where the dinosaurs are grown, the secrets these gladiators discover will shake their entire world.

Join Livia Tenning (Egret), Nyota Madaki (Jaguar), and Mai Changying (Timberwolf) in Colosseums for Dinosaurs.

“This is a pulse-pounding story, a triumph of world-building – a story of gladiatorial combat and of bonds strange and transcendent. Without a doubt, one of the most enthralling stories I’ve come across.” – Samuel Peralta, The Future Chronicles

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To Understand is to Stand Among

Etymology of understanding - Photo of a woman gazing out

I love the word “understand.”

It’s a very, very old English word, dating back to a time when the word “under” did not mean “beneath” but meant “in the middle of” or “among.” To understand a place, you must stand in the midst of it, looking around at everything there and being a part of it. To understand a people, you must stand among them, not outside looking in. It’s a beautiful word.

Our word “comprehend” is from the Latin. The verb, back when the Romans had hold of it, literally meant to seize or take something completely, to grasp hold of it and pull it to you. Prehendere is the same verb used for seizing criminals; it also becomes our English word “apprehend.” Over time, by metaphor, comprehendere came to mean seizing knowledge, approaching something that’s outside of you and taking it by force, taking ownership of it, taking it into your mind. A very Roman idea. To comprehend someone or something that’s outside of us, we approach them, take them, capture them, and own them in our mind. They are now a known quantity. In this way, the empire desires to “comprehend” the world.

But the Anglo-Saxon verb understandan meant … to stand in the middle of things and look around and see what’s there, which you can do because you’re in it and a part of it.

I really love the word “understand.”

We need more understanding in the world.

Stant Litore

(A shameless plug: If you would like more language nerding from me, please get the book Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, because you will really enjoy it.

You can find it here.

_________________

Photo credit: Marina Vitale on Unsplash; @marina_mv88

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Things I’m Excited For

It’s stunningly expensive (and probably should be, as it represents twenty years of work), but it’s also exciting; Robert Alter’s new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English is scholarly and brings a lot more accuracy to the table than many existing translations: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BN5HWWX

What I am eager for that has not happened just yet is a full Hebrew Bible translation from a translator who is a woman or from a committee of women. As we saw when Marcia Falk translated the Song of Songs, when Anne Carson translated Sappho, and when Emily Wilson translated the Odyssey, centuries of male or majority-male translation committees can miss some pretty big things. (I am sure the notion that men sometimes miss “obvious” things will come as no surprise to any woman reading this post.) So I eagerly await the day when the number of biblical translators who are women grows.

Meanwhile, I am excited to dig into Alter’s translation as soon as I can afford a copy or secure one from the library. (Fortunately, many individual books or sets of books like the Torah or the Psalms are already available as individual volumes.) I want to see especially his treatment of the poetic texts.

For those who share either my interest in the Bible or my interest in language nerdery, I just wanted to share the news that this is out!

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Triceratops Traveling in Vast Herds, Vast

Things I learned in the past year:

1. Triceratops traveled across the continent in majestic herds of hundreds of thousands, like wildebeest or bison, a flowing ocean of hide and horn;

2. There was once a species of crocodile that could gallop 40mph, and they snacked on dinosaurs.

3. In Finnish, poronkusema is a unit of distance referred to in some rural areas. It literally means “reindeer piss” and it describes the distance a reindeer can travel without urinating in the snow. The space between blotches of yellow snow is roughly six miles.

There. These are things you know now.

Also, come learn from my books. For dinosaurs, go for Nyota’s Tyrannosaur; for language nerdiness, go for Lives of Unforgetting.

(Get the books. Get the books. Get the books.)

Oh yeah, and:

4. Pumpkin toadlets (a species of tiny frog in Brazil) have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. That is also a thing you know now.

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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About that Gorgeous Cover

People have been curious about the gorgeous cover of Lives of Unforgetting, the new book. The cover design is by Roberto Calas, and the art is by The Rustic Vegan, used with his permission; his photograph makes me think of being welcomed to a lovely meal with people who have stories to share that may not be the stories I expect. Thank you for joining me at the table! Make sure to check out the artist’s work on Instagram: www.instagram.com/rustic.vegan – it will make you both delighted and (I think) hungry.

And please get a copy of my book. I will be delighted if you read it and share word of it with others who would be interested. Lives of Unforgetting is here:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

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New Book from Stant Litore: Lives of Unforgetting

I am delighted to announce the release of a new book: Lives of Unforgetting, subtitled “What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, And A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure.”

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

The ancient Greek word for “truth” means unconcealing or unforgetting. Yet today many ideas and stories that were once critical to how early Christians understood, practiced, and defended their faith often remain “hidden in plain sight” in our Bibles. These ideas are concealed from us by the distance between languages, between eras, and between cultures—yet they are so worth unconcealing and unforgetting.

In Lives of Unforgetting, discover:

  • The forgotten women who co-founded Christianity
  • Whether the first-century church thought there was a hell
  • What happens when you realize that in Greek, faith is a verb
  • Why gender in the Bible is more complicated than we think
  • Which concepts our modern tradition often takes for granted that would have been alien to the original readers (like homophobia)

We have also forgotten that to read the Bible is to receive an invitation to adventure—to encounter the impossible, to move mountains, to walk on water. Instead, we have been taught to read the Bible tamely, to make no choices, to risk no questioning of our tradition. What would happen if we took the adventure? If we readers walked out into the wilderness toward God, leaving home far behind? If we stepped out of the boat of our received tradition, out onto the crashing waves?

Let’s find out.

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

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Keeping Momentum in a Troubled Time

On my mind:

Makes me sad: The global extinction crisis.
Makes me mad: The senseless cruelty of our border crisis.
Makes me glad: Cirdan learning words. Learn, little guy, learn! Learn all the things.
Makes me rad: Gladiators riding T-Rexes.
Makes me hope a tad: Kindness. Like when your kid is in the hospital and a friend is planning to bring dinner and they show up with like a carload of food. Just … kindness.

If I can hold all five in my hands, sad/mad/glad/rad/tad, I can keep moving. I can take action, neither spending my energy in passive outrage nor hoarding my energy in passive apathy.

If I can hold all five in my hands, if I can be both angry and kind, then I can keep moving.

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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“The Excellence of the Ladies”

In ancient days women were able to do
extraordinary things to impress the world
by their excellence in arms (to name but two,
I offer Camilla and Harpalyce, who hurled
spears and wielded swords). And not a few
were followers of the Muses and uncurled
their scrolls as Sappho did with uneven lines,
and Corinna, and their light forever shines.

Women have achieved in every art
and craft the highest distinction, and their fame
is great indeed. They’re strong and they are smart.
Without them history couldn’t have been the same.
I rather think it is envy on men’s part
that keeps concealed the honor and acclaim
they have deserved. If their work is not taught in schools,
it is because men are jealous–or fools.

In our own age, fair women of talent and
worth are everywhere and deserve that pen
and paper record their prowess and their grand
achievements, so that in the future, when
people study our times they will understand
the excellence of the ladies.

– Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso Canto XX,
Published in Ferrara, Italy in 1516.

502 years ago.

The lines above are translated by David R. Slavitt.

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The Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

Old engraving of Nero fiddling while Rome burns

The Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, desiring the worship, adoration, and awe of millions, had to have the biggest, gaudiest, flashiest everything. He had big plans. One time, Nero proposed to the Senate and People of Rome that they make Rome even greater than it had ever been by tearing down a third of the city and building a series of magnificent palaces on top of the newly cleared land. The conjoined palaces would be called Nero City (Neropolis).

The Roman congress was adamantly against the proposal of building Nero City, no matter how Nero Claudius Caesar raged and tantrummed and insisted that he’d simply shut down the whole Roman government if they didn’t build what he wanted. Curiously, shortly after the Senate rejected their executive leader’s plans for Nero City, a devastating fire burned down the senators’ ancestral family homes on the Palatine Hill and much of the rest of the city, too. It was rumored that the fire was started by arsons employed by Nero.

In the place of those lost homes, Nero built a Golden House (Domus Aurea), the biggest and most golden house in all the world. It covered the Palatine Hill and the slopes of several other adjacent hills in Rome. The palace covered more than 100 acres and may have covered more than 300 acres; we don’t know the size for sure, because we haven’t dug up the entire grounds. We know that the Golden House had 300 rooms covered in polished white marble, as well as vast halls coded by theme and color. There was a massive revolving dining room where guests at dinner could be showered with flower petals and perfumes while the room slowly, slowly turned. There were parks and woods inside the palace, and a vast artificial lake where Nero had fleets of gladiators perform re-enactments of Rome’s naval combats, showing in the storm of swords and the crash of timber and the cries of battle just how much Rome was the greatest and had always been the greatest. Nero also had a 100-foot statue of himself carved and parked inside the lobby of the Golden House. The statue of Nero may have been even bigger; it depends on which ancient source you’re reading. Nero paid for a 120-foot statue, but he may have only gotten a 99-foot statue in the end. And judging by the differing reports from his contemporaries, there may have been some public contention over what the actual size of his finished statue was. It was, regardless, the hugest statue in Rome, the city in the Empire that had all the statues, all the best statues.

Nero also had to be the best and greatest at everything. He wanted to be the best athlete and the best boxer, and he competed in the Olympic Games. He wanted to be the best musician and actor and entertainer, and he composed songs and would sometimes hold a concert for an entire night that no one attending was permitted to leave, though there were reports of guests going into labor during Nero’s concert, or feigning death in order to get out. The safer option, of course, was to wait until the end and give Nero Claudius Caesar your fullest applause. He believed that he was the best architect, the best shipbuilder, the best engineer, that he knew more about each of those subjects than those Romans who had spent their lives in those professions. On one occasion, in an elaborate (but so very Nero) plot to assassinate his mother, Nero designed an ornate pleasure boat that would collapse and sink, and then sailed his mom off in it. It did collapse and sink, but too quickly, so she swam ashore. Another time, he built her a collapsible house.

Nero was incredibly popular with the masses. He would put on vast gladiatorial games for them, he built baths and gymnasiums that anyone could use, he bragged incessantly about the greatness and glory of the Roman military and the Roman people, and he always found someone to blame for all of the problems that hardworking Romans had to face. Their gods were being besmirched and their jobs were being taken by immigrants from the Middle East. And when the great fire of AD 64 burned much of the city, it was clearly the immigrants’ fault. They had come here, sneaky-like, with their alien religion and their violent Middle Eastern ways, and they hated Rome and Romans, and they had started the fire. They were terrifying arsonists and violent people and they needed to be dealt with. Thrown to the lions, burned alive, executed in very showy ways so that the Roman people could see the retribution for their lost jobs and lost homes and lost family, and so that Rome could be rebuilt and be made great again.

Epictetus, a Roman philosopher of the day, criticized Nero Claudius Caesar for his need for adoration. Epictetus said that Nero was a childish, unhappy man who did everything he did in order to get as much praise as possible. If anyone else was getting praise from the Roman masses, Nero would fly into a rage and smear and attack that other person. Or even have them done away with. Suetonius, a historian, said that Nero was possessed by an “unreasonable craving for immortal fame.”

Nero talked a lot about the Roman economy. He talked about closing loopholes in the Roman tax laws and making taxation fair. He talked about spending only on things that mattered and made Rome great … like Nero City. And, curiously, he bankrupted the empire’s treasury and sent Rome into a deep abyss of debt to foreign banks. And though Nero talked all the time about the greatness of Rome’s military, he wasn’t actually very interested in military plans or details. He announced that he intended to abandon the empire’s campaigns across the sea in Britain, he consistently ignored the advice of Rome’s military commanders, and in the end, his military leaders rebelled. Reportedly, Nero’s last words were “Qualis artifex pereo! (What an artist the world is losing!)”

All this, naturally, has nothing to do with current events or persons in today’s world.

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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3 A.M. Thoughts

Dreamscape: Clouds

3 a.m. thoughts, in sequence, upon waking:

1. Life is most likely not as bleak and drear and futile as it briefly appears when you wake at 3 a.m. with a headache and an overabundance of snot.

2. That cyborg ceratosaur that you just fled in your dream for an hour while firing a ray gun over your shoulder and yelling at your crewmates to run faster, dammit…that ravenous robotic dinosaur did not actually eat your friend Jorge. No matter how choked up you just got at the memorial service, where his casket held only his favorite helmet because the rest of him was inside that ceratosaur’s half-mechanical belly, Jorge is not really dead in real life. You didn’t lose him. You don’t have to feel like you abandoned him on that world, down there in the belly of the beast. It’s ok. Sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and overcome, sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and you’re breakfast. That’s life in the fleet. It’s ok. You did all you could. Also, that was a dream, silly, and Jorge is just fine. His memorial service can wait a few decades yet. You can tell him about the dream tomorrow after sunup and laugh about it together.

3. You do not actually know anyone named Jorge.

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

_______________________

Image Credit: Kyle Smith on Unsplash.

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The History Behind “Hocus Pocus”

Hocus Pocus, Rabbit from a Hat

This was written tongue-in-cheek to entertain a friend yesterday, though it is mostly accurate. I’ll share it with you, too. The question was: Where does “hocus pocus” come from? So I took a deep breath before the plunge, and then told this story.

OK, so. England. Early 1600s. For a half century England has been a theological and political war zone between the Anglicans, the Catholics, and various Protestants sects:

  • Much of the Church of England wants a good middle-of-the-road religion with a Bible written in King’s English and that isn’t too obsessed with squishing England’s many folk traditions.
  • Half of the Protestant splinter sects want to ban anything that looks remotely Pagan (which in their minds is a code word for “Catholic,” except for when “Papist” is a code word for “Pagan”), such as stained glass and Christmas and orphanages and kissing.
  • The other half of the English Protestants are smaller sects assembling hastily around a charismatic prophet, in quite a few cases an educated woman who can read Latin and English and has Some Thoughts about the biblical text.
  • The Catholics want England to be Spanish. Now, some of the English don’t want that because their grandfolk saw Bloody Mary and the Spanish Inquisition and the horror of Inquisitors rooting out heretics and “secret Jews” and just torturing and burning people left and right and up and sideways, but since over on the continent the Protestants are now performing their own genocides, many of the English don’t want *them* either.

Super turbulent.

Many English folk whose parents were Catholic and whose county now isn’t Catholic would love to pay alms to an orphanage or a chapel or a hospital whose patients can sing prayers for the souls of their dearly departed to get them out of purgatory into heaven faster, but the Puritans are busy telling them, “HOLD ON NOW, ALL YOUR PARENTS ARE IN HELL, THERE AIN’T NO PURGATORY OR NO GHOSTS OR NONE OF THIS CATHOLIC STUFF NOW WE AIN’T HAVING IT, THIS IS A GODLY AND PROTESTANT LAND, YOU ALL ARE PROTESTANTS NOW, Y’HEAR. EXCEPT THE KING, HE’S A TOTAL HEATHEN (AND GAY), BUT HE’S FUNDING US.”

But not being able to fund doctors and orphanages to sing for the beloved dead (which used to be the big engine driving philanthropy), lots of English folk with dead loved ones who apparently are burning in hell now have the major sads. (As Stephen Greenblatt argues in Hamlet in Purgatory, it’s part of what Hamlet is about. How do you mourn for the dead when you’ve been told ghosts and purgatory aren’t real and most of the dead are in hell, and what if a ghost does show up and tells you to avenge your dad and off your uncle, who do you believe then??? Someone is playing you an unkind trick, and something is rotten in the state of Denmark.)

And Catholic Spain sends in an invading armada, and a generation later, a terrorist tries to blow up Parliament, so the Pagan Pontiff in the east is clearly out to kill all good English people and also bring kids presents and hang glass balls and ribbons on trees in the middle of the winter. Nefarious bloke, that one. And Ben Jonson puts on a masque for the king when the king visits London, where Father Christmas is led out in chains by the London Guard, to plead his case before the king. Yes, he dresses fancy and gives gifts and decorates trees, but Father Christmas insists that “he’s as Protestant as any,” and the poor orphan children should be allowed to see him this December. Meanwhile, every street in London has its own new religion forming because now the middle-class can read and the Bible’s done been translated into English and everyone Has Thoughts.

Now into this colossal mess walks the Great Hocus Pocus of London! With his billowing stars-and-moons cape and his gift for lifting an object over his head, intoning the solemn, allegedly Latin magic phrase “Hocus Pocus!!” and BOOM, his scarf just becomes a bunny wabbit, or something. He was a great illusionist of the early 1600s. There was no Vatican II yet, so every Catholic liturgy was in Latin and most folk didn’t know Latin. So, it was a common misconception at the time that when the priest lifted the bread and blessed it, he was performing a work of Magic, transforming the bread to the body of Christ, and the wine to the blood. Transubstantiation was something scholars could debate until they were blue in the face; the working class, many of whom still celebrated Yule and Samhain and the rest, knew it was Magic. So the Great Hocus Pocus of London would hold up items, mimicking a Catholic priest, and intone solemnly, “Hoc – us poc – us!” And BOOM! The item changed to something else. Hocus pocus was a seventeenth-century corruption of the Latin phrase “hoc est corpus” (this is the body) from the Eucharist.

His magical illusions earned the Great Hocus Pocus many coins and noisily excited crowds, and many Puritan scowls. He got to perform before nobles great and small. And the Puritans published a street pamphlet condemning the Great Hocus Pocus, with a little engraving of the Pocus himself in his cape with a malevolent sneer and with the Pope following along at one elbow and with a little horned devil with a long tail and shrivelled little bat-wings following along at his other. I saw it when I was a graduate student at the Bodleian Library.

But for ever after, street and stage and vaudeville illusionists would cry “Hocus Pocus!” as they performed their spells, and Puritan polemicists would adopt “The Hocus Pocus” as a slur for the Pope. Mid-century, the Puritans take over the country, behead the king, and criminalize Catholicism, Christmas, maypoles, theatrical productions, laughing too loud, and wearing colors other than black. A generation later, they’re overthrown, Oliver Cromwell’s head is stuck up in a steeple, and England reveals to the world just what happens when a people who have been repressed by Puritans for twenty years suddenly get to let loose: they launch a non-stop party, open opera houses and brothels and vaudeville theaters (where an actress-witch might entertain a drunk crowd by yelling “HOCUS POKE-US!!!” and appearing to transform a fellow nude actor’s manhood into a bouquet of flowers. Or a rabbit, I suppose), and they rewrite all of Shakespeare’s tragedies with happy endings and mad cool sparkly special effects. (You haven’t *really* seen King Lear until you’ve seen Lear and Cordelia dance off stage at the end to a sprightly tune while the audience is showered with flowers, let me tell you.) Also, the Anglicans get to hang up Christmas stockings and burn Yule logs again, and some Catholics get to come back, too, although good Anglicans still celebrate escaping the Gunpowder Plot by burning Catholics in effigy every 5th of November.

There is a 1680 Restoration-era political pamphlet that urges the king not to allow the Puritan faction to get any more power because they are “Fanatics.” The pamphlet stages a debate between the Pope and a “Phanatick,” and caricatures many common Puritan arguments. In one, the “Phanatick” names the Pope the “Anti Christ” and “the Spiritual Pasha of Mystical Babylon, the great Hocus Pocus of Christendom, Son of the Scarlet Whore!” Because the Puritans used to throw phrases like that around a lot.

So Hocus Pocus was originally “Behold, I transform this wine into blood and also your dangly parts into a fluffy bunny! POOF!”

It was a phrase invoked by London street magicians and by Puritan brimstone preachers who had an itch to fight the Pope. And because the two catchiest things in the world are brimstone preaching and lewd comedy, we still hocus pocus things today.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Photo above Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash.

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A Comfort on the Long Road

Portrait of Teresa of Avila

The statements being released by some members of my faith, filled with hate and prejudice and a desire to disclaim responsibility rather than accept the radical responsibility that Christ teaches … It makes me tired. It makes me mad. It makes me grieve. It makes me want to take some of my brothers lovingly but so, so firmly by the shoulders and shake them.

A friend reminded me today of these words from Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Dear Teresa of Avila, she and Julian of Norwich, have been a comfort to me on many long roads. From Julian: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Stant Litore

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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The Invasion of the Acropolis

Painting of the Acropolis by Leo von Klenze

I am alternately amused and mildly appalled while perusing my old Greek textbooks today. Athenaze were my texts and for my money they’re still the best available for learning ancient Greek. They teach the language the same way modern languages are often taught: by having the reader follow a story and learn as they go. It’s very effective, and I recommend the texts for anyone who’s interested; Greek doesn’t have to be as hard to learn as folks make it out to be.

That said, the cultural norming happening in the story written for the textbook is getting a wry look from me. The farmer in the story is hardworking, honest, but occasionally henpecked by his wife; the slave is lazy; the wives set out to persuade their husbands sweetly and submissively to let them go on an outing; the son likes to scare the daughter with gory stories, and the daughter is appropriately horrified; etc. It’s a somewhat Victorianized version of the Attican countryside.

I think if I were ever to write a textbook for ancient Greek (which I would NOT; I will leave that to those who are far better at it! and who have grants to fund it, too), I think I’d help the student learn Greek by walking them through the story of the winter when the Amazons invaded Athens and fought the Greeks toe to toe on the Acropolis in an attempt to rescue their kidnapped queen and bring fire and death and the wrath of Ares on those who had trafficked her across the sea. Now that would be a story to build a textbook on. Will the temple of the Thunderer burn, or will Theseus retake it? Will Hippolyta’s sister succeed in her night raid on Theseus’s camp? What do the slaves who are keeping the war-camp fed have to say about all this? You can find out as soon as you conquer the sigmatic first aorist active verb endings and thus unlock the next chapter.

Stant

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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A Military Metaphor in the New Testament, and Where Our Translation Goes Wrong…

Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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Now on to the post…

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All right, with a friend’s help, I found a much faster way to say what I’ve been wanting to say about “hupotassomenoi allelois” (Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις) in the letter to Ephesus. So here is the more Internet-friendly, tl;dr version.

People often quote Ephesians 5:22 (in English, usually a variation on “wives, submit to your husbands”), and there are several problems with how this verse is usually used.

First, people usually forget to also quote Ephesians 5:21 (“submit to each other in reverence of Christ”), despite the fact that in Greek this is all part of the same sentence and that in that sentence you can’t talk about wives submitting to husbands without simultaneously talking about husbands submitting to wives.

Second, if you look at the original words, you realize that “submit” doesn’t mean “obey.” Our modern “submit” doesn’t even mean what “submit” meant in English when it was used originally, four hundred years ago, in the King James translation of the Bible. The older English translations used “submit” because they were drawing from Latin “sub + mittere,” meaning to deploy oneself like a soldier under a command, to get a mission accomplished. (In fact, we get the English word “mission” from the same Latin verb.) And the Greek “hupo + tassomenoi” means to deploy or arrange yourselves in military formation under a command. The original passage isn’t making a statement about obedience, but about the disciplined and alert support that Christians who are in relationship with each other are called to provide each other as they wear the “full armor of God” and face (spiritual) opposition. It’s actually a remarkable word to use in a first-century Greek text because military metaphors were usually reserved for men. But people of all genders are being asked to deploy themselves in a battle-ready unit in support of each other within the early Christian community. Ephesians 5:21: “Deploy yourselves in support of each other, in reverence of Christ.” The tense is one we don’t have in English, one that suggests continual action: Be always deploying yourselves under and in support of each other. These lines in Ephesians are part of a longer sentence and a longer passage that offers an extended metaphor for how each member of a first-century Ephesian community can be continually, spiritually battle-ready, regardless of their gender, class, or position.

Third, by missing both of the points above, we end up trying to take one piece of a Greek sentence and use it as an isolated aphorism to hang a doctrine on, specifically about women’s roles in [the household / the church / society – take your pick], and we then proceed to miss entirely the point the original writer appears to have been making, which has to do with the need for a community in which all members are actively supporting each other, each member ready to step in wherever the other is vulnerable — operating in concert (“homothumadon,” of one mind) like a Greek phalanx or a Roman battle square. And the use of the military metaphor to apply not only to the citizens and freedmen in the community but to the slaves as well, and not only to men but to others also, subverts the traditional class and gender hierarchies of the community the letter is being written to: treating all believers as though they are all soldiers working together in a unit. It’s a radically subversive idea in the first century, and we don’t have easily equivalent words or concepts to translate it to in modern English.

So when we pluck out the one verse by itself and use it as rhetorical backing for a gender hierarchy that is traditional in *our* culture, we might possibly be committing two errors.

First, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Imagine that we’re grabbing up one branch and whacking women with it while the writer of the passage is standing to one side shouting indignantly, “Wait! Look at the forest! Put down that branch a moment and look at the whole forest! It’s important!” (And there is an impressive, deep, beautiful, and useful forest here, if we don’t busy ourselves waving twigs in the air and we get to see it. The larger message about community that this letter is trying to convey is a very powerful one that is no less radical today than when it was written. It’s just being conveyed within a language and context that’s very different from our own.)

And second, we may be advocating a message that, in spirit, is opposite to the message the epistle was written to convey. That is, we’re enforcing culturally traditional divisions (and doing so potentially in divisive or oppressive ways) in a passage that was all about how to operate as a cohesive and interdependent unit inside of and against what was at that time a divided and highly stratified culture.

Something to think about.

(That’s still quite a long post, I suppose. But much shorter than my other attempts.)

Stant Litore

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P.S. Sometimes, the King James Version actually gives us a really good translation, but we get in trouble because the meanings of many words have changed in English over the past four centuries (like “submit”). Another example my friends and I have been talking about a lot is the Proverbs 31 “virtuous woman.”

The Hebrew is “eshet chayil.” It doesn’t mean “virtuous woman.” It means “woman of valor.”

The King James translated “chayil” as “virtuous” because in the 17th century, “virtuous” still suggested the French “virtu” and at the time it meant “manly” or “brave.” This is the woman who is also, in the King James translation, clothed in “strength and honor.”

The Hebrew doesn’t suggest “manly”/masculine though. Just: valorous. Brave, persistent, daring, and ready for anything.

“A daring, warrior woman, who can find? Her worth is incalculable” would be a much better English translation. (In fact, the JPS Tanakh used for Jewish worship in the United States translates the verse closer to that.)

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Photo above by Caleb Wright on Unsplash.

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore