Things I Have Learned Today

I am reading a PhD thesis in Egyptology about the changes in the representation of Seth in Ancient Egyptian art through time and locality.

Even though my STEM ass is a bit miffed about the lack of quantitative statistics, P Values and levels of significance, I am enjoying it very much as it introduces many interesting concepts and does not pander to te Velde’s homophobia/sex-phobia, but pays attention to different interpretations of the role of Seth.

The take-home message from today is that not even the Amcient Egyptians could consistently draw the Seth-animal, and as a result almost no two of them are alike.

Feeling validated.


Book Review – Adults in the Room, My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment by Yanis Varoufakis

Warning: this book will make you angry and may induce you to join an European reform movement (if so please go to

This book is the almost blow-by-blow account of how for 6 months in 2015 Greece under the Radical Left Syriza government showed the rest of Europe that another way was possible, rebelling and resisting against the debt-austerity stranglehold imposed by the infamous BCE – IMF -European Commission trojka, only to capitulate under extreme pressure at the end, even after a victorious referendum.

It is the story of how the troika lost its credibility and Syriza lost its soul, of how the hopes of a Continent were dashed to mantain unsustainable economical policies with no hope of success, and the power of the political and financial élites who had devised them to cover other grievous errors in judgement.

Backed by a large number of progressive economists including Nobel Prize Joseph Stieglitz, the policies proposed by Varoufakis and his team were expected to have a positive effect on the Greek economy and help repay the debt while at the same time combating povery, corruption and large-scale tax evasion and bringing the Greek banking system back in control after it had contributed to the default. As it emerges from the book, however, this was not something the creditors cared about. The whole humiliation conga line was about some people high up in Germany and at the IMF and their desire to keep their seats in the middle of a storm which they had contributed to cause.

In the midst of many betrayals and capitulations to the logics of power and to the bare-faced blackmail of international financial institutions, Varoufakis and the Greek population emerge as the true, tragic heroes, standing fast against pressure and fighting for a reasonable solution that would preserve the diginty of the Greeks and actually fix the economic problems consequent to the financial crack of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession.

At the time of these events, in Italy we were all supporting the Greek rebellion to the diktats of the troika, to the point that an Italian left-wing party, in the effort to make the EU elections more European and in solidarity, had put the leader of Syriza Alexis Tzipras as headliner in its list. We and the Greeks were in the same situation, after all, only a bit less strapped for cash, but with a government that didn’t have the least desire to antagonise its “masters” and was more than happy to pursue self-defeating austerity policies that had the only result of pushing people to lose any faith in the State and in politics and push young people to emigrate in droves in order to make something of the degrees they had obtained (I am one of them).

Varoufakis, who must be a much better person than me,  doesn’t want to think that there was any explict malice in the whole débacle.
I beg to differ.
The crisis of the Southern European countries, like the fall of the Iron Curtain before, has been gleefully used for a round of disaster capitalism, with all the trimmings of sales of public assets, privatisations and reduction in workers’ right and living standards.
Case in point, our own Asshole Premier Renzi used the excuse of the crisis to make it easier for firms to employ people with unsecure, hyper-fexible contracts, and fire people at will. As clearly stated in Varoufakis’ book, the reduction of employee salaries and protections is the explicit objective of the German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble in order to make Europe more competitive with emerging economies.

Also, I cannot forget how the whole systemic crisis has been framed in the media as a result of the laziness, work-shyness and lack of financial savy of the Southern Countries. “They live above their means”, “they have too may holidays”, “they work too few hours”, “they don’t save enough”, you could hear everywhere, even though at the time Spain and Ireland were actually running surpluses in their economy. You could smell the xenophobic rethoric from miles away, and the acronym they invented for the affected countries was just the icing on the cake. Of all the letter combinations that you can get from Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece of course they made PIIGS.
Pigs, with all the connotations of gluttony, stupidity and laziness that the word entails.

The xenophobic rethoric didn’t stop there. In 2015 I was at the European Molecular Biology Conference in Birmingham and I attended a panel about scientific excellence, the EU’s favourite dogwhistle word for “we’re going to give money to institutions that already have money”. The then-director of one of the foremost scientific institutions of Portugal intervened to tell us all that Portugal as a country didn’t allocate any money to PhD scholarships at all for one year. He also produced a document that justified the total cut of investments in science with some kind of European strategy to “leverage the competences of each member country” or something like that, which we all agreed that meant: Southern Europe should leave science to its Northern betters and focus on tourism and agriculture because that’s what they are good at.

And the consequences of the EU’s shitty behavious and lack of forethought were even more far-reaching than they had imagined: with the UK Conservative government pressing on with the austerity with the excuse that Europe wanted it (it this case it is not true, it was self-inflicted), the troika subverting all colours of government to its agenda, and a general lack of faith in the State, politics and humanity, combined with the fallout of the Great Game between foreign powers in the Middle East, it’s no surprise that we had Brexit, a resurgence of nazi-fascism and populism all across Europe, the greates humanitarian crisis since WWII and a peak of intolerance and hate crimes against immigrants and refugees.
The recent victory of Berlusconi, the Real Nazi-fascists(TM) and the populists in Italy is just the latest consequence in this awful mess.
Europe could well disintegrate and then each smallish country on its own would be unable to deal as effectively with global issues like climate change and the global refugee crisis and would be easy pickings for iniquitous commercial deals like, NAFTA-style.

However, there is hope, and not the kind of hope that says “everything it’s going to be OK”, but the kind that sees a mess and fights to clean it. Headstrong, indomitable Varoufakis and a bunch of like-minded people have joined the effort of many other European associations to reform the EU in a more transparent, democratic, collaborative and socially just sense. DiEM25 is a pan-European, cross-border movement of democrats that aims to fix the EU by democratising it and they have a ballsy, do-or-bust plan to do it by 2025, date by which they estimate that if we haven’t fixed it, the EU will disintegrate. I encourage you all to read their manifesto and, if possible to join the cause.

Only together we can win.

Book Review – The Violent Goddess – Anat in the Ras Shamra Texts

The Violent Goddess – Anat in the Ras Shamra Texts, A.S. Kapelrud, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1969

TW: mentions of blood, gore and violence

Disclaimer: I use the zie/zir pronouns for Anat because Zie appears to me as nonbinary/genderfluid. Likewise I will use “deity” in place of “goddess” or the same reason

This is one of the earliest monographies on Anat, second only to Ugo Cassuto’s seminal work “The Goddess Anat”, first published in Hebrew in 1951 and translated in English only in 1971.

While Cassuto’s work is very dry and philological (with plenty of bonus untranslated Hebrew), Kapelrud’s is a more discursive account of the vicissitudes of the Ba’al Cycle and of related texts, which tries to examine the different roles performed by Anat in different circumstances.

The internet loves to hate Kapelrud for supposedly “reducing Anat to a fertility figure” or “to Ba’al’s consort”, but upon reading the full text cover to cover I have found no evidence of this. Much upon the contrary, in multiple occasions while teasing out different aspects and interpretations of the deity, he nevertheless stresses zir multifaceted role as warrior, messenger, mourner, and initiator of rites.
If anything, he stresses the role of both Ba’al and Anat in the fertility cycle, in which the return of Ba’al, made possible by the destruction of Mot by Anat’s hand, is what leads to the return of fertility to the land.
Much controversy remains around a handful of hard-to-translate fragments which, depending on the translation would indicate that Anat is the consort/sexual partner of Ba’al. Many opinions on the internet dislike this idea, as if having sex with a male deity must necessarily imply a degradation/humiliation of the female/nonbinary deity in question. The issues behind this are too complicated to unpack, so I am just going to say that I am not among the proponents of this theory and that I think that desexualising female/nonbinary deities and painting sex as something that “strong goddesses” don’t do, is just as wrong as hypersexualising them and reducing them all to “mother goddesses” or “fertility goddesses”.

Anat is neither. In Kapelrud’s own words, zie is the Ugaritic archetype of the victorious warrior, and, according to another hard-to-translate passage, might have had a large hand in the defeat of both monsters against which Ba’al has fought in the myth. Ba’al is also a famed warrior, but whereas he has more of a Lawful Good vibe, zie is an incontrollable force of nature that doesn’t hesistate to threaten older, more influential deities and revels in the joy of battle. People are scared witless of the pair.

Apart from zir battle exploits, Anat is an active character in the myth, often acting as a messenger/diplomat for Ba’al (even though zir idea of diplomacy is threatening people with GBH), but also striking out on her own with absolutely no qualms about anatgonising other deities, for example in the Aqhat cycle.

Fierce in joy and grief, zie takes the initiative when Ba’al falls prey of Mot, first by recovering his body from the perilous fields at the edge of the Underworld, then by initiating the mourining rites (a role which has a close parallel zir close to Aset and Nebt-Het) and installing a new king (a dude called Athtar who knew he was not up to the task), and finally by going back to the edge of the Underworld to kill Mot and destroy him utterly in a shining, gloruìious example of the trope “There Is No Kill Like Overkill”.
This underlines zir role as a liminal, wild deity, at the edge between life and death, between fecundity and destruction.

Tl;dr: ignore the radfems on the interwebs, this book is a good starting point for Anat, even though it assumes prior knowledge. If you have absolutely no idea of the plot of the Ba’al Cycle, you will be quite confused.

Free Kemetic Resources Roundup – May 2018

Welcome back to another round of the Free Kemetic Resources Roundup, this time from ever more rainy England.

This time we will have a look at a few excavation websites, where you can have your fix of detailed info about the finds, the status and upcoming work performed at your favourite Ancient Egyptian sites. There are quite a lot of them, so I won’t cover them all today, but in the meantime let’s get started!

  • AERA is the website of the Giza Plateau digs directed by Mark Lehner, who has been working at the site since 1973. Here you can find info on a number of projects being carried out at the site, including the mapping of the Great Sphynx (with interactive map!), the mapping of the Giza Plateau complex (with map!), the excavation an mapping of the Lost City of the Pyramids, a planned settlement that housed the people working on the Pyramids building site and their families (ith map! – and check out the experimental breadmaking!) and the radiocarbon dating of the Pyramids. You can also subscribe to the newsletter for your regular pyramid fix!
  • The Tell Basta Project, a joint mission of the Egypt Exploration Society, the University of Würzburg and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities devoted to the excavation of Bubastis, the city dedicated to Bast, used to have a Tumblr in English which I had looked up when researching this series of posts. Sadly, said Tumblr is now defunct and what is left is a website in German, with lovely photos, and lovely, inaccessible information. Some info in English can be found here in an article on the excavations at Tell Basta by former Minister of State for Antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass.
  • Staying in the Delta, the site of ancient Sais, city of the Creatrix Neith, is being excavated by the University of Durham in partnership with the Egypt Exploration Society and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities. Their website looks a bit old-fashioned but provides plenty of info, pictures, excavation reports dating as far back as 1997 and a copious bibliography.
  • Started by Dr Jeffrey Spencer and then taken up by the Egypt Exploration Society in 1997, the Delta Survey collates information on minor archeological sites (Tells and Koms, that is mounds) in the Nile Delta. Over 700 sites are catalogued, and while for the major ones only a short description and links are provided, for the others there are the results of visual inspections, sometimes with photos, as well as a bibliography. The extent of information on different sites can differ vastly
  • Related to the previous project but independent from it, the Western Delta Regional Survey is a smaller, more circumscribed project from the University of Durham, financed by the UK AHRC, which is mostly aimed to provide regional context to the excavations at Sais/Sa el-Hagar, also in concession to the University of Durham
  • Also in the Delta, but at the opposite end, the once-magnificent site of Avaris/Peru-Nefer/Pi-Ramesse, the Venice of the Late Bronze Age, the mighty city of Seth, has been excavated since 1966 by the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo (1966-2009 director Manfred Bietak, since 2009 Irene Forstner-Müller). The website, both in German and in English, contains an interactive map of the site, overlaid with geophysical survey pictures and updates from the various campaigns. The map can be used to navigate through the site and links up to the information available for the different structures that have been excavated. This is my absolute favourite ancient city (perhaps on the same level as Carthage) and is the the only place in Egypt where Minoan artefacts and paintings were found, as well as the capital of Ramesside Egypt and one of the principal seats of the cult of Seth (the hyksos-age temple was perhaps Temple I in Area /II). Unfortunately it’s not that up-to-date, with the last major lot of info dating back to 2013
  • Not in the Delta, but to mantain the Balance of the Force, Hierakonopolis, AKA Nekhen, the city of Horus the Elder, excavated by a multinational team led by Dr Renee Friedman, has a nifty website providing information on the various chronological phases of the site, from the Predynastic town where the Narmer Palette was found, to Dynastic tombs. The map is not interactive, but the information is accessible through a side panel and hyperlinks.

This is it for this time, folks! See you in a month!

Solidarity Forever! Or How Not to Care About the Rain and Enjoy the Demo

On the 12th of May I was in London with my partner for the National TUC March – A New Deal for Working People, a march and rally organised by the UK Trade Unions Congress.

The platform was about no-nonsense social and economic justice, like stopping the pay freeze of public services after 10 years of sub-inflationary non-raises, reversing austerity and reinstating vital public services to the benefit of the most vulnerable segments of society, the end of Ms May’s “hostile environment” policies, a 10£ minimum wage (now it’s 7.50£), the renationalisation of rail services and other concessions and a programme of strategic investments in affordable housing and industry.

All the Trade Unions were represented, with a very strong presence of nurses, teachers and firefighters, who are still campaigning for Justice for Grenfell, as so far there has been none. Thousands of people congregated in Hyde Park under the pouring rain to protest and propose to the sound of clappers, rattles and trumpets.

The Unions had brought out the old section banners from pre-Blair times, emblazoned with mottos and symbols: raised fists, Starry Ploughs and the old mottos chanting which our parents, grandparents and ancestors fought and fell: “Solidarity Forever”, “Workers of the World Unite”, the whole gamut. People called each other brothers and sisters, comrades.

I dedicated my asthmatic plastic trumpet to Seth Loud-of-Voice, He Who is Pleased with the Riot, Comrade of Darkness, and blared away, making as much noise as possible.

It was worth braving the rain.

After the rally was over, wet and hungry my partner and I retreated to Foyles. Both of us have been gravitating around the Left and Centre-Left for at least some fifteen years, ever since high school and the big demos against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and against the diversion of public funds to private education in Italy (I was even elcted as delegate to the AGM of the Democratic Party once, before I decided they were not actually interested in doing anything truly leftist and abandoned ship), but after such an emotional and intense rally, we both felt like we had to step up our game, so we browsed the political sciences and contemporary history shelves until we found something to satisfy our appetite for information and social justice.

We got “Adults in the Room, my Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, the memoir of the Greek Spring of 2015 by former Greek Minister of Finances and overall badass Yanis Varoufakis and “The Price of Inequality” by Nobel prize winner and economist Joseph Stieglitz.

The TBR pile is deep in our house, but Varoufakis’ book got immediately bumped to the top and what a read it is!

Now this English Summer is peppered with demonstration as a finally-socialist Labour Party, the Trade Unions and their extraparlamentary allies try to bring Theresa May’s racist, xenophobic and rapacious governent down, save the NHS and try to stop Brexshit in its tracks, and you can bet your pants that these two Social Justice Rangers (favourite enemy: fascists) will be doing their bit for their country of residence.

The fight is never over, but like the crew of the Solar Barque we will renew it daily to preserve the world from isfet.

Free Kemetic Resources Roundup – April

Here comes another round of the Free Kemetic Resources, straight from the beaches of Alis Ubbo, the Safe Haven of the Phoenicians.

This round is packed full of visual goodness, but let’s get started.

Manna4u: the Flickr account of an Egyptian photographer, who makes all of their pictures of Egyptian museums and monuments available for non-commercial and educational purposes. There are absolutely loads of pictures of the main AE tsites, plus pictures of modern Egyptian art.

Pictures of Egypt by Meretseger Books: Meretseger Books is a French specialist bookseller dealing in books about Ancient Egyptian/Ancient Near East art, history and archeology, with an extensive catalogue of new, vintage and nearly-impossible-to-find books on the subjects. While most of their catalogue is eye-wateringly inaccessible to most Kemetics, they ve made their vast collection of pictures on Ancient Egypt freely available for non-commercial purposes over the web. ranging from Sudan to the Delta, the pictures are handily divided by geographical area and then by site. Resolution is variable, but most of it is still great.

UCL Digital Egypt 3D Model Collection: A collection of 3D models of Ancient Egyptian cities and temples, curated by the UCL wthin their Digital Egypt project. I’m loving the Naqada models in particular. Models come with explanations.

The Liverpool Museum – 3D Ancient Egyptian Objects: A small selection of 3D models of Ancient Egyptian objects held at the Liverpool Museum, duly annotated and in context. A tiny jewel.

3D models of Ancient Egyptian stuff on Sketchfab: The Ancient Egypt-related 3D models available on Sketchfab, as built and uploaded by the 3D modelling community. It might take a bit of scrolling to sort out the gems from the overmuscular, arcade videogame crap, but there are scanned 3D models from the British Museums and other world-class museums, reconstructions of temples and tombs. Well worth a shot, I’d say.

Seth Sightings by Joan Lansberry: Comprehensive and commented database about the iconography of the god Seth, curated by amateur archeologist and fellow Kemetic Joanne Lansberry A one-stop shop for all your Sethian iconography needs, with tons of pictures from the Predynastic to the Late Period. One of my favourite websites. I cannot recommend it enough.

Geographical Information System for the Theban Necropolis: By Peter A. Piccione and sponored by the College of Charleston and University of Charleston, in collaboration with the Santee-Cooper GIS laboratory, this tool allows the user to search by location all the tombs of the Theban Necropolis and view relevant information as well as multispectral satellite imaging. Super handy!

Aaand… this is it for this round, but more free stuff will be coming your way in a month.

Summer Day

Dua Ra for the Sun and the Summer,

For the golden Light that dusts everything with wonder.

Dua Asherah, Lady of the Tree of Life, for the flowers blooming,

For the grass that grows

For the river that runs swiftly to the Sea, o Rabitu Yam.

Dua Ash for the paths yet untrodden,

For the restlesness,

For the line of the horizon, beckoning

For the strangers I am yet to meet.