What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With The Alternate-Universe Alley Oop? May – August 2019.


This is my plot recap for my other controversial story comic. That’s Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. I’m just here to get people caught up on the story as of mid-August 2019. If you’re reading this later than about November 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link.

Alley Oop.

27 May – 17 August 2019.

We were near the start of a fresh story when I last checked in. The Time Raccoons had left, with their leader just promising she’d see Wonmug and all in “another era”. Wonmug dropped Ooola and Oop back off at home and returned to his Time Laboratory. We haven’t seen the Time Raccoons again, but we do get a regular raccoon in a lab coat making coffee. And Alley Oop got back to some good old moping around at home.

Oop, holding Meggs: 'Don't worry, little dino, you're safe.' Ooola: 'What are you going to do to her?' Oop: 'I guess take care of her until I find her mama.' Ooola: 'And let me snuggle her and play with her and tell her how cute she is?' Oop, pulling Meggs away: 'ONLY WHEN I'M NOT DOING THAT!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 30th of May, 2019. Meggs has not yet been an important part of the storyline, but she is an adorable little dino, isn’t she?

Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.

Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.

Ava: 'Dr Wonmug, I've been working on a project of my own while you were gone. It pulls an object from another dimension and deposits it in this box.' (ZZZZAAAP) Wonmug: 'It looks like an orange.' Orange: 'Yes, but this one TALKS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 4th of June, 2019. So the reason I say this is possibly a fourth-wall-breaking strip is, notice artist Jonathan Lemon’s signature. In this strip it’s in the second panel. The lemon is often shown imitating one of the characters. But, yeah, the strip might just be setting up the idea of travel between universes so that the real story can depend on that. But I’m not sure that idea needs to be planted before it could be used in the story.

But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.

Dr Piedra: 'Someone is altering history in their universe, and it's changing ours! The science is complicated and involves dimensional causality and quantum transuniversal nodes. And I obviously don't need to explain it to you, as everyone in our universe is a SUPER GENIUS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2019. Look, I needed it explained to me that Doc Wonmug’s name was a joke on Albert Einstein and that’s why I went to Google Translate to verify exactly what Dr Piedra’s name means.

So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.

So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.

Greek Man: 'I don't know this Plato guy, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.' Wonmug, heading out: 'OK, thanks.' Greek Woman: 'Hey, do you know where to find some good dolmas around here?' Greek Man: 'I don't know what dolmas are, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of July, 2019. I know Wonmug is a STEM type, and has only been more so since Lemon and Sayers took over. But, jeez, I’m a STEM type and I know this. It’s fundamental literacy for the culture you live in. You look for Plato around the Republic, guys. Sheesh.

The story as far as Alley Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug know it started the 24th of June with a trip to Ancient Greece. They’re to interview Plato for an offscreen friend of Wonmug’s who’s writing a book. They go to Ancient Greece. “Present-day Greece” say the Greeks. “Distant-future Greece” says Alley Oop. I like this bit. They get a bad tip on where to find Plato and end up in the Labyrinth.

Oop: Dr Wonmug, tell me again, what does the minotaur look like?' Wonmug: 'He's half-man, half-bull. Very big and very angry.' Oop: 'Got it!' Oop, to an elephant-headed parrot wearing glasses: 'Get this: I thought *you* were the *minotaur*!' Elephant parrot: 'Haha! Not even *close*! I'm *Steve*!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of July, 2019. So the elephant-headed parrot thing is pretty cute. Also I like this thing where many of the animals wear glasses.

This threatens danger, that all turns out to silliness. Encountering Steve in the labyrinth. Encountering the Minotaur, who’s friendly when he learns he’s got so much in common with Oop. This reminds me of Alley Oop’s peaceful encounter with an alligator last storyline. I’m enjoying this running joke of “menacing creatures turn out to be friends of Alley Oop”. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you say this wrecks suspenseful moments.

Plato: 'You know, Mr Oop, this little dialogue has inspired me. Maybe instead of puppetry I could spend my time exploring knowledge, existence, and beauty.' Oop: 'You mean 'philosophy'?' Plato: 'Yes! That's what it's called: PHILOSOPHY! ... I was going to call it 'Professor Plato's Plentiful Ponderings and Profundities', but 'Philosophy' is MUCH better.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of July, 2019. To get back to what’s controversial about this strip. If this is a treatment of the characters that you just can not get behind, yes, you’re right. At least for now, this isn’t the Alley Oop that you liked. Maybe it’ll grow into something more like you do. Maybe whoever creates the strip after Lemon and Sayers move on will be more to your tastes. Maybe someone has a time-travel adventure comic you do like. I don’t know of one offhand. As web comics go I pretty much read XKCD and Projection Edge and that’s it. But if you know anything that might scratch an old-school Alley Oop fan’s itches, please, say something.

They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.

The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.

Eeena: 'So, Universe 2 is officially cut off from any time-related science.' Ollie Arp: 'Thank goodness. Their antics were really starting to annoy me.' Eeena: 'Surely we should give them the technology to solve their imminent environmental collapse?' Arp: 'Nah, some lessons you have to learn the hard way.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of August, 2019. Also possibly a fourth-wall riff: Ollie Arp admitting he’s annoyed by the antics of Universe 2’s Alley Oop and Ooona and Wonmug. Not addressed: how can something in a separate universe be “starting” to do something in another? Like, can there possibly be a logically coherent meaning for “now” when you’re looking at the events in another universe? What can “imminent” mean for time-travellers?

Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.

And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.

Next Week!

I’m fortunate to, I think, have a light week of work ahead since it’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, up for review. Even better I might be able to give a definite answer to whether The Phantom has rescued Kadia’s mother by then. Barring breaking news on any of the story strips that’ll be next week. Thanks for reading.

Popeye goes after the Golden Fleece


There’s four cartoons in this YouTube video that King Features Sydnicate posted. Last week I discussed Coffee House. The week before, I discussed The Billionaire. Also in this quartet is Dead-Eye Popeye. I’m not going to review that. If you want to watch Dead-Eye Popeye, go right ahead, from this link. Popeye as a Western sheriff. It’s a Larry Harmon-directed cartoon. It’s not a great cartoon. It’s not terrible. A week after you watch it last you’ll remember nothing from it. I watched it six days ago. I remember there was something amusing about Bluto and his identical brothers. I don’t remember what.

I’m interested instead in Golden-Type Fleece. It’s another Jack Kinney-directed cartoon. We saw him with the Coffee House last week. It promises at least stylish drawing, such as the title card’s illustration of the Argo. It also promises odd pauses in conversations. Be warned: there’s a bit here that’s been running through my head, nonstop, since 1978.

Once again Popeye’s telling Swee’Pea a tale. The King Features cartoons used this frame a lot. I don’t know why. I think I’d accept a cartoon where Popeye just played Jason of the Argo. Or playing Aladdin himself. But having a frame like this solves some narrative problems. The cartoon can patch any holes in story logic by having Popeye say “then later”. Maybe that’s all they needed. It reminds me of SCTV throwing a “coming soon” bumper around any spoof they only had partially finished.

And what’s left in the story is a bunch of Greek Mythology jokes. The normal Popeye cast gets to be Greek Mythology characters. Popeye as Jason is almost required, certainly. I guess Wimpy is then the only choice left to be the King who sends out Jason. (Who else could they use? Toar? Roughhouse? Castor Oyl?) The Sea Hag as the Queen is similarly forced. This may be an accident, but it does reflect a thing from the comic strip. In the comics the Sea Hag is kind of enamored of Wimpy. Or at least sees him as a way to crush Popeye. Wimpy certainly won’t turn away someone who thinks she can use him, too. And he is smart, or at least cunning, enough to stay ahead of her. It’s a great plot-generating relationship when the comic remembers it.

Bluto as every (male) antagonist — Jupiter, Neptune, a centaur — is forced on the plot. You could read the triple casting of Bluto as a comment on the whole Bluto/Brutus/Pluto/etc shenanigans. You couldn’t make that stick, though. Olive Oyl as a ticket taker who isn’t enamored of Jason/Popeye is a fun bit. It’s disappointing when she does kind of fall for him later. I don’t know whether the sirens are supposed to be Alice the Goon. She’s off-model if she is. But, I mean, look at Popeye’s hands this cartoon. Not for too long. I don’t know who the bird on the prow of Jason’s ship is. Researching this cartoon taught me the Argo had a plank of sacred wood with the power of speech. That’s neat and I don’t remember seeing that in any Ray Harryhausen-animated movie.

There are a fair bunch of funny pictures here. King Wimpy summoning Jason using semaphore flags, for example, on a pier with posts that I’m going to call Doric columns. There’s not enough scenes funny by themselves, though. I notice how often a scene is one character speaking, on a nearly featureless background. The animation looks like it came in on budget. The dialogue is more interesting. The characters in the story tend to talk in rhyming couplets. I don’t know why. I guess to make it sound faintly more like this is from an epic poem? But without being too complicated to write, or for kids to understand? But the rhyming isn’t done too rigorously. There’s good about this. It means Jupiter doesn’t need a complicated way to order a lightning bolt to “get back there!” He can just deliver the laugh line.

The plot, so far as there is one, is much more The Odyssey than it is Jason and the Argonauts. And each scene is just enough of a setting to hang jokes on. Look at the bit with the Lorelei Loons, “cousins to the Goons”. Mae Questel warbling “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” is the bit that’s been going in my head for decades now. I know that some writer circa 1960 thought this was a great bit of snark about that awful racket his kids call music. I don’t care. The dumb bit works. It also inspires in Popeye some awesome weird facial expressions. One of them my love pointed out when I discussed Popeye’s weird face two weeks ago.

Popeye, both eyes bugged out and way open, hair making weird zigzags, and his mouth dangling open. His tongue's poked out and curled up and angled so it's under his eye.
That’s a nice wholesome look for Popeye the Sailor OH LORD HIS TONGUE GOES UNDERNEATH HIS EYE WHAT IS THIS STOP IT STOP IT NO IT’S NOT STOPPING ENOUGH STOP IT MORE!

There’s a lot of spinach eaten this cartoon, most of it off-screen. There’s only one can eaten while the viewer’s there. Jason says he ate a can right before punching Jupiter’s lightning bolts back. He’s said to have eaten two cans to cover his ears against the Loons. He says he’s going to eat spinach to deal with the Blutaur, but we don’t see that. Five cans would beat the record that Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp set, if we count spinach we’re told but not shown was eaten.

I like this cartoon. I’m not sure I can justify that like. Popeye as Jason is a good premise. And I like telling The Argonauts The Odyssey as a string of set pieces with dumb jokes attached. This includes sliding the Golden Fleece to the Golden Fleas Circus. It’s kind of a Dad Joke but, you know? Tell your Dad Jokes without apology. It’ll be all right.

But the cartoon is shoddy. Look at King Wimpy’s talk cycle. It’s some movement, yes, but it’s pointless, not bothering to be funny at any point. There’s a five-second stretch of showing nothing but water waves, while Jason’s off-camera, talking. It’s not even funny waves. Maybe all the animation budget was eaten up with designing new outfits for Wimpy, Popeye, and Olive Oyl, and coming up with a mer-man and a centaur design for Bluto. The music is the usual hit-shuffle-on-the-background-library. I know these cartoons wouldn’t get fresh orchestration for anything, but, like, couldn’t they have underscored the “I’m-Jason-the-sailor-man” to any of the instrumentals of the Popeye theme song they already had? Jack Mercer could sing along to that beat, or at least near enough.

So I like it. But I can see where this is so close to being a much better cartoon. At least it’s got that “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” hook. You won’t forget that a week from now.

Thinking About The Afterlife In Ancient Greek Mythology


So, like, imagining some Hero who’s gone to the underworld for whatever fool thing ancient heroes were always going into the underworld for. And they’ve got to get out past Cerberus, the three-headed dog guardian of the afterlife, right? So what I’m thinking now is the Hero trying to get past Cerberus by warning, you know, if we fight I’m going to kill you. Wouldn’t Cerberus just have to laugh because, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to send me right here where I already am? I’m going to be trapped staying within sight of me?”

Anyway please send me $200 million to make this movie thank you.

Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.

My Excuse For Today


Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not keeping up with like anything that I ought to be. But I’m very busy workshopping a joke where the punch line is “and that one sentence completely changed everything I ever thought about Heraclitus!” That I’m having trouble figuring out how to frame it is definitely not because it’s too minor a jest to use as anything but an offhand remark in a professional setting. I know there’s some setup that’ll make it a killer joke when I’m just chatting with, say, the guy at Penn Station subs taking my order for a grilled artichoke and mushroom. It’s out there somewhere. I know I’m in fighting form to get this joke worked out. Just yesterday I was able to deliver “Oh, no, that’s Tiamat of Samos you’re thinking of. This is Tiamat of Ephesus”. That’s a great joke about the pre-Socratic philosophers plus dragons marred only by how I couldn’t think of Ephesus right away and had to say “that other place”. But that’s still the level I’m working at and that’s why I know it’s going to be worth it getting this Heraclitus setup figured out. Oh, Miletus would also have worked there. Thank you. Also Philosophers and Dragons should be a thing so I’ll thank somebody to work on that now. I’m busy with my project.

In Which I Am Insulted By My Reading


So I was enjoying some of my light early-summer reading, Carl B Boyer’s The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, 1939’s feel-good hit of the mathematical history book trade. And early on in the second chapter he had this:

Pythagorean deduction a priori having met with remarkable success in its field, an attempt (unwarranted, it is now recognized) was made to apply it to the description of the world of events, in which Ionian hylozoistic interpretations a posteriori had made very little headway.

Well, I mean, good grief, how did Dr Boyer even figure that sentence was needed? Is there anyone who goes around saying, “boy, but the Ionian hylozoistic interpretation a posteriori is a fantastic description of the world of events”? We’re not savages. My father — Dad, back me up on this one — I remember sitting me down, before he ever took us up to see Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan for the first time, pointing out the unwarranted nature of applying Pythagorean deduction to the world of events. I don’t even know who those parentheses are for. It’s like he has no conception of his audience. Ionian hylozoistic interpretations, sheesh!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor was consumed today with a hypothetical question. Consider there must be some part of the United States government that works out plans just in case an extraterrestrial alien is found on Earth; it’s a remote possibility, but one of such enormous historic import that at least a working plan ought to be in mind. Anyway, they surely have some name to designate the lifeform and what it might do and who’ll be responsible for showing it a good time. Well, what if in the 1980s they designated the thing as “Alien Life Form” and then the sitcom came along and made it just impossible to use that name and be taken seriously? Huh? Anyway, when they were all done pondering that secret government agency having to change a name they found the index had risen 23 points, which has got to be the most it’s ever done in one day but who can tell?

204

Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Things I Don’t Understand About Another Ancient Greek


My dear love was looking up information about the ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton for good reasons that I’m sure existed. The interest in Milo was pretty casual up to the point of discovering that he was affiliated in some way with Pythagoras of Samos, the Pythagoras famous for siding with squares and making people laugh over his bean issues, assuming he and his followers had any particular bean issues and people didn’t just make that up so people would laugh about the Pythagoreans. You probably have problems like that too. Famous figures of Ancient Greece usually have hilarious stories attached to them, but when they intersect with Pythagoras — whom you’ll remember as a man who allegedly claimed to have a golden thigh and the ability to write on the Moon — the crazy-funny level just leaps up and usually off the charts and lands in a beanfield where it dies of embarrassment.

For example: it’s apparently argued whether Milo had anything to do with the famous Pythagoras of Samos, because he might have just been associated with another Pythagoras of Samos who happened to be an athletic trainer. See, Milo was a seven-time Olympic athlete, so he’d have good reason to bother with athletic-type people. This is assuming that Pythagoras of Samos the Athletic Trainer wasn’t also Pythagoras of Samos the Loopy Philosopher/Mathematician/Cult Leader.

But as Olympic athletes go, Milo was apparently one of them, with a win in boys’ wrestling and then five men’s wrestling titles. Apparently he was beaten at his seventh Olympics by a young wrestler who’d developed a style of “arm’s length” wrestling. My love and I aren’t sure exactly what that style is. It makes it sound like he was beaten by slap-fighting. I’m not surprised he didn’t return to the games after being beaten by that; I wouldn’t blame him if he died of embarrassment. But maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he was bested by an opponent who stood at arm’s length and held out his arms and kept pointing out “I’m not touching you” until Milo stormed off in disgust. Again, I wouldn’t fault him for not returning with something to foil this tactic, like, telling his opponent’s moms on them.

But being unable to believe the slapping and not-touching in the Olympics was the least of his accomplishments. Apparently he was a military leader who convinced the Crotoniates to lead an army to defend the Sybarites against Telys, tyrant of Sybaris. Now to be fair, by which I mean dismissive, that’s just the sort of thing you did in those days. You just weren’t part of Ancient Greek society unless you were setting up a tyrant or overthrowing a tyrant. And it was important to cities, too. Not getting the occasional tyrant to be overthrown marked a city as the seriously hick part of the Peloponnese, the way you today might look askance at a metro region that can’t even get an Arena Football team. Some up-and-coming cities would rent out a battlefield and set up themselves while overthrowing them and put themselves on the map that way.

But not everyone did this work in style; according to Didorus, and if you can’t trust him who can you trust, said he lead the Crotonites into battle while draped in a lion’s skin, wielding a club in a Hercules-like manner, and wearing his Olympic crowns. The lion skin I don’t wonder about, but: his crowns? All five of them? How? I know they weren’t, like, the crowns the Queen of Britain wears — remember, Pythagoras of Samos and the ancient Greeks lived literally more than three centuries before Queen Elizabeth II — and were more kind of wreaths of flowers of the kind you wear when you’re a charming bride. But that’s still, five. Put five crowns of anything on your head and you’re going to have them flying off all the time, unless you keep one hand clinging to your scalp so as to maintain some semblance of balance. It’s got to throw off his club-wielding. This is the price for not being able to pick just one crown.

Of course, who says he wore them all on his head? Maybe he put one on his head, and one on each arm, and one around each thigh? That would be quite practical as long as he didn’t have to share a tight seat, such as on a roller coaster, with someone. But why would he? Chairs wouldn’t be invented for dozens of years until after his death, the date of which is not actually known.

According to further legend, he died when he attempted to split a tree down the middle with his bare hands, which got stuck, which sounds like a worse way to die than just “of embarrassment following an Olympic slap-fighting loss”. But apparently while his hands were stuck he was set upon by wolves, who ate him, which raises a further question: what, he couldn’t tear some wolves limb-from-limb using just his feet? There is a painting by Joseph-Benoit Suvée (1743 – 1807) which purports to show Milo at his wolf-induced death, arguably fighting off the wolves with his feet, although it really looks to me more like he’s working on advanced belly rubs. I have to point out that there’s little evidence Suvée ever met Milo and none that he interviewed any of the wolves involved.

There’s much more to the legend of Milo of Croton, of course, and I may come back to it, but for now I think it fair to say: Ancient Greece. Like, what the heck, guys? You know?

Socrates and the Aftermath of the Aftermath


Another bit of the aftermath of that whole Battle of Arginusae thing: like I learned, the generals who were responsible for the victory over Sparta there were tried for failing to rescue so many Athenian boatmen. Fair enough. Wikipedia’s article reports how “all six generals [ there had been eight, but two of them ran away ] were found guilty and executed including Pericles the Younger. The Athenians soon came to regret their decision in the case of the generals, and charges were brought against the principal instigators of the executions. These men escaped before they could be brought to trial”.

The thing is, this happened all the time in ancient Athens. You could barely get the citizens together to express regret for the last time they had someone executed without their figuring they had to have somebody executed. Every gathering went like this:

Antisthenes: Boy, we were stupid to have Socrates killed.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: It was Meletus, wasn’t it? Let’s kill Meletus!

Crowd: Yeah!

Meletus: Ulp!

[ Two weeks later: ]

Next Guy: Man, we were idiots to kill Meletus.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: Me. Sorry, it was mine.

Next Guy: Let’s kill him!

Crowd: Yeah!

Antisthenes: Ulp!

Founders of Western Civilization and yet nobody pointed out they’re always sorry two weeks later. None of them ever gets the idea, “hey, if he really needs killing, he’ll still need it a month from now, so no rush”. I’m guessing this is what happens when your government consists of getting a couple hundred guys together where they have to shout to be heard at all while making sure they have all the wine they can drink.

Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish


Say what you like about Pythagoras of Samos, and you mostly can because nearly all his leading followers have gone and died from embarrassment over being asked to explain what precisely the thing with the beans is about, but here’s a bit of legend that really caught me. It’s from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I never heard of either: “Pythagoras is said to have had a golden thigh, which he showed to Abaris, the Hyperborean priest, and exhibited in the Olympic games.”

Think of the stories that sentence implies. The obvious question is, was it the left or the right thigh? And was it the whole thigh or just one side? I’d think you’d want the gold to be the outer thigh, so as to make it easier to show off, but maybe Pythagoras didn’t get to pick. For that matter, why a golden thigh?

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