M.A. Presents: Teeny Tiny Tentacles
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Teeny Tiny Tentacles Transcript
[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]
Monstrous Agonies presents, Teeny Tiny Tentacles
[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through a voice speaking Irish, classical music, and a voice saying, “-a young stallion of a fella-”before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]
-make sure to take time for yourself, as well as helping others.
That's all for our advice segment. Next up, regular listeners will be well-acquainted with our history series, where we delve into the past and ask what life was like for our liminal forebears. But what does it mean to investigate the history of the creature community?
One of the first questions that arises when studying liminal history is that of language. Nowadays it's common parlance to speak of 'the creature community'. But as our older listeners will be very aware, this is a relatively new development in the way we speak about ourselves.
Liminal historian, Doctor Julia Agricola, had this to say on the subject.
So, one of the biggest dangers for people studying the past is always projecting modern ideas backwards onto an existing historical context. At best, it's inappropriate and anachronistic, and at worst, you end up trying to fit the facts into a narrative which you've already created, instead of trying to understand the past in its own right.
The phrase, “the creature community,” uh, using that to talk about people in the past is one of the ways that modern sensibilities can creep into history, um, and doing historical analysis. It’s a very new concept, this idea that being a creature means that you share some kind of experience or world view, or perspective with other creatures, across genuses.
For the most part, people in the past just didn't think about it that way. It isn't until the 1950s, which is very recent, that we see this kind of cross-genus consciousness begin to emerge, at least in Britain. The timeline differs across other countries, obviously, but this idea that there is a singular creature community with things in common is a very recent turn across the board.
I mean, if you were to suggest to a haematophage in the Parthian Empire, for example, that they had a world view in common with the lycanthropes in the Roman Empire next door, I think they'd probably do something very terrible to you! [laughs]
One of the pressing concerns for all would-be historians is the question of evidence. The further back one wishes to study, the harder it becomes to find primary sources on one's chosen subject. Compare, for example, the historian who studies creatures in cinema in the 1950s to one who studies creatures in the Roman Empire.
The former has access to a glut of sources, from the films themselves to public documents like contemporary reviews and newspaper articles. Meanwhile, the historian of Roman creatures must make do with a handful of ancient sources, often surviving only in fragments.
But here, certain members of the creature community can offer something uniquely valuable to the historical investigation – eye-witness accounts.
Funnily enough, I actually am a Roman historian, in every sense of that term. I was born in Napoli in 156AD, and I started my career in the second century AD with a biography of the most famous undead people of our age.
Advanced longevity genuses are a real boon to historians. It makes all the difference in the world when you can really get a first-hand account of an event or a person or a place during a particular time. Even if you're not able to find a specific individual that you can speak to, a lot of the long-lived genuses have a culture of oral transmission or preserving their past through writing, or even just holding on to objects for personal reasons which might have otherwise been lost forever.
It doesn't solve all your problems, though. As, uh, as I say, I grew up in the Roman Empire, uh, I can tell you the games I played in Napoli as a child, and the clothes that I wore and about my specific community, but there are other things which, across the millennia, I have completely forgotten, or was never aware of to begin with. I could not tell you about the emperor's life, for example.
Because of this, as a general rule, I'm very wary of testimonies from people claiming that they were present at major historical events. They are usually the ones that people remember, that they like to read about, and they are often the ones who have an incredible level of detail that nobody can confirm – or are contradicted by the other 150 people that are also claiming they were there when Julius Caesar cross the Rubicon!
But if someone tells me, “Oh yes, I worked at a, an undersecretary in an office of the yōkai confederacy back in the 750s, I can't remember who my manager was but I can tell you exactly what kind of ink I used...” Then, that seems more likely to me because why would you make that up?
Between gaps in the historical record, a lack of evidence, and the difficulties of perspective already discussed tonight, one might be tempted to ask, “What's the point?” Why is it important to study liminal history?
I personally hate that kind of thinking where people think we should just do history because, oh, if we, if we study the past, we'll know how to behave in the modern world or that the past exists simply to teach us something about our own experiences. It's not about that. It's about knowing people. What they were like, what were they-- How were they alike us, how were they different? Uh, and it's never really as different as you might think.
In the liminal context, it's less a question of, “Why do liminal history?” and more a matter of accepting that doing history is doing liminal history. We've always been there. We've always been part of the world. There's never a period where there are not, uh, liminal histories to be told.
One of my favourite artefacts uh, is, uh-- Actually you can see it at the British Museum, it has an exhibition at the moment. It's this, uh, it's this pottery cow. They found it, I think, in an Iron Age settlement in Kent. It has this handle, and four legs, and a little stomach full of beads that jingle when you shake it.
It's not very exciting looking. But that handle really stumped archaeologists when they uncovered it. It wasn't until one of the team, a woman from an aquatic genus, looked at it and said, “My little boy could have good fun with this,” that they realised what it was. It's a baby's rattle, but not one for a sapio baby. It's made for someone with teeny, tiny, little baby tentacles.
Once they could see that, they could then see that although a large amount of the artefacts from the settlement were sapio, that there were other artefacts which demonstrated that there were these aquatic or semi-aquatic peoples living there as well – that there are objects and buildings that were designed for use by completely different types of bodies.
Um, we don't know exactly who these people were, what genus they were, but we know that they were part of the fabric of this Iron Age settlement and that they were living alongside sapios. And we know that someone, three thousand odd years ago, made a rattle for a baby, shaped like a cow – maybe their favourite animal – um, and made sure that they could hold it properly with their teeny, tiny, little baby tentacles. And I think you need a pretty good reason for why that's not worth knowing.
Thanks again to Doctor Julia Agricola for her time and insight. Her latest book, ‘Paradoxes of Hierarchy and Authority Among the Centaur Communities of Laconia’, is available now from all good book stores.
Time now for the news.
[Background music fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through a voice saying “-people in distress, and-”, a voice saying “-a silent thing-” and piano music before fading out.
Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]
Teeny Tiny Tentacles was written by H.R. Owen and performed by H.R. Owen and Doctor Emma Southon.
Emma Southon really is a Roman historian! She co-presents the podcast History is Sexy, answering history questions from listeners. You can find out more at www.historyissexy.com
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Thanks for listening, and remember - the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.
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