Coming soon!

Six degrees of spaghetti monsters: an anthology

Coming soon! An exclusive e-book, available on only!

March 18, 2016

You just can't not love us

Dear fettucine followers,

It's been far too long, I know, I know... But if you want to keep getting updates on your favorite noodle chefs, they have to get money from somewhere first. Mine is running out, and here in Belgium, the first quarter of the year is generally 'grant application season', so I've been writing what could add up to a book on project outlines, research summaries and cost simulations.

We've been really busy over the last couple of months though, trying out new features in Gephi and all, so you'll here from us soon, promised!

In the meantime, one of our very first arty-farty spaghetti monsters has been chosen to adorn the brand-new KU Leuven research homepage! Someone at the KU Leuven Marketing Office has finally seen the light, hallelujah!


December 31, 2015

'This little piggy went to market'

Another short note on hogs and whores in the eastern desert praesidia

Time to end the year with a bang! A couple of weeks ago, I drew your attention to Philokles, merchant of quality vegetables and first rate whores. Here's a little follow-up on that story today. 
   As you may have read, and no doubt by now have already forgotten, most of the letters belonging to the Philokles dossier (to use a fancy French word, because we Belgians are, constitutionally, a trilingual country) deal with Schmaus (it would be rude to ignore our German-tongued compatriots now). Cabbages were something they couldn't get enough of in the eastern desert, but appels, onions, asparagus, salt, pig meat and rabbit dung were also gladly provided. 
   The fruit and vegetables were grown locally, probably in Phoinikon or Persou, where there was enough irrigation for this purpose. Raising pigs in the desert was trickier though: the climate is much too warm and dry, and it would require a LOT of water. Some remains of a pigsty have been found, indicating that a limited number was brought to the camps, probably for ritual purposes. In general though, cured meat was imported from the Nile valley (yup, beef jerky goes that far back).
   So when the unpublished potsherd K193 (yes, we use code for our texts in papyrology to mislead the enemy) mentions a 'boar of the piglets', papyrological eyebrows are raised, and as professor Cuvigny remarks: this passage is actually a metaphor for a pimp and his prostitutes.

References to young girls as 'piggies' are actually much older than this. That shin-kicker Aristophanes already uses the term χοῖρος in many of his comedies.
The idea behind this supposedly was that little girls (paedophilia had a different interpretation then than it does now, I'm afraid), and women preferring a full Brazilian wax resembled little, pink, hairless  piglets. Now, the 'hairless' got me frowning. Everyone knows those creepy spitting Sphinx cats, but pigs, however rosy and for some maybe even cuddly when they're little, definitely have some hair, right? So I Googled 'hairless pig', and luckily, this brought up no results. Skinny pigs, on the other hand, are all the rage now in Guinea pig land.

Anywho, it's surprising that this piglet metaphor was not explored further in the army camp volumes, since piglets are mentioned in several of Philokles' letters, as well as in other texts from the camps that do not belong to the dossier.
   In some cases, the context is fairly clear: in O. Did. 379, Philokles writes Kapparis that he sent him and one of his girls parts of a piglet and two bunches of asparagus, and in 423 the author writes that a certain …talos offered up a piglet at a feast. Now unless we are dealing with very rare testimonies of ancient psychopaths involved in cannibalism and human sacrifice, they are obviously talking about actual pigs.

O. Did. 415 and 416 mention δελφάκια, another word for piglets, but here the price seems to point to actual livestock again. The author of 415 paid 48 drachmas to Epaphroditos for multiple piglets (no exact amount is given), which is much too low for whores: the average price for a month was 60 drachmas. And in 416 Statilius asks Epaphroditos to select and send two piglets and to send word how much they cost. If these had been whores, a contract would have to be set up in advance, fixing the price and terms of agreement.
    Some of the Krokodilô texts described in La route de Myos Hormos seem ambiguous though. In K12, Philokles asks Kapparis and Didyme to take care of his house and pigs while he is away. Yet since raising pigs in the desert was such a hassle, whores are a more obvious interpretation here. Three times, Philokles praises his piglets to Kapparis (K28, K597 and K811). Again, one can easily imagine him recommending his young girls, instead of meat, although the addition of chickens in K811 is problematic (unless, of course, τὰ ὀρνίθια here is also slang). In K175, Montanus writes that he is coming to the Krokodilô camp with his piglets: was he another pimp along the Myos Hormos route? Ischyras, a business partner of Philokles, lets Parabolos know that he will send him his most beautiful piglets (K529), a rather strange choice of words when it comes to meat, and asks Parabolos to sell him one of his own as well. And were it really Fronto’s piglets that fell ill (K10), forcing him to sell one (if a price is mentioned, this could be an indication)? Finally, Cuvigny wonders what is meant by the γλυκὺ κρέας or γλυκυκρέα (‘sweet meat’) received by the author of M406. Κρέας, ‘meat’, is also used as a metaphor by Aristophanes in his Acharnians 795: ‘and the flesh of my piglets will be excellent pierced on the spit’. I personally find it very tempting to interpret the sweet meat mentioned in M406 as referring to a (notorious?) hooker.

Unfortunately, since none of these texts are published yet, there's no context to check out these piglets. Perhaps there are more references to desert prostitution in our texts than we are aware of at the moment. The second volume of Krokodilô texts is scheduled to appear in 2018, so I'm anxiously awaiting this publication. Up till then, every pig I come across in an Egyptian text is a whore to me. And those pork chops will never taste the same again.

A. Bülow-Jacobsen, « Private Letters », in H. Cuvigny (ed.), Didymoi. Une garnison romaine dans le désert Oriental d’Egypte II: les textes (IFAO 51), Cairo, 2012.
H. Cuvigny, ‘La société civile des praesidia’, and ‘Annexe: les protéines animales dans les ostraca’, in H. Cuvigny, La route de Myos Hormos. L’armée dans le désert Oriental d’Égypte. Praesidia du désert de Bérénice I. Volume II (Fouilles de l’Ifao 48/2), Cairo, 2003, 376. 

J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy, New Haven (Conn.), 1975.


December 09, 2015

Harlots of the desert

©J.-P. Brun
Today we have the pleasure to present you: Philokles! Philokles lived on the outskirts of Egyptian society, in the dull eastern desert between the Nile valley and the Red Sea that was dotted with Roman army camps (praesidia). These camps were situated along the desert tracks from Koptos to Myos Hormos (not far from Urghada) and to Berenike in the south. The camps had to protect the caravans and were manned with a handful of soldiers, who often stayed in the desert for months, bored to death, and sometimes threatened by Bedouins. Philokles wasn’t a soldier himself, so why on earth would you want to spend your days there?! Life is short, and was even shorter still 2,000 years ago. But our dear Philokles could smell opportunities hundreds of sandy miles away. For he was a businessman, and if business takes you east, you suit up, strap yourself on that donkey or camel and go with the flow, he said (ok, maybe he didn’t…). He wasn’t one of those Big Shot dealers who hauled in pepper and other spices from India or shipped out fine wines from Syria and even Italy to the Far East though. No, Philokles found his niche in a more modest market: basic food, such as wheat and wine, was provided by the army, but luxuries such as meat and vegetables had to be bought by the soldiers themselves. Upon hearing this, the drachme signs no doubt started flickering in Philokles’ eyes.

Philokles is known to us thanks to more than one hundred ostraca, written by and addressed to him and his close associates and which were found in the camps of Krokodilo and Didymoi. He writes in a rather clumsy hand, using his own shortened version of the Greek alphabet with only three vowels instead of six. He probably had living quarters both in Krokodilo and in Phoinikon, together with two women: an older lady called Sknips, whose name quite literally means "flea", and a, let us hope for Philokles, parasite-free, younger damsel called Hegemonis. As Willy Clarysse ever so carefully puts it: ‘it is not impossible that Philokles had a menage à trois with the two women, but as our texts usually call spouses "sister" and "brother" we cannot be certain’. I prefer a more bold approach and claim that Philokles had an SM addiction and took in Hegemonis to satisfy his cravings for the occasional dirty talk and spanking (her name means ‘Führer’ after all). Or perhaps he was simply allergic to fleabites, and, well, every poppa needs some sugar once in a while.

Many letters deal with provisioning in foods, though it is not always clear if the cabbages, onions, apples, salt, wine, sausages, salted fish or chickens are meant for use within the household or for commerce. Philokles’ most lucrative business, however, consisted in providing the local garrisons with … girls. These girls were sent to the different camps on demand of the soldiers. The average price for a girl was 60 drachmas a month, to which a tax of 12 drachmas was added. As there were about 15 soldiers in a camp, they each paid something like 4 drachmas for a month of “services”, i.e. the wage of four working days. Some girls were more expensive than others, and exceptionally, some individuals, no doubt officers, ordered a girl for their own private use, as happens with "the little girl" (ἡ μίκκα) in O.Did. 382, who Philokles wanted to hire out for three years to a highly placed person.

When the women were brought from Egypt to the desert, 108 drachmas, a large amount of money, had to be paid at the customhouse of Koptos. With the price of 60 dr. a month, a pimp could recover his costs in a few months time though. The “work” done by the women in the camp was indicated by the Greek term κυκλεύειν "to turn around". At first the editors translated this term with its usual meaning in the papyri as "turning around the water wheel", being somewhat surprised that hauling up the water from the wells was a job for women (I can hear feminists around the world snorting and fulminating now). In fact κυκλεύειν is a euphemism for turning around from one man to another. How many turns the women had to make every day is not known, but let’s hope a limit was fixed in their contract. (I find this turn of phrase intriguing: did they perhaps twirl from one tent to the other? Or did those men all sleep together in a single barrack and did the girls just lazily roll off one and onto the next?)

Like Philokles, many of the army pimps had permanent relationships, but business is business, so this didn’t stop them from hiring out their own female companions to soldiers as well, as is clear from the following letter by [- -]neus to Rusticus: ‘I wish you to know about my wife that I have given her over to you in order that you deliver her at the camp of Aphrodites Orous. If anyone should harass her, you will restore her back to me. If anybody abuses her, you will have to do with me. She is not permitted therefore to sleep with anybody except with your permission. If she has a problem there that cannot be solved informally you have to take it on until the centurio arrives. For otherwise, if this happens, I will deal with you! For I have entrusted you with all I own and you will give me back the ward.’ (O.Did. 406).

Like in all good stories, in some cases personal relationships developed between a woman and one of the soldiers and this could lead to problems for all parties involved, especially for the owner. When a certain Antonius falls in love with the prostitute Iulia, the pimp Cornelius asks the whole camp to set her free for some days so that she can see her lover. But when she doesn’t return he threatens to make him pay for the days that Iulia hasn’t worked (O. Did. 333). When the soldier Sosianus falls in love with Aspidous, no doubt one of the twirling/rolling women, he fills at least six ostraca with rambling erotic verses (?), in which he talks about his burning love, and other burning body parts. (Route de Myos Hormos, p.466-467; LDAB 128467-128468). Hope he was speaking metaphorically, otherwise this would be the oldest testimony of gonorrhoea! Can't stress it enough, kids: don't be silly, put a condom on your willy! Or according to the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus you could also try a pessary made of crocodile dung. Whatever gets you going, I suppose.

(the saucy bits of this post were provided by W. Clarysse)

H. Cuvigny, « Femmes tournantes: remarques sur la prostitution dans les garnisons romaines du désert de Bérénice », ZPE 172, 2010, p. 159-166.
A. Bülow-Jacobsen, « Private Letters », in H. Cuvigny (ed.), Didymoi. Une garnison romaine dans le désert Oriental d’Egypte II: les textes (IFAO 51), Cairo, 2012.

November 16, 2015

Open CFP: Digital Approaches and the Ancient World

More publicity!

*Digital Approaches and the Ancient World*
A themed issue of the _Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies_

Gabriel Bodard (University of London)
Yanne Broux (KU Leuven)
Ségolène Tarte (University of Oxford)

Call for papers:
We invite colleagues all around the world and at all stages of their careers to submit papers on the topic of “Digital Approaches and the Ancient World” to a themed issue of the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. The topic is to be construed as widely as possible, to include not only the history, archaeology, language, literature and thought of the ancient and late antique Mediterranean world, but also of antiquity more widely, potentially including, for example, South and East Asian, Sub-Saharan African or Pre-Columbian American history. Digital approaches may also vary widely, to include methodologies from the digital humanities and information studies, quantitative methods from the hard sciences, or other innovative and transdisciplinary themes.

Papers will be fully peer reviewed and selected for inclusion based not only on their research quality and significance, but especially on their ability to engage profoundly both with classics/history academic readers, and scholars from digital or informatic disciplines. We are keen to see papers that clearly lay out their disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodological approaches, and present and interpret the full range of scholarly and practical outcomes of their research.

We encourage the use of and direct reference to open online datasets in your papers. BICS is not currently an open access publication, but self-archiving of pre-press papers is permitted, and the editors believe in the transparency and accountability that comes with basing scientific work on open data.

To submit an article to this themed issue, please send your full paper of 4,000–8,000 words in Microsoft Word doc, docx or rtf format, to <>, along with a 150 word abstract, by January 31, 2016. You do not need to follow BICS style for the initial submission, but please note that the final version of accepted articles will need to be formatted to adhere to our style guide (

If you have any questions about this issue, please feel free to contact any of the editors informally.

Please, oh please, oh please, circulate anywhere you think is appropriate!

Spaghetti Monsters al Dente

Cowabunga! Your beloved Dataninjas strike again!
A couple of weeks back, we were invited to give people a hands on experience of how to make their own squirmy, noodly contraptions in Gephi at the 'Papyri and Social Networks' conference in Leiden.

We definitely won over a soul or two for our cause, and for those who were still struggling to see the light, we promised to provide our presentations so they could let it sink in a little more. And so today we would like to share the joys and sorrows that come with network building in Gephi with the rest of the world.

For the general introduction, click here.
For the part on gathering and structuring data, click here.
For the Gephi tutorial, click here and here.

No doubt many of you, in a fit of insanity, have accidentally deleted the sample files we provided to work with during the workshop. Since ninjas are badass, but not bad, we've decided to let this one pass with a slight contemptuous smirk, and add them here as well: so here's the nodelist and the edgelist (right click to download these, otherwise they'll just open up in a separate window).

Now knock yourself out!

September 09, 2015

Gephi timeline: the pimped out version

Ok, finally got over mourning Dumbledore a little, and I have to confess: the new James Bond trailer helped BIG TIME. I’ve got mixed feelings about this one though. Well, just one major bummed feeling, actually. Because this is probably Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie. But! But, but, butt! Booty. Ass. Derrière. Cheeks. Fart. Eine feuchter Furz. There. Now I can finally use that expression.

So, back to Bond (I bet his farts smell like expensive cologne. Not sure if that’s a good thing though). If you think about it, this is going to be THE ultimate movie. Now, I don’t know if many people who saw the last one really grasped what was going on there. Everyone was so focused on Silva and how in the end Bond fails and M gets killed anyway (oops, perhaps I should have added a ‘spoiler alert’ at the beginning again…), that they missed the developments that really matter. But, as is so often the case, Silva was actually just another straw puppet, a minuscule link in a master plan genially devised by no other than our very worst enemy and nightmare: VOLDEMORT. You fools! He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was not killed by Harry Potter! 

‘But he burst into little bits of charred paper at the end of the last movie’.

Balderdash! Voldemort isn’t stupid! With all his Horcruxes destroyed and a jittery Elder Wand, he knew it would be reckless to face Harry again. So he did a neat disapparating trick and moved on to plan B: take over the Muggle community first. After casting an Imperius curse on Silva to trick him into hating M and wanting to kill her for personal reasons, he wormed his way into MI6, cunningly disguised as the roguish Garreth Mallory with the help of a beautification potion. They’re not leaking it in the trailers, but wizards are going to come swooping in from all sides to help DC save the day. It’s going to be AWESOME. 

But as much as I love giving away movie plots, I need to tell you a bit more about time intervals in Gephi. Last week we saw the simple version. Like I said though, there’s a second way to create dynamic networks in Gephi, by constructing the time intervals in your database yourself, so they can be uploaded directly into Gephi. But why do it yourself, if Gephi can do it for you, you ask? Well, the first option only works if you don’t have recurring relationships: if within the time frame you’re studying, the links between your nodes only appear once, either for the whole duration of the time frame, or for a single interval within this time frame. So this option won’t work if you’re studying the on-and-off relationship of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, for example (the last I heard was that they’re so totally definitely over each other now).
If you’re dealing with nodes and/or relations that disappear and reappear at different stages in your time frame, you need to format the time intervals yourself in your spreadsheet or database. This means a little more work for you, but the upside is, you can easily add attributes to your edges to visualize changes in these relationships.

Time intervals are specified between brackets. An interval between [square brackets] means that you want to include the start and end time, while an interval between (round brackets) means the interval starts after and ends before the specified date. Combinations are also possible, like [1990, 1991). As you can see, the start and end dates are separated by a simple comma. To combine the different time slots of a specific node or edge, all you need to do is add the second time interval, between new brackets, separating it from the first one with a semicolon: so by adding the time interval [1981, 1981]; [1991, 1998] to an edge in your edgelist, you’re specifying that that edge appears in 1981, then disappears again once 1982 starts, and reappears again in 1991 until the end of 1998. Let’s illustrate this magical feature with another wonderful Harry Potter example.
This is what a basic nodelist and edgelist would look like*:

The nodelist 

                            The edgelist

In this example, only edges can reappear. So once a wizard is born, his or her node appears in the network and stays there until he or she kicks the bucket. So you have just a single time interval in the nodelist. Depending on what you’re studying though, it might be interesting to make nodes disappear as long as they don’t have any links. That’s up to you. In that case, you’ll need to make a time interval with multiple time slots in your nodelist as well.
In the edgelist, however, there are some nodes with multiple time slots. Some of them aren’t successive: Harry (1), for example, only has a brief tie to Voldemort (41) in 1981, when Voldemort tries to kill him as a baby. Their next link starts in 1991, when Voldemort is bobbing around Hogwarts while stuck to Professor Quirell’s head. Other ties are successive here, like Harry and Ginny’s, but I didn’t put them in a single time interval, because the nature of their relationship changes, and to indicate this, you need to split it up. This is only necessary if you want to add an attribute to your edges, like the type of relationship. In that case, you have to add an extra column, which I called ‘DynamicValue’, and which basically repeats your time interval, but in each time slot a third element is added after another comma to define the type of relationship. I coded the relationships in this example, so 1 = friend, 2 = family, 3 = ho, and so on. But apparently you can also just write ‘friend’, ‘family’, ‘ho’, etc (so [1991, 1996, friend]; [1997, 1999, ho] for Harry (1) and Ginny (4)). But again: if you don’t want to add attributes to your edges, you don’t need this ‘DynamicValue’ shizzle, then you’re good to go with just the time interval.

Once you’ve got this information in your nodelist and edgelist, you’re actually all set to enable that timeline, since you won’t need to manipulate any columns in Gephi anymore. Importing these files is, as always, pretty straightforward. There’s just one thing you need to take care of: that’s making sure Gephi recognizes the type of information these special columns contain. And you do this in the second pop-up you get when importing your spreadsheets. This is the first one, remember:

And when you've clicked Ok, you get this:



Normally, you ignore this part and just click ‘ok’ again. Not this time though! Scroll down to your time interval column, and check if it is marked as ‘TimeInterval’, both for your nodelist and for your edgelist. If your edgelist also contains a dynamic value, this should be marked as ‘DynamicInteger’.
And that’s all there is to it. Once both are imported, the ‘enable timeline’ button should appear at the bottom of your Gephi window, and you can start playing around. You can check out the video here.

Did you see how the size of the nodes also changes over time according the their degree?
Once you’ve run the degree statistics as you would with a regular network, go to the ranking tab, set the minimum and maximum size for your nodes, and make sure to select the ‘auto transformation’ (∞) and ‘local scale’ buttons. Then simply click on ‘auto apply’ before you play your timeline, and presto! I also colored the edges according to the different types of relationships, but we already got that covered in another post!    

*For those of you not familiar with text editing programs such as TextWrangler (or Notepad on Windows), the default application I use to edit .csv files as you can see in the screenshot: Excel also allows you to save (and edit) .csv files, where your data is more neatly organized into clearly outlined columns, like you can see in the screenshots here.