περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

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περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by The Abydos Helicopter » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:26 pm

Or: Another Discourse on a much maligned Category

The place of the mythology category within quizbowl has been often discussed – in every discussion of the distribution I’ve ever read on these forums, and elsewhere, its relative importance and merits have often been attacked, and often not unfairly. After all, myth is probably the single easiest category for any player to sit down and learn – the canon, especially at the easier difficulties, is limited, and will forever remain so, since no one is writing new myths about Heracles or Maui. Furthermore it gets criticised on the grounds of being simply “stories”, without particular academic merit.

In defence of the category, and in the hope of making myth questions more interesting to all players of every level, I’m going to go over what I believe can be done to improve the myth category. This post is prompted by 4 years of studying Classics at Oxford and playing quizbowl, and countless conversations with others, especially Joey Goldman and Daoud Jackson, about myth questions. Given my degree, I will focus upon Classical myth, as I feel best qualified to talk about that, but for almost all mythological systems, at least those with substantial texts behind them, I believe the following arguments are transferable, whether Arthurian or Mesopotamian myth.

(I’m drawing my examples from various tournaments from the past year, and if you wrote one which I picked, sorry!)

1) Almost zero myths have a single definitive version. Ovid varies from Virgil who varies from Euripides who varies from Herodotus who varies from Homer. For example:
5. The necklace of Harmonia was made from the hair of these figures, one of whom turned into an owl until Zeus fell asleep before appearing in the form of a beast to Dionysus. The Harpies took the daughters of King Pandareus to be servants to these figures. In the Aeneid, one of these figures turns into a small bird and flies in the face of Turnus during battle, while another (*) implants a snake in Amata’s chest to drive her insane. Oedipus dies in a grove sacred to these beings. They’re not the Meliae, but these figures emerged from Uranus’s blood falling on the earth, not the sea. Dido called on these figures when she was on her funeral pyre, and examples of these figures include Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. These figures were ironically called the “kindly ones,” or the Eumenides. For 10 points, name these goddesses of vengeance, especially for the murder of a parent..
ANSWER: Furies [or Dirae; or Erinyes; accept Eumenides until it’s read] (Penn Bowl 2016)
The first clue in this tossup comes from a single source, Statius’ Thebaid – in every other source it’s primarily a necklace of gold, including several more famous ones, so this is somewhat confusing. From the same source, we get a contradiction with the tossup as to their parentage – Book 12 of the Thebaid calls Hades their father, rather than the Hesiodic genealogy of birth from the blood. If you prime the listener with clues from one text, it can be very disconcerting to contradict that text later on without making it clear, especially at game-speed.

2) Choice and ordering of the text from which the stories are drawn is important – to continue to use the above toss-up the sources I can identify are 1) Thebaid 2) Nonnus’ Dionysiaca 3) The Odyssey, 4) the stated Aeneid 5) Oedipus at Colonus. 5) The Theogony 6) Aeneid again.
It may be that everyone reads the Dionysiaca in America, and Oxford is weird and stuffy in essentially ignoring, in which case I apologise for the following criticism, but cluing from that text is bloody pointless – almost no one is going to be directly familiar with that passage, if they know it, they know it from the mythological equivalent of SparkNotes. The first clue is ok (with the criticism levelled in point 1), and the Odyssey clue is excellent – it shows deep knowledge of a very important text if you recognise that clue (perhaps you’ve learnt it while studying Penelope’s role in the poem, as she tells the tale) The Aeneid clues I would say are placed far too early – both the Screech owl in the face of Turnus, but especially Alecto inflaming Amata – this is one of the two most important texts of ancient literature, and Book 12, from which the first clue is drawn, is one of the most read sections, and the scene with Amata is part of the repeated symbolism of fire and flames that affects important characters. The Oedipus at Colonus clue is rather isolated – everything else is from epic, and then a single clue dropped in from tragedy – I think it would make a better tossup if you clue entirely from one sort of literature or the other – the Furies have somewhat variant functions in the two genres.

Another connected problem with myth can be egregiously obscure figures being asked for – one of my main thrusts of argument is that it is better to clue deep from the better known texts that are studied by many more people (e.g the Odyssey Harpies clue) than from obscure figures who barely have a presence in anything of importance, and are perhaps at best a sidenote in Pausanias or one of the mythographers. For example
Herodotus claims that the ruler of Scythia was one of these figures, and that Heracles slept with her because she stole the Cattle of Geryon from him.
For 10 points each: [10] Name these creatures which are generally depicted as female serpents with human-like features. Sybaris was one of these creatures who terrorized those at Delphi, at least until Eurybaros tossed her over a cliff and killed her.
ANSWER: drakaina [prompt on "dragons"]
[10] Another drakaina, Campe, was killed by Zeus during this conflict so that he could release the Cyclopes and have them forge weapons to overthrow Cronus.
ANSWER: the Titanomachy [or Titanomachia]
[10] This deity sent the drakaina Poena to terrorize the Argives for killing Linus, his child. The song of praise ―paean‖ is derived from an epithet of this deity, and originally referred to songs that specifically praised him.
ANSWER: Apollo [accept Phoebus Apollo or Apollon] (ACF Nationals 2016)
The first clue is just not justified by what is in the text of Book 4 of the Histories – at no point Is the woman described as a drakaina – the words used are echidna and ophis, simply to mean snake/viper, she is specifically human from the hips up, and snake below, and the point of this myth is that it is the foundational myth of Scythia according to Greeks – one of the sons of their union is Scythes – the area is called Hylaia at this point.
Sybaris appears in a single (!) extant text – the mediocre Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis – in the review of the first English translation (published only in 1992!) he is described as follows “those scholars who use [him] at all are resigned to doing so mainly to supply cross-references to Ovid”. The only way to get this part then is to guess which of the Greek terms for “serpentine mythological women” they want – also there’s no need for a prompt on “dragons” as that is what drakaina literally means!
Campe at best appears in few texts, such as the Bibliotheca and the Dionysiaca, but again, painfully obscure – I’m pretty sure no one got Titanomachy from her name, but from the other clue.
Poena is ever slightly more reasonable (Pausanias, a longer passage in Statius, Callimachus), but again I’d still put money on the vast majority getting Apollo from Paean.
In summary, this entire bonus set is built around obscure figures, and a class of beings which doesn’t really exist as such in the ancient conception (plus in the earlier sources, Poena is not obviously serpentine – at Delphi that role is already filled by Python, and it seems there’s some conflation going on here later).
Similarly obscure people appear in all sorts of sets – from Stanford Housewrite comes a set with the Teumessian fox and Europa – fine – but the hard part to start the bonus is Electryon, father of Alcmene – a figure of absolutely zero importance, named only because he’s a son of Perseus and father of Heracles’ mother, without any independent mythological history.

3) On the other hand, I have heard several times clues from the canonical texts dropped too early. The example which comes to mind is from ACF Regionals 2016:
In Book IX of the Iliad, Phoenix tells this man’s story as a cautionary tale to inspire Achilles to rejoin the fight. This man’s daughter with his wife Cleopatra married a man who was the first to die in the Trojan War. Following this hero’s death, his sisters Eurymede and Melanippe were turned into guineafowl. During an effort led by this hero, Nestor spear-vaulted away to safety and Ancaeus was mortally wounded. This hero’s mother killed herself in grief after she killed this hero by burning a log that the Fates had tied to his lifespan. That filicide transpired as a result of this man’s murder of his uncles, Toxeus and Plexippus, who had objected to him awarding a hunting prize to Atalanta. For 10 points, name this son of Althaea and Oeneus who led the Calydonian Boar Hunt. ANSWER: Meleager
Phoenix’s tale of this man is one of the most important stories told within the entire poem – there are dozens of articles written about it and its relation to the rest of the poem, how precisely it is meant to inform Achilles, how Cleopatra is a Homeric invention meant precisely to reflect the name Patroclus etc. It should not be, in a tossup about Meleager, in the first line – in the academic world, it is his most appearance in ancient texts.

My point in going into such depth (and I apologise again to anyone whose question I have dug into) is to implore people to be more careful what they are writing about – one of the reasons I fear people find myth tossups so stale is that, in a hunt for difficulty, writers resort to figures so obscure they don’t turn up in the index of Graves’ The Greek Myths. Once you’ve heard that clue about Sybaris or Campe, there is no further learning to be done about figures, you do not need to go away and reread the text from which they are drawn. Compare that say to the excellent clue for the Furies and the Daughters of Pandareus. Myth does not have to be stale repetitions of the same stock clues – between the numerous tragedies, the epics, the poets Greek and Roman, there is a huge amount of material to mine, even for major characters.
In summary
1) Say who you’re getting the story from, if you can find it – and think whether that version is the most significant and well-known. The quick test is simply: could the source for this story be tossed up themselves at this difficulty, either title or author? Even if the figure has a long article on Wiki, or on a myth website such as the Theoi project, doesn't mean they are important.
2) If you’re referencing genealogy, explain why it’s important to the mythological story – e.g. in the case of Electryon, swap it round so that in a clue about Amphitryon it is mentioned that he accidentally killed his father-in-law, and that’s why he was in exile in Thebes.
3) Most of these texts aren’t very long and hence are readable by plenty of players – Hesiod’s poems are fewer than 1000 lines, most of the plays are at most double that, and even the epics aren’t great doorstoppers.

Let’s save myth.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by Ike » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:15 pm

I might respond to this when I'm finished with TTIAC writing, but one thing to keep in mind is that, you can't get into a question writer's head. I certainly didn't thumb through Graves's index to bring to you that delightful drakaina bonus, which Andrew Wang got from the sources of knowledge that I wanted to reward, and not through guessing.
Campe at best appears in few texts, such as the Bibliotheca and the Dionysiaca, but again, painfully obscure – I’m pretty sure no one got Titanomachy from her name, but from the other clue.
Sorry man, but that's how you write bonuses! Criticizing a bonus part for having hard clues and then an easier clue is bad and wrong. All of what you're saying about everyone's favorite mythographer Antoninus Liberalis is correct; if you look at ANFORTAS, the myth tournament I wrote, I only referred to him with the phrase "everyone's favorite mythographer Antoninus LIberalis" because LOL it's hilarious when people clue him amirite? That's why I put him into a bonus and reserve more substantive clues, like say the Aeneid or the Heroides for the tossups. The fact that you wrote this manifesto but didn't notice this in the playoffs of Editors Nats is, to me, surprising. The other thing to keep in mind is that, purism, while a goal to strive towards, is less important than deciding who is the best team in the country - the point of ACF Nats 2016. And if that means I have to clue from some source that doesn't tickle your funny bone or some minor author, I will.

Also, this post does nothing to "save myth," it just exposes why myth sucks. Suggestions are appreciated, because if anything this post just convinces me that MattJax is right.

PS - Enjoy the 1/1 myth at This Tournament is a Crime. It might be the last time you see it at this level!
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by gyre and gimble » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:28 pm

I won't be able to respond to everything that's been addressed here, but I do want to point out some stuff:

1. The prevailing justification for myth's traditional 1/1 in the distribution is that mythology is pervasive throughout culture, that people encounter it in a wide variety of forms, and that given this importance, it is worth learning about. If the justification were simply that mythology is a thing some people study in college, then it would merit nowhere near 1/1, because such few people study mythology academically. (And of course, there is a movement to condense the category anyway, which is beyond the scope of the discussion I'm currently interested in.*)

2. Much of your post is premised on the assumption that the academic study of mythology is congruent to players' knowledge bases. But this assumption isn't true. Most myth players have probably read the Iliad once, maybe twice, and have not often encountered those texts in the Classicist perspective from which you are arguing. Therefore, what Phoenix says about Meleager is nowhere near as famous as you think. I have no doubt that it's as famous as you think within your academic circles, but that's just not true of the quizbowl community. To go with another example you raised, I've known about Campe since I was in high school, but I assure you that I acquired that knowledge from somewhere other than reading Classics papers on the Titanomachy.

3. By extension, your appeal to the importance of certain texts is good as a general guideline, but doesn't give enough credit to the fact that a clue that originated in an obscure source may have become more accessible to players through its presentation in other, more important or more famous texts. Those other texts, by the way, might not be mythological.

4. I suppose that, based on this, you could argue that quizbowl players are simply really fake in their myth knowledge. But I don't think that's necessarily the case either. An alternative explanation, which I personally believe is more likely, is that most players consider a superficial (by which I mean, non-capital-A-Academic) understanding of the mythological stories to provide enough value to justify myth's inclusion in the quizbowl distribution.

All of which is to say, I think your views of where people get their myth knowledge, where they ought to get it from, and/or what form of myth knowledge should be rewarded by quizbowl, are too constrained by your perspective as someone who has encountered these topics in a rigorously academic setting.

-----

As an aside, I wrote that Electryon bonus specifically to make it self-evident that he's more than just Perseus's son and Alcmene's father. The question illustrates exactly what his independent mythological history is, so I don't get why you characterize him as having none. I mean, don't most of those guys that Theseus encounters on his way from Troezen to Athens also not have "independent mythological histories," and aren't they only important as part of the Theseus myth? Even if they don't, you should be able to see why writing a question on Theseus with only clues about Periphetes plays very differently, and rewards different knowledge, than a question on Periphetes with only clues about Theseus. The former, you can simply figure out by realizing it's a guy who performed various labors on a long journey. The latter, you need specific knowledge about who Periphetes is.

-----

*
Ike wrote:Also, this post does nothing to "save myth," it just exposes why myth sucks. Suggestions are appreciated, because if anything this post just convinces me that MattJax is right.
I still disagree that myth needs to be reduced, by reason of exhausted answer-space, at the Nationals level. But I absolutely agree with Ike that your post goes directly against your stated goal.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by vinteuil » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:53 am

gyre and gimble wrote:3. By extension, your appeal to the importance of certain texts is good as a general guideline, but doesn't give enough credit to the fact that a clue that originated in an obscure source may have become more accessible to players through its presentation in other, more important or more famous texts. Those other texts, by the way, might not be mythological.
Would you care to give examples for the clues/texts Oliver called obscure? Of course you're correct that this can happen in principle, but I find it extremely hard to believe that this is the case for most of the encylopedia mythica-style clues that he's calling out.

EDIT: In any case, I agree with the argument behind both Stephen and Oliver's posts, which is "we should ask about mythology in literature/culture at large, and make clear how the particular story being clued is situated in that text/artifact/practice."
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by The Abydos Helicopter » Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:24 am

First of all, thank you for bothering to read my self-indulgent post, and for engaging with it.
Ike wrote:I might respond to this when I'm finished with TTIAC writing, but one thing to keep in mind is that, you can't get into a question writer's head. I certainly didn't thumb through Graves's index to bring to you that delightful drakaina bonus, which Andrew Wang got from the sources of knowledge that I wanted to reward, and not through guessing.

Sorry man, but that's how you write bonuses! Criticizing a bonus part for having hard clues and then an easier clue is bad and wrong. All of what you're saying about everyone's favorite mythographer Antoninus Liberalis is correct; if you look at ANFORTAS, the myth tournament I wrote, I only referred to him with the phrase "everyone's favorite mythographer Antoninus LIberalis" because LOL it's hilarious when people clue him amirite? That's why I put him into a bonus and reserve more substantive clues, like say the Aeneid or the Heroides for the tossups. The fact that you wrote this manifesto but didn't notice this in the playoffs of Editors Nats is, to me, surprising. The other thing to keep in mind is that, purism, while a goal to strive towards, is less important than deciding who is the best team in the country - the point of ACF Nats 2016. And if that means I have to clue from some source that doesn't tickle your funny bone or some minor author, I will.

Also, this post does nothing to "save myth," it just exposes why myth sucks. Suggestions are appreciated, because if anything this post just convinces me that MattJax is right.
No, I can't get inside the question writer's head, that's fair.

I did notice it was from Nats, given I mention that very fact in the quote. My point about using Antoninus Liberalis, even at that level, is that, combined with the incorrect clue from Herodotus, that bonus part requires essentially a guess- can you work out which serpentine monster "class" this is? Sybaris and its source text are so obscure that I do not believe anyone below an Open level tournament should expect to be asked about them, even in a bonus set. It's a great first line for ANFORTAS! (which I am currently enjoying reading through) But on deciding the best team in the country at Nats, I don't think it's sensible or right to use him.

I withdraw my point about Campe in light of your and Stephen's points, as she is a much more reasonable hard clue within a bonus part than I thought when I wrote the original post.

I'm sorry that I haven't persuaded you, but to nick the good summary from Jacob "we should ask about mythology in literature/culture at large, and make clear how the particular story being clued is situated in that text/artifact/practice.", that is my fundamental point - something you cannot do for Sybaris, and and can just about do for Campe. An interesting point for the Herodotus clue one could make is how it reflects the material culture of the Scythians as in the following:
Image
gyre and gimble wrote: 1. The prevailing justification for myth's traditional 1/1 in the distribution is that mythology is pervasive throughout culture, that people encounter it in a wide variety of forms, and that given this importance, it is worth learning about. If the justification were simply that mythology is a thing some people study in college, then it would merit nowhere near 1/1, because such few people study mythology academically. (And of course, there is a movement to condense the category anyway, which is beyond the scope of the discussion I'm currently interested in.*)
I'm not averse to the myth category being condensed, if in response it becomes a more academic category.
2. Much of your post is premised on the assumption that the academic study of mythology is congruent to players' knowledge bases. But this assumption isn't true. Most myth players have probably read the Iliad once, maybe twice, and have not often encountered those texts in the Classicist perspective from which you are arguing. Therefore, what Phoenix says about Meleager is nowhere near as famous as you think. I have no doubt that it's as famous as you think within your academic circles, but that's just not true of the quizbowl community. To go with another example you raised, I've known about Campe since I was in high school, but I assure you that I acquired that knowledge from somewhere other than reading Classics papers on the Titanomachy.

My point, which I should have made clearer, is that people should be pushed towards an academic understanding of mythology at collegiate level quizbowl. I don't know whether it's possible for that to actually happen, but I believe (and not merely because it would help my PPG :razz: ) that it would improve the category. The other categories in Quizbowl are written with the aim of rewarding those with "real" knowledge - why not Myth
3. By extension, your appeal to the importance of certain texts is good as a general guideline, but doesn't give enough credit to the fact that a clue that originated in an obscure source may have become more accessible to players through its presentation in other, more important or more famous texts. Those other texts, by the way, might not be mythological.


That is fair - from discussion on discord last night, to pick a recent example, Percy Jackson has lifted all sorts of obscure monsters into the light.
4. I suppose that, based on this, you could argue that quizbowl players are simply really fake in their myth knowledge. But I don't think that's necessarily the case either. An alternative explanation, which I personally believe is more likely, is that most players consider a superficial (by which I mean, non-capital-A-Academic) understanding of the mythological stories to provide enough value to justify myth's inclusion in the quizbowl distribution.

All of which is to say, I think your views of where people get their myth knowledge, where they ought to get it from, and/or what form of myth knowledge should be rewarded by quizbowl, are too constrained by your perspective as someone who has encountered these topics in a rigorously academic setting.
Again, I fear I should have made it clearer that I think there should be a movement from where people get their knowledge from currently, towards a more academic viewpoint.

-----
As an aside, I wrote that Electryon bonus specifically to make it self-evident that he's more than just Perseus's son and Alcmene's father. The question illustrates exactly what his independent mythological history is, so I don't get why you characterize him as having none. I mean, don't most of those guys that Theseus encounters on his way from Troezen to Athens also not have "independent mythological histories," and aren't they only important as part of the Theseus myth? Even if they don't, you should be able to see why writing a question on Theseus with only clues about Periphetes plays very differently, and rewards different knowledge, than a question on Periphetes with only clues about Theseus. The former, you can simply figure out by realizing it's a guy who performed various labors on a long journey. The latter, you need specific knowledge about who Periphetes is.
I think there is a difference between the Saronic bandits, who appear plentifully in both written accounts and in vase paintings, and Electryon, for whom I believe there is not a single ancient artistic representation, unlike say his son Amphitryon, who appears on plenty and whose supposed tomb was still being shown in Pausanias' day etc.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by gyre and gimble » Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:53 am

AOL Email Address Haver wrote:My point, which I should have made clearer, is that people should be pushed towards an academic understanding of mythology at collegiate level quizbowl. I don't know whether it's possible for that to actually happen, but I believe (and not merely because it would help my PPG :razz: ) that it would improve the category. The other categories in Quizbowl are written with the aim of rewarding those with "real" knowledge - why not Myth
But the other categories in quizbowl aren't written as rigorously academically as you seem to think. Most literature questions reward reading novels, plays, poems, etc, and do not require any sort of academic understanding of those works. Only a small handful are written specifically with literary criticism, or other purely academic perspectives, in mind. The same goes for history--most of the history distribution is devoted toward presentation of facts, which you can encounter in a variety of ways outside the Academy. Science might be a bit different, but I think that just comes from its very nature--learning the basic facts of science is what scientists do. The point is, myth questions currently reward people for engaging with the category "superficially" (again, defining this word to mean "in a way that is not capital-A-Academic"), just like in almost every other category in quizbowl.

I think this is a good thing. It keeps all categories accessible, at an intellectual level, to all players. If we get too caught up in the purist notion that quizbowl should conform exactly to academia, then we'll inevitably reach the conclusion that if you take classes in a subject, or if you learn a subject exactly in the way that it is taught in school, you are more deserving of points in that subject than someone who has not done those things. We would end up with everyone de facto specialized according to their major. But you have to understand that quizbowl's mission isn't to test how many Classics classes you've taken. Nor is it to encourage taking more Classics classes. If anything, its mission with respect to Classics is simply to encourage people to engage more with the subject. Maybe that can be accomplished by reading Ovid. Maybe it can be done by reading Graves. Whatever that engagement entails, it certainly should not have to be from studying vase paintings, reading academic papers, or however else you would like to see knowledge rewarded.

Look, I understand the impulse to want to be rewarded more regularly and often for all the work you've done in school. But academia and quizbowl are different. They value different (though not mutually exclusive) sets of information, and for different (though again not mutually exclusive) purposes, intellectual, practical, or otherwise. Quizbowl players do not obtain the vast majority of their quizbowl knowledge from academic study. That doesn't make their knowledge "fake."
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by The Abydos Helicopter » Thu Feb 23, 2017 7:10 am

Myth is a weird category - it crosses over with pretty much every other category (apart from the Sciences). I do not think it should be treated as a pure literary category, but if it is, then it should be written with same view of testing the knowledge of people who have read the texts as literature seeks to do - I'm don't believe currently that myth rewards reading Ovid in the same way as lit rewards reading A Hundred Years of Solitude. Furthermore I believe however, because myth touches on History, Religion, SS/Thought etc., it would be good practice to bring in those elements into myth questions. There isn't enough archaeology in QB History for example - myth is a good way of bringing more of it in. Similarly non-painting visual arts across plenty of cultures often represent various mythologies.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Thu Feb 23, 2017 7:36 am

Having sat next to Oli negging Classics for two years I can attest to his frustration, but I think the answer lies somewhere between the two perspectives. There are not many people who play quizbowl and have studied Classics so it makes sense that Classics like geology or some other subjects don't simply represent those academic disciplines.

However, I don't agree with the arguments against making some things more rigourous. I have read very few classical texts and you shouldn't have to read these texts to get buzzes at most tournaments. However one of the problems with people not indicating what text they got information from or indicating that they are combining sources without making a mention is that it make tossups confusing and non-sensical. I am not anti-combining clues but if the approach is simply combing Wikipedia and creating some form of classical kedgeree then I don't think it can be justified. Just as one would object to a religious tossup which described Jesus as a "figure born under a palm tree before being visited by the Magi." If more academic is a cipher for harder then I don't see the justification. If it means put myth in a better context so that it is less dependent on wikipedia style genealogy clues, then it helps to make however much myth there is more relevant.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by vinteuil » Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:51 am

gyre and gimble wrote:
AOL Email Address Haver wrote:My point, which I should have made clearer, is that people should be pushed towards an academic understanding of mythology at collegiate level quizbowl. I don't know whether it's possible for that to actually happen, but I believe (and not merely because it would help my PPG :razz: ) that it would improve the category. The other categories in Quizbowl are written with the aim of rewarding those with "real" knowledge - why not Myth
But the other categories in quizbowl aren't written as rigorously academically as you seem to think. Most literature questions reward reading novels, plays, poems, etc, and do not require any sort of academic understanding of those works. Only a small handful are written specifically with literary criticism, or other purely academic perspectives, in mind. The same goes for history--most of the history distribution is devoted toward presentation of facts, which you can encounter in a variety of ways outside the Academy. Science might be a bit different, but I think that just comes from its very nature--learning the basic facts of science is what scientists do. The point is, myth questions currently reward people for engaging with the category "superficially" (again, defining this word to mean "in a way that is not capital-A-Academic"), just like in almost every other category in quizbowl.

I think this is a good thing. It keeps all categories accessible, at an intellectual level, to all players. If we get too caught up in the purist notion that quizbowl should conform exactly to academia, then we'll inevitably reach the conclusion that if you take classes in a subject, or if you learn a subject exactly in the way that it is taught in school, you are more deserving of points in that subject than someone who has not done those things. We would end up with everyone de facto specialized according to their major. But you have to understand that quizbowl's mission isn't to test how many Classics classes you've taken. Nor is it to encourage taking more Classics classes. If anything, its mission with respect to Classics is simply to encourage people to engage more with the subject. Maybe that can be accomplished by reading Ovid. Maybe it can be done by reading Graves. Whatever that engagement entails, it certainly should not have to be from studying vase paintings, reading academic papers, or however else you would like to see knowledge rewarded.

Look, I understand the impulse to want to be rewarded more regularly and often for all the work you've done in school. But academia and quizbowl are different. They value different (though not mutually exclusive) sets of information, and for different (though again not mutually exclusive) purposes, intellectual, practical, or otherwise. Quizbowl players do not obtain the vast majority of their quizbowl knowledge from academic study. That doesn't make their knowledge "fake."
Again, Stephen, I agree with you at the fundamental level: every question should be buzzable by every player. I think this is true even for most quizbowl science now, assuming the player has the interest (one of the things I've enjoyed most from "quizbowl studying" has been the motivation to really learn some biology). Your library has the textbooks just like mine does; most of them are pretty accessible, and some are even really a joy to read.

I think Daoud and Oliver are bringing up a subtly different, but related point, which I also agree with (it was the main thrust of my history post): categories should be written so that they're "accessible" to people who study the material academically. It's inevitable that academic study won't align perfectly with quizbowl (even most comp lit students don't engage literature in the broad/shallow way necessary to be a really good quizbowl lit player), but we shouldn't use "accessibility" as an excuse to write questions that actually aren't accessible to people who really study this stuff.

To put it more bluntly, I think the whole accessibility argument is often used to smuggle in a "the status quo is just fine" argument. Probably everyone knows by now that I disagree with that statement, and think that every category should be a) accessible to all players b) rewarding (or at least non-punishing) for people who directly engage the material. So, by all means don't word your clues in a way that requires extremely specialized technical vocabulary—but do think about what those clues are, who's getting them, and why.

As good recent science questions have shown, you don't have to descend into avalanches of obscure technical terms and eponymous eponymouses to write "classroom" questions. On the other hand, a lot of the arguments against the "classroomification" of science questions (I could be misreading them) seem to have been directed not only at technical clues, but also at science topics that people who don't read Scientific American or Popular Mechanics or whatever wouldn't know. One of these arguments (clue phrasing, within reason) is reasonable. The other is not.

In case this hasn't been a clear through-line of every quizbowl polemic I've ever written: I think one of our primary goals should be "don't screw over people who study this subject academically." The status quo does that in practically every category—remember when all science hard parts were some random eponymous thing that nobody actually cares about? And people were arguing that they're "gettable" (because they come up), therefore they should stay to preserve "accessibility"? Yeah, the equivalent still happens in a number of categories (when poorly written). I obviously think that ridiculous encyclopedia mythica (or trash??)-based hard parts count.

To end on a more positive note: there are great writers (some quite active) in basically every category, which means that the status quo I'm attacking is (I think) receding into the past—more quickly for some categories than others. And, without giving anything away, I've really enjoyed a lot of the "cultural"/"practice-based" mythology in this year's Regionals so far!
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by Ike » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:02 pm

I'll talk about the ~drakaina~ because it's so rare I get to talk about female dragons and because it illustrates a central point.

I will admit, the clue about Herodotus should be worded better, but I would not say it's incorrect, that...thing, is definitely a drakaina even if Herodotus doesn't use it by name. And yeah, if this question's (metaphysical) conceit were a study of Herodotus, you'd be right to be ticked since he doesn't use that term and you would be guessing. However, this question's conceit is about knowing of the phenomenon of "drakaina" throughout antiquity, and therefore you can get this bonus part without guessing. You maintain that I should have just accepted dragon, and I think that misses the point of the question, which is "why are mythographers sexing their dragons?" And I quote from Daniel Ogden's book* on the subject:
"Only rarely in ancient texts are dragons marked out as female by the use of the term ~drakaina~ and corresponding female pronouns. On these occasions, therefore, the dragon's femaleness is certainly, if not necessarily its actual personification, is clearly of importance to the ancient author..."
I chose not to explicitly name Ogden's book partly in an attempt to cover my sources for future use. The question would have been more interesting if I did, and maybe I should have. But also I wanted to leave the theme of this question hidden so that it didn't intrude on people who learned about drakaina from other sources--as Wang did--when they answer the question. For example, apparently A. S. Byatt uses ~drakaina~s as monsters in her mythological stories. All of this should show you that there are multiple, admittedly non-traditional, ways of learning about the answer to this bonus!

I contend that this is a very interesting thread for a question in the classics and mythology distribution. You may or may not agree with me, but at least you should admit that this question goes way beyond just ripping clues from Antoninus Liberalis and the like. If there's one thing that I think you should take away from this example and Stephen's post, Oliver, it's that people approach QB topics from a variety of backgrounds. I agree with Jacob and Stephen that we shouldn't bone people who study classics, but I don't see how this bonus is boning people who do, if we assume that you're not entitled to 30 points on every classics bonus. It gives you points for knowing the term for "female dragon," which you encounter through serious study in some form.

*which groups the Herodotus Echidna as part of this phenomenon, which is why this bonus's wording happened.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by heterodyne » Thu Feb 23, 2017 12:52 pm

But also I wanted to leave the theme of this question hidden so that it didn't intrude on people who learned about drakaina from other sources--as Wang did--when they answer the question.
You can just say video games
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by The Ununtiable Twine » Thu Feb 23, 2017 1:16 pm

heterodyne wrote:
But also I wanted to leave the theme of this question hidden so that it didn't intrude on people who learned about drakaina from other sources--as Wang did--when they answer the question.
You can just say video games
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by The Abydos Helicopter » Thu Feb 23, 2017 1:19 pm

Ike wrote:I'll talk about the ~drakaina~ because it's so rare I get to talk about female dragons and because it illustrates a central point.

I will admit, the clue about Herodotus should be worded better, but I would not say it's incorrect, that...thing, is definitely a drakaina even if Herodotus doesn't use it by name. And yeah, if this question's (metaphysical) conceit were a study of Herodotus, you'd be right to be ticked since he doesn't use that term and you would be guessing. However, this question's conceit is about knowing of the phenomenon of "drakaina" throughout antiquity, and therefore you can get this bonus part without guessing. You maintain that I should have just accepted dragon, and I think that misses the point of the question, which is "why are mythographers sexing their dragons?" And I quote from Daniel Ogden's book* on the subject:
"Only rarely in ancient texts are dragons marked out as female by the use of the term ~drakaina~ and corresponding female pronouns. On these occasions, therefore, the dragon's femaleness is certainly, if not necessarily its actual personification, is clearly of importance to the ancient author..."
I chose not to explicitly name Ogden's book partly in an attempt to cover my sources for future use. The question would have been more interesting if I did, and maybe I should have. But also I wanted to leave the theme of this question hidden so that it didn't intrude on people who learned about drakaina from other sources--as Wang did--when they answer the question. For example, apparently A. S. Byatt uses ~drakaina~s as monsters in her mythological stories. All of this should show you that there are multiple, admittedly non-traditional, ways of learning about the answer to this bonus!

I contend that this is a very interesting thread for a question in the classics and mythology distribution. You may or may not agree with me, but at least you should admit that this question goes way beyond just ripping clues from Antoninus Liberalis and the like. If there's one thing that I think you should take away from this example and Stephen's post, Oliver, it's that people approach QB topics from a variety of backgrounds. I agree with Jacob and Stephen that we shouldn't bone people who study classics, but I don't see how this bonus is boning people who do, if we assume that you're not entitled to 30 points on every classics bonus. It gives you points for knowing the term for "female dragon," which you encounter through serious study in some form.

*which groups the Herodotus Echidna as part of this phenomenon, which is why this bonus's wording happened.
I guess on the Herodotus thing, you could probably just have had more prompts than "dragons"?
I accept up to a point about "draikaina" with the proviso that Ogden's book has been criticised on the grounds of creating a category where there was not an ancient one.
Although Ogden chooses drakon as his terminological focus, ophis, serpens, and other words are also used almost interchangeably in Greek and Latin. This section would be bolstered by a closer analysis of these terms (pp. 3-4, n. 5, lists some occurrences of drakon in the 5th BC, and Chapter 4 contains some discussion of its etymology). Throughout the book, the use of the italicized drakōn with a long mark suggests a correspondence to the ancient vocabulary that is not always there; as it is used in the title, it is a coined term for a concept set by Ogden


And yes, I probably have been too harsh on non-traditional ways of learning about the answers to these questions and I would be lying if I said that I had buzzed on topics outside my specialisms gained through random non-academic sources, but I would continue to push for myth to move towards a more academic base.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by magin » Thu Feb 23, 2017 3:53 pm

I don't know anything about mythology, but this thread is interesting to me. Although I don't have anything to contribute about the specifics of writing great myth questions, I have two more general points I think are germane here.

1) If you have some expertise in an area and want to see quizbowl questions better reward knowledge of it, your best bet is to write the kinds of questions that you'd like to see. A lot of people who want to write quizbowl questions are pretty sharp, but just don't have the knowledge to determine what makes a myth question great instead of merely OK or acceptable. If you show us models of great questions, it's much easier for us laymen to follow your lead. Science questions, geography questions, and social science questions, for example, have all improved greatly by following the lead of people writing great, interesting questions; you all have the power to have that influence with your questions.

2) A lot of people who are really good at myth have complained about the relatively small size of the myth canon compared to other topics. Though I don't think we've exhausted the number of available topics, I think they have a point. But why should myth questions just be about gods and heroes? Myths are important because of their effects on the societies that believe them, right? If we take that definition, there's no reason we can't ask a myth question on the myth of Abraham Lincoln in American culture, or the Mandate of Heaven in Chinese culture, or the Dolchstosslegende, or the idea that the world is flat, or about any legend/idea that deeply impacted human culture in important ways. I think doing that would greatly increase the possible size of the myth canon and lead to lots of possibly interesting questions at all levels. Thoughts?
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by gyre and gimble » Thu Feb 23, 2017 3:58 pm

vinteuil wrote:I think Daoud and Oliver are bringing up a subtly different, but related point, which I also agree with (it was the main thrust of my history post): categories should be written so that they're "accessible" to people who study the material academically. It's inevitable that academic study won't align perfectly with quizbowl (even most comp lit students don't engage literature in the broad/shallow way necessary to be a really good quizbowl lit player), but we shouldn't use "accessibility" as an excuse to write questions that actually aren't accessible to people who really study this stuff.

To put it more bluntly, I think the whole accessibility argument is often used to smuggle in a "the status quo is just fine" argument. Probably everyone knows by now that I disagree with that statement, and think that every category should be a) accessible to all players b) rewarding (or at least non-punishing) for people who directly engage the material. So, by all means don't word your clues in a way that requires extremely specialized technical vocabulary—but do think about what those clues are, who's getting them, and why.
I absolutely agree with Daoud's post, and to the extent that it's inconsistent with mine, you should prefer his. Remember, I never argued that we shouldn't make things more rigorous. Obviously, we should. But rigor doesn't imply academic rigor. The suggestions that Daoud makes are ways to make quizbowl questions better generally. I don't see any necessary tie to an academically-oriented approach there.

But some of the things Oliver is arguing for make it less accessible to average players, while failing to improve accessibility for academically-trained players. For example, if we put the Phoenix-Meleager clue later in the question because it's so famous among academics, this hurts playability for most of the field. On the other hand, if we keep it at the beginning of the tossup, this all but guarantees that players like Oliver will not be beaten to the question, unless it's by another Classicist. (At Regionals-level, I don't think that result is terrible. At Nationals, you'd want more gradation within the space of academically-important clues, to differentiate two players with academic knowledge bases.) As another example, the notion that you should never use Electryon as the answer to a bonus because he never appears on vase paintings (or because of similar academia-focused value metrics) is not equivalent to "don't write genealogy bowl." Sure, I'm willing to accept that Electryon may be more famous to quizbowl myth players than to Classicists. But there are all sorts of novels, historical anecdotes, religious practices, etc. that are also more famous in quizbowl than in academia, and I don't think that's because quizbowl is fundamentally more "fake." It's simply that the world at large values things differently than the academic world does. Not every question has to favor the academically-trained player over the generally-knowledgeable player.

To provide an analogy: Suppose that a player writes a senior thesis on Proust. That probably entails far more engagement with Proust than any other person in quizbowl has experienced. Now, I suspect that Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life is not a must-read for all Proust scholars (maybe I'm wrong, but for the sake of argument, let's assume I'm right). So the thesis-writer hasn't read this book. But a detail from it is the leadin to the Proust tossup at Nationals. Someone on the opposing team has read it, so they win the question. Does this make the question somehow illegitimate? Or inaccessible to "people who directly engage the material"? I don't think so.

Getting back to myth: Sure, we shouldn't write questions derived from genealogies. And sure, we should point out our sources, and not mix them, where possible. But these are just principles for writing good questions. We more or less moved away from genealogy bowl years ago, for example. Perhaps my confusion with Oliver's post is that he seems to believe that following these guidelines will radically change the way we approach mythology by shifting it in a more academic direction. I don't think that's true.
vinteuil wrote:And, without giving anything away, I've really enjoyed a lot of the "cultural"/"practice-based" mythology in this year's Regionals so far!
Thanks for this! Hopefully you can take this as evidence that what I've been saying above isn't resistant to Academically-derived clues. Good questions will include a healthy mix of clues of all varieties. I just don't think we have to go out of way to privilege Academic clues over others.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by rylltraka » Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:09 pm

I'm not certain how relevant this exactly is to the discussion, but as someone who was a primarily Classics-based player for quite some time, I very quickly resigned myself to only rarely answering Greco-Roman mythology tossups versus high-level teams, because my knowledge base for myth derived mostly from knowing the core canonical texts and not modern anthologies or side stories and genealogies from ancient mythographers. I wouldn't say that this is necessarily a bad thing for quizbowl, just my experience; I was also by no means a committed myth player.

On more picayune points, I would have been quite upset at a bonus part that asked for specifically female dragons - especially if it's only the Greek word for "lady serpent". That's a load of crap - or in gentler terms, an abusive answerline. I have never heard of Electryon.
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by Sam » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:03 pm

gyre and gimble wrote: To provide an analogy: Suppose that a player writes a senior thesis on Proust. That probably entails far more engagement with Proust than any other person in quizbowl has experienced. Now, I suspect that Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life is not a must-read for all Proust scholars (maybe I'm wrong, but for the sake of argument, let's assume I'm right). So the thesis-writer hasn't read this book. But a detail from it is the leadin to the Proust tossup at Nationals. Someone on the opposing team has read it, so they win the question. Does this make the question somehow illegitimate? Or inaccessible to "people who directly engage the material"? I don't think so.
This is a fine analogy but both it and Jacob's Scientific American reader versus scientist seem to assuming these groups are largely distinct. I would expect the exact opposite. Sure an academic thesis on Proust may not cite that book, but if anyone were interested in reading it, someone who cares about Proust enough to write a thesis on him seems a likely candidate. As long as the clue is reasonably "fresh" (that is, the primary medium of learning it isn't Wikipedia or quiz bowl osmosis), I don't see how it would actually disadvantage a Proust expert.

Obviously there are some counterexamples--a Proust scholar may be more likely to read that book but probably isn't more likely to see Little Miss Sunshine, so that wouldn't be a good clue. And myth has its own complications, because almost no one actually studies something called "mythology." Even among Greco-Roman myth, I'm not sure it's self-evident Classicists should always be at a clear advantage (though I think individual points about more clearly sourcing material are very good and should be taken up more often).
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Re: περί μυθολογιῶν/De Mythologia

Post by Scipio » Fri Feb 24, 2017 3:50 pm

For what it's worth, my opinion (as a trained classicist, professional Ancient Historian, and a one-time decent myth player):

a) I'm not going to bother to defend mythology's importance to quizbowl, because obviously I'm biased and would see more myth in quizbowl, rather than less. I will say that I find the arguments of those who think it should be reduced to have been utterly unpersuasive, and leave it at that. On the other hand, I have intense sympathy for those who argue that myth questions should be better, which I believe can be done in such a way as to please mythologists (amateur or academic) and the quizbowl population at large. One good way towards this latter might be by ...
b) Recognizing variants on any Classical mythological figure or event, which ought to become standard quizbowl practice, especially for clues used in a leadin. I applaud those who are already doing this, and encourage everyone else to follow their example. This need not be too onerous, and can be as simple as "According to some legends," etc. Graves is particularly good about providing his sources; so are websites like Theoi.
c) Having done so, it doesn't really matter what that source actually is, as long as it's a legitimate source and not something like "In an episode of the 'The Simpsons*' (which, yes, used to happen; yes, used to happen all the time; and yes, used to be the bane of my g*d-damned existence). Suggesting that a clue from Antoninus Liberalis ought somehow to be off-limits is, I think, eye-rollingly pedantic. If I - and do please remember that I have an MA in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Roman History - get beaten to a tossup because someone managed to learn a legitimate clue that I didn't, then they should collect a well-earned ten points, and I should know more things.

* 'The Simpsons' should never, ever, ever be used as a leadin for anything academic, ever.
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