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Or really, how could soldiers from the 21st century convince anyone living in antiquity that their weapons and technology are based on principles of science and engineering rather than witchcraft and black magic? I have a situation in which famous soldiers, warriors, demigods, and military/political leaders from all periods of history have been brought back to life (don't ask how or why, it's magic), given the gift of tongues so they are all fluent in each other's languages, and are basically set loose to encounter each other at random and mingle. If you want a comparison, think something like For Honor or the manga Drifters, just with a bit more focus on the fantasy/mythological aspects of the various peoples involved.

The first major encounter is between a camp of a few hundred modern-day soldiers (probably US forces but let's not bias the answer towards any specific nationality) and a roving tribe of Amazonian warrior women. After the inevitable apocalyptic gender war (only mostly sarcasm), everyone's cooled their jets and a momentary peace has been established so each side can start explaining themselves. And it's gonna get really awkwards for the soldiers when the Amazonians start asking what those horseless metal chariots are and how they can point those black metal things at people, make a loud noise, and kill them from a hundred yards away without firing a bow.

Let's assume that torches and pitchforks as well as other displays of aggression are off the table as a valid response by the Amazonians (if for no other reason than the soldiers keep pointing assault rifles at them while making really mean faces). How do the soldiers even begin to explain three thousand years of technological development in a way that won't totally break the brains of people from antiquity? And if that won't work, can they at least find a way to convince them that their super-advanced space-age weaponry isn't just magic?

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    $\begingroup$ So my answer would be "you don't," and I'd channel Arthur C. Clarke to defend that claim. However, I'd like to understand why you don't want these things to be magic? What attribute of them being magic is so undesirable? We may be able to focus on that particular detail and try to solve it, even of the Amazonians still choose to use the word "magic" for them. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 1 '17 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ "Magic is just science too advanced for us to understand." $\endgroup$ – DonielF May 1 '17 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ What's wrong with being thought all powerful wizards? $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling May 1 '17 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ How did the soldier learn about it? A grunt knows how a gun comes apart and goes together and how to put a bullet on target, but will have only the vaguest notions about the process to make the metal, plastic and explosives in the gun. $\endgroup$ – user25818 May 1 '17 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ "If it bleeds, we can kill it". Therefore a bleeding soldier cannot be all-powerful. $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. May 2 '17 at 0:55
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After they had ambushed and dissected one, they would see that they are just men/women with fancy gear. Sooner or later someone will get careless. But they would know well before that just by observation.

Primitive != 'Stupid'
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Strangely enough the correct answer is blindingly simple.

"Hello, 13th century BC Amazons," said the 21st century AD soldier. "We're not all powerful wizards."

"Right," said the 13th century BC Amazon leader. "We get that."

OK. This does assume they can talk the same language (but when has this not been the case in any TV or movie involving time travel and 13th century BC Amazons meeting 21st century AD soldiers?)

Basically Amazons aren't stupid, so they should be able to catch on quickly. The soldiers too.

Joking aside, so-called primitive humans are just as smart as modern humans, it won't take them long to figure out that soldiers from the future are just as human as the Amazons are too.

Also, you will need to look into ancient Greek Culture to see what kind of "superior being" they might initially mistake future soldiers for. Chances are they won't be seen as wizards. Spirits or demi-gods, perhaps, but probably not wizards. Wizards are mainly a modern concept.

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  • $\begingroup$ They might actually be. Smarter, cuz you don't agricultural societies don't need inteligence to be successful. $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang Sep 29 '17 at 15:45
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I think Will has a good start on it. Showing that guns are merely evolved bows shows that guns aren't magic but they have a lot more stuff that will be much harder to draw parallels with.

I think it can be done using the guns as a starting point, though. You have a "magic" item that can be explained.

After demonstrating this I would deal with explosives. While the Amazons have no explosive-based weapon there is stuff in their environment that is explosive--I'm thinking of seeds + fire (think popcorn.) Once again, "magic" becomes a greatly advanced version of what they already know.

Hopefully you reach a point where they accept that the things where parallels can't be drawn are likewise just clever tools, not magic.

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The Amazonians would understand these things as an extension of advanced tech they do understand, which would be metallurgy. It is not trivial to smelt and forge metal. Making a sword - - making a rifle.

Is a gun so different than a bow? An arrow flies also faster than you can see. You can hold an arrow and a bullet in your hand before and after they fly. Both make a hole in what they hit.

I bet the Amazons catch on quick.

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  • $\begingroup$ Myself, I think they'd be more amazed by the power of the primer and gunpowder, and perhaps the mechanism that turns the rifle into a fully automatic rifle. Some of that feels magical even today, when youtube will happily cut things in half to show you how they work! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 2 '17 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ Ooo. I se 13th century BC. That is well before metal. I assumed these were the Amazons Hercules encountered, and would have at least copper if not bronze. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 2 '17 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ I read my comment and realized I m dum. I was thinking 13,000 BC. 1300 BC is perfect for the Amazons of the Greeks. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 16 '17 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ There are historic episodes in which, at first encounter, the non-tech side did in fact think that firearms are magic. The effect was a big part of the success of Cortes against the Aztecs, at least at the beginning. The Aztecs did learn better fairly quickly, but the effect was very real during the first battle. Among other things, compared to arrows bullets are effectively invisible AND there is no obvious work done in producing results. There is just a bang and a flash and somebody dies. If that's not magic, what is? $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Dec 27 '18 at 20:47
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Other answers here have focused on how the soldiers can explain their gear and talk it through. This is certainly true, and should be tried.

I am reminded of when outsiders first contacted the stone age tribes in the highlands of New Guinea. At first the tribesmen were terrified -- funny looking guys with magic gear suddenly show up, no common language, what are they supposed to think? They may well be demons! Or gods! But...

One of the stone age guys investigated the explorers' camp and reported back that, not to put too fine a point on it, "Their shit stinks. They're human."

Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=KyUaQCiivMoC&pg=PA8&lpg=PA8&dq=new+guinea+their+shit+stinks&source=bl&ots=lFABivbiK3&sig=0QhxHaauagfQ7SrqUmpvOCWn6EY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiHqprZhKnWAhXkyVQKHSJhBQYQ6AEISTAH#v=onepage&q=new%20guinea%20their%20shit%20stinks&f=false

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Go slow nd steady. If the concern is that the Amazons start thinking of the soldiers as wizards or semi-gods or the likes of that, it means they think they can't find a way to explain the gear and other stuff the soldiers have or do. I would suggest pointing out a technology the Amazons are familiar with, and then illustrate how modern-day tech is a natural development of that. Then repeat the process a few times with different types of gear until the pattern becomes clear. Mutual language is what makes this possible.

Start small - Clothes:
I'd say it's a smart idea to try a simple thing first. this will ease the Amazons into hardcore development, and also allow the modern soldiers to practice their 'technique'. Amazons wore clothes, and it makes sense they've seen different types of clothes, at least to a degree. Just tell them that the uniform is what the "army tribe" wears (I call it a tribe because I think complex societies should also be explained, but further down the road). They can go the extra mile and explain what makes the uniform a good choice to wear.

Moving on, Navigation:
Next up, something the Amazons most have done, is navigate. They probably did it using the sun. The soldiers should show them a compass, and let them see it always points at at the same direction. Preferably, they can alter a compass to have the colored wing point East and not North, so they can say it points at the sun, but that's just a shortcut. They tell them it senses the sun and points accordingly. The extra mile here would be to explain that maps were created, and maybe even that they have a machine that them ho to get somewhere (it reads the map and says 'go North for 20 steps, the East 16, the W 12 etc.).

Lamps and flashlights:
Next up, the focus shifts to show that a lot of thing the Amazons know were made better and easier. When they needed light, they made a fire. This one can be rather simple (they also already saw some advancements till this stage). Basically tell them that lamps & flashlights have a very small fire in them. It burns a fuel smaller than wood, so it can be put in a small object, much easier to work with than a torch.

Game on, Guns:
Now to weapons. This part was touched extensively in other answers, but my two cents: Make a lot of comparisons to older weapons (like bows). Make sure to break up the tech to smaller parts. Show them gun powder burn, then say it "kick" the bullet out like a bow-string pushes an arrow. Then you have a small arrow made of a material that 'army tribe' finds easy to work with.

After this you can continue to more complex and abstract concepts if you'd like (like the aforementioned societies). Long as you go slow and steady, I think it will be possible, and more importantly - plausible.

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The Amazonians will cotton on pretty quickly when the soldiers start getting sick from malaria, parasites or any other jungle disease that they aren't immunized for but that the natives have a tolerance of (think "Montezuma's Revenge").

I don't know what kind of vitamin and mineral deficiencies people get in the Amazon, but they'd start to suffer from that, too, soon enough.

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Ancient peoples weren't stupid. Well, some of them were, just like some people today are stupid.

Soldiers and Amazons.

At first the Amazons won't understand what they are seeing. They won't have a frame of reference to place 21st century vehicles and devices in their conceptual framework.

It would be similar to how the Incas thought a man on a horse was one creature. They'd never seen horses before, let alone a mounted soldier. Source

The Amazons might assume a vehicle was some fantastic sort of growling animal, especially at a distance, because that's the only thing they would have in their experience that would be that size and moving seemingly on its own.

Once the Amazons inspect the new things close up the soldiers show them how they work, they'll most likely realize quickly that they are mysterious devices rather than magical artifacts.

The ancient Greeks had more mechanical devices than we usually give them credit for, like the Antikythera Mechanism and other things.

Something to consider is that to the ancient Greeks and nearby peoples, gods and the supernatural were acceptable parts of life. It would be completely reasonable for the Amazons to determine through logic whether or not the soldiers were gods or human beings. There's a passage in the Iliad where one Greek soldier says to another, "I knew he was a god by the shape of his feet." If the Amazons observe that the soldiers eat, sleep, and otherwise act like men, and they don't do anything miraculous, then the Amazons will come to the conclusion that they are most likely men.

Anyway, the point:

The soldiers can explain to the Amazons that their items are devices crafted by cunning smiths, then take the equipment apart so they can see how the pieces fit together. They can demonstrate their mastery over the vehicles, and show the Amazons that they are only devices made of metal.

When the Amazons ask questions about how things work that the soldiers probably won't be able to explain (who really knows how a smartphone works?), the soldiers can just say, "Oh, we bought all this stuff off the wise craftsmen of Egypt, who keep the secrets of their trade well-guarded." to which the Amazons would most likely reply, "Egypt, of course!"

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They won't belive them to be all-powerful wizards because the soldiers, like all modern society, lacks oracular capabilities. Sorcery/magic had nothing to do with blowing things with black powder or corroding things with acids. It was direct spiritual contact with the daemons, with the daemons using their powers as supervisors of Reality to the benefit of the mage, as Iamblichus says in the On The Mysteries. And among these powers the most important, the true sign of the divine, was the Oracle, as Proclus, the last neoplatonist, said.

While your modern soldiers can blow a lot of things, resist a lot of diseases due to vaccination and antibiotics, and kill a lot of people, they can't summon a spirit and hear it's oracles. They can't know things from the future veiled to the common man nor know know hidden things from the past.

So your amazons won't mistake them for powerful wizards. But to do so YOU will have to abandon the modern, materialistic, view that magic is blowing things up with gunpowder while doing theatrics and distraction and use the ancient worldview.

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