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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 129 - 260 Menopausal Librarians (Trains Week)

Tom's Notes:

We’re like the anti-Cliff Buble, much like the anti-Christ, we are to Michael Buble and Cliff Richard what Beelzebub is to Christ, not only are we vulgar, miserable and impious, but we disappear each year in the run up to Christmas.

Lots of feedback regarding Art Attack

Jon Decker

Hi guys,

As an American, I absolutely hate your podcast. It makes me think that cunt is a totally appropriate word for my neighbors and in America it is not. I listen to your podcast while I'm doing yard work. Nearly every time that I listen to your podcast while cutting the lawn or planting trees on my acre in Southern Maine, I find animal bones. I'm not talking about rats or birds, I am referring to large animals like cows, pigs, or horses. Come to think of it, I really hope they are animal bones. The house is 115 years old or so and was supposedly owned by the people that started the hood ice cream brand. I don't know any of the history other than an old lady named Gertrude live here for quite a while and planted every invasive species she could possibly order from the Sears and Roebucks catalogue in the early 1900's.

Your podcast is actually quite fun, keep it up. I only mentioned that I hate it because you said you don't get hate mail anymore. You're welcome.


(Read on a public episode please)

Hey Guys,

How's it going, Eh? Greetings from the Colonies.

Love the pod. thanks for the entertainment.

- Allen from Canada

(PS: thanks for sending us the two royals who are not shite.)

Very interesting stories from history, most that I’ve never heard and the hosts make it funny. Highly recommend, very funny and interesting.


Trains this week. It’s a topic that lends itself to modern history, but I felt like I wanted to journey further back in time because I’ve covered a lot of modern history in our last few recordings. So, I’m talking about the Diolkos this week. It’s Ancient Greek, and often cited as a proto-railway.

I need to start with some Greek geography. Okay listeners, picture Greece. No not that Grease, wipe those images of Olivia Newton-John in skin-tight trousers from your mind, or John Travolta thrusting his hips like he’s just discovered he’s got them: naughty, dirty listeners. I’m talking less ‘Greased Lightning’ and more ‘greased axle’. Think Greece the country. If you’re struggling with that, grab an atlas and stop being an ignoramus (you know who you are). Well Greece has a big peninsula in the south. It’s the Peloponnese peninsula, that’s a lot of p’s. Papa’s popular pupils populated the Peloponnese Peninsula. The peninsula is quite big, approximately 22,000 square kilometres. If you’re struggling to visualise or comprehend that, it’s about 20 times the size of the town of Radom in Poland, or 10 times the size of the Zeya Reservoir in Russia, or half the size of Alec Baldwin’s sorrow. That joke worked better two months ago when I wrote my notes.

The peninsular is connected to the rest of Greece via the Isthmus of Corinth. During the Peloponnesian War, Athens was the dominant city state north of the Isthmus, Sparta was the dominant force on the south. The city state of Corinth was smack bang on the peninsular.

The Diolkos was a man-made road/tramway built around 600BC across the Isthmus of Corinth. It joined the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf, not to be confused with the Sardonic Gulf, “good luck getting across me in that boat, Odysseus, it’d be a shame if I were to fart you off course.” As the tramway connected to gulfs, some of you will have already twigged that this tramway was used to transport boats and the cargoes of boats across the isthmus on wheeled vehicles. The Diolkos was only 6-8km long (4-5 miles) and is a totally logical thing to build when the alternative is a massively longer route around the south of the Peloponnese around some pretty sketchy headlands; just ask Odysseus. The tramway was made from hard limestone with two grooves cut into it at a regular gauge; approximately 160cms/5ft 3inches. There is some debate as to now deliberate these grooves were; it’s quite possible that they were part of the initial tramway, it’s also quite possible that they just evolved with wear. Anyone who has been to Pompeii will have seen that the streets have similar grooves. The Diolkos was also in use for around 700 years so plenty of opportunity to create these grooves from scratch, quite literally.

I mentioned a moment ago that the tramway was for boats and their cargo. Most of the classical references to the Diolkos are in the context of war, not because war was massively common, but because war is fun, and trade isn’t. Spears fun, turnips boring, phalanx cool, tolls dull. However, it is highly likely that the primary use of the Diolkos was for trade, and more specifically, it may have played an important role in transporting materials for the construction of stone civic and religious buildings like temples, amphitheatres, forums etc. It was capable of transporting whole boats, so long as they weren’t too big, and would have certainly transported cargo across to another boat. It’s unclear how vehicles made their way along the tramway, but it’s not hard to image beasts of burden being used, or even possibly winch systems on the steeper sections. It also wouldn’t have been impossible for a team of men to pull a boat across (of course the number of men would depend on the weight of the vehicles and the fitness of the men; five asthmatic fatties might struggle with a dinghy, five growth-hormone saturated cross-fitters could probably manage a lifeboat – “AMRAP is life! Hey, I’m going to vom! This is awesome!”). This brings me nicely on to the use of the Diolkos in times of war.

There are plenty of historical references to the use of the Diolkos during times of war. Most interestingly, in my opinion, after the Battle of Actium in 31BC, Octavian (later Augustus) ordered 260 Liburnians, and that’s Liburnians, which are small galleys, not Librarians, which are people who work at Libraries, across the isthmus to pursue the defeated Marc Anthony. Can you imagine the bitching and passive aggressive comments if 260 menopausal librarians went on a hike in Greece. “How are we going to get these boats across the isthmus then Karen? You’re always the one who is so particular about the returns pile, how about you lead the way.” “Well, it is a lovely Autumn morning and the ground has a lovely wet sheen, perhaps it would work as a lubricant beneath the boats? Yes, that’s it, we’ll use the Dewey system.”

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War:

And the Lacedaemonians and their confederates, when they had heard and allowed their reasons, decreed not only a league with the Lesbians but also again to make an invasion into Attica. And to that purpose the Lacedaemonians appointed their confederates there present to make as much speed as they could with two parts of their forces into the isthmus; and they themselves being first there prepared engines in the isthmus for the drawing up of galleys, with intention to carry the navy from Corinth to the other sea that lieth towards Athens, and to set upon them both by sea and land.

Polybius, Histories

Now though Demetrius had enriched himself by his island expedition, he had had to beat an ignominious retreat, owing to the Rhodians putting out to sea to attack him: he was therefore glad to accede to the request of Taurion, as the latter undertook the expense of having his galleys dragged across the Isthmus.1 He accordingly got them across, and arriving two days after the passage of the Aetolians, plundered some places on the seaboard of Aetolia and then returned to Corinth.

Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome

His friends on the next day bore to his ship the king, now in possession of his faculties, and then, having drawn their vessels across the neck of the isthmus, they cross over to Aegina.

Strabo, Geography

The width of the Isthmus at the "Diolcus,"6 where the ships are hauled overland from one sea to the other, is forty stadia, as I have already said.

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae

First Woman

You're talking nonsense. Here, Cleisthenes, here! [635] This is the man you were telling us about.

Cleisthenes (Klise-thee-nees)

What shall we do with him?

First Woman

Take off his clothes, I can get nothing out of him.

Mnesilochus (Me-si-lochus)

What! are you going to strip a mother of nine children naked?


Come, undo your girdle, you shameless thing.

First Woman

Ah! what a sturdy frame! [640] but she has no breasts like we have.


That's because I'm barren. I never had any children.

First Woman

Oh! indeed! just now you were the mother of nine.


Stand up straight. What do you keep pushing that thing down for?

First Woman

peering from behind

There's no mistaking it.


also peering from behind

[645] Where has it gone to now?

First Woman

To the front.


from in front


First Woman

from behind

Ah! it's behind now.


Why, friend, it's just like the Isthmus; you keep pulling your stick backwards and forwards more often than the Corinthians do their ships.

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