Growing up in classical Greece

These days we think of becoming an adult as a gradual process, but to the Greeks it was an instantaneous event.  Though it worked differently for boys and girls.

In the case of a well-born Athenian girl, she would go to a girls' school at the Sanctuary of Brauron, a year or two before marriageable age.  Less privileged girls would get their education at home.

Either way, at the end of their time the girls would perform a ceremony in which they dedicated their toys to the goddess Artemis.  From that instant they became marriageable adults.

 Proud fathers would commission a statue of their girl to commemorate the occasion.  This was like the graduation photos that families take these days, only back in classical Athens the graduation photo was done  in solid marble.

The great majority of statues of girls from the ancient world come from that sanctuary.  The surviving statues are very beautiful and lifelike, so that we have an astonishingly good idea what the girl children of classical Athens looked like.

On the morning of that ceremonial day, the girl was still a girl.  By nightfall, she was a young lady.  This instant graduation system might seem tough on the girls, but oddly the boys had the exact opposite problem.

Every male went into the army at the age of eighteen and returned to civilian life at twenty.  This two year compulsory service system was still in use across Europe only a few decades ago.  As soon as he reached eighteen the Athenian man could vote in the assembly, but...he didn’t obtain his legal majority until his father had passed away.  It was possible for even a forty year old man to still be a legal child.

This had the odd effect that many young women who were legal adults were married to men older than themselves who were legal children!

Gary talks to Sydney Jones

Sydney Jones writes an intriguing mystery series set in Vienna of the early 1900s, starring lawyer and PI Karl Werthen.  Historic Vienna is a terrific locale for this sort of thing.

Like me -- in fact, like pretty much every historical mystery author -- Sydney is interested in not only his time and place, but every time and place.  To which end he interviews other historical authors on his blog, among whom are a few friends of mine.  I have now joined their number.

Sydney interviewed me for his blog.  You can see the conversation here!

Coffee cups: a tool for writers

As you probably know, authors tend to drink coffee.  Here is a present I received from my daughter, Catriona.  Four coffee cups like this:

I was slightly nonplussed when I opened the box.  Yes, they are very lovely coffee cups.  They are also rather black.

Until you add hot coffee.  Then the black disappears to reveal the picture hidden beneath...

It's a Pericles Commission coffee cup!  I now have a cup for each cover.  Note the coffee within.  My devious daughters and wife took the high-res bitmaps used for the covers to have these made.

Here is The Ionia Sanction cooling down.  It reverts to black.

The entire family!  Apparently I have to write more books if I want more coffee cups.

And the latest release, complete with cappuccino:

Starred review in Publishers Weekly for The Marathon Conspiracy

The Marathon Conspiracy, fourth book in the series, has just received its first review, and it's a delight.  This just in from Publishers Weekly...

The future of democracy itself is on the line in Corby’s outstanding fourth historical set in ancient Greece (after 2013’s Sacred Games).

On the eve of elections in Athens, the city’s wise man, Pericles, enlists his inquiry agent, Nicolaos, to deal with a matter that could undermine the elections. In a cave outside Athens, two schoolgirls have discovered a skeleton that may belong to the tyrant Hippias, who defected to the Persians after his ouster, a move that led to the Battle of Marathon.

With the remains are notes, apparently written by the dictator, which may identify still-living traitors who worked with him even after his defection. One of the schoolgirls was killed shortly afterward, and the other has vanished. The multiple puzzles prove a formidable challenge for Nicolaos and his feisty fiancée, Diotima.

Everything works in this installment—the detective business, the action sequences, the plot twists, and the further development of the series lead.

Agent: Janet Reid, FinePrint Literary. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/03/2014 
Release date: 04/29/2014

Beer through a straw

The earliest beer dates back to at least 3,000 B.C.   That's a minimum, because a pot of that age was found in the Middle East that, on analysis, was found to contain barley beer.

The Greeks were not into beer, not even slightly.  Beer was for barbarians.  The Greeks were however aware of a rather odd custom of early beer swillers.  There’s a fragment of a poem from the archaic poet Archilochos that includes the line:

“…as a Thracian or a Phrygian sucks his barley beer through a tube…”  

Yes, beer was originally drunk through a straw.  To make it more fun it was drunk from pots or, if you went to a party, from a communal vat.

So the process was, you arrived at the party, your host handed you a long straw, and then you all sat or stood around talking while you drank from the same pool of beer.

This image from the British Museum has Mesopotamian beer drinkers hanging out together, in the upper middle:

There's technically no reason why you couldn't try this at your next party!

Audio edition of The Ionia Sanction on sale at Downpour

Downpour is the online consumer division of Blackstone Audio, who sell audio books to libraries.

Right now Downpour is selling the audio edition of The Ionia Sanction on their special deals page.

And in passing, I'm in good company in that sale.  I never thought I’d see the day when my name was on the same page as Isaac Asimov, Conan Doyle and Patrick O’Brian. 

I'm literally aghast

Merriam-Webster, who should know better, has decided that literally means the exact opposite of literally.  Google has followed suit.   They've decided that since most of the internet world has no clue how to use literally, that they might as well give up and give it the wrong definition.  

This will inevitably raise the age-old question whether dictionaries should describe the language as it's used, or the language as it should be used.  

But, if you're going to take the rubbish written on the internet as the definition of English, then it's only a small matter of time before school dictionaries tell u that u means you.  Looking forward to that, r we?

Vicki Leon in the LA Times

The excellent Vicki Leon, who pops in to comment on this blog from time to time, and who wrote Working IX to V, and The Joy of Sexus, today has an opinion piece on the assassination of JFK published in the LA Times.

It's very much worth reading.

Vicki also has a previous piece in the LA Times.  She suggested that killers who do it for the notoriety would be less inclined if there was a perpetual ban on publicizing their crimes or their names.  She uses as her example what happened to the guy who burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in 356BC.  (It's the same temple that my heroine Diotima works at in The Ionia Sanction, and it was indeed destroyed by arson).

To find out what they did to him, here is Vicki's article.

I thought as much

I know funny error messages on web sites are common, but this one confirms something I've long suspected.  This from one of GOOGLE's own services:

500 Internal Server Error
Sorry, something went wrong.

A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.
If you see them, show them this information: ...

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

Your quiz for today:  who said "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad"?

Was it Shakespeare?  Was it Homer?


If you googled for the answer, you probably think Euripides.  This is a classic example of something being repeated on the internet so much that people think it must be true.  The answer isn't Euripides.

In its usual wording as above, it comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  But he was rephrasing a saying that goes back more than 2,500 years.  The earliest use I know of is the play Antigone, where Sophocles quotes a version, which I've stolen from the Perseus translation:
For with wisdom did someone once reveal the maxim, now famous,
that evil at one time or another seems good,
to him whose mind a god leads to ruin.
Sophocles then adds:
But for the briefest moment such a man fares free of destruction.
Which is a variant of, "Well it seemed like a good idea at the time!"

And as the text makes clear, by the time of classical Athens it was already considered an old saying.  The origin must go back into prehistory.  Which is rather cool really for such a subtle idea.