The perfect Christmas gift

If you enjoy ancient murder mysteries, that is.  "This will have the wealth of historical mystery buffs jumping up and down for joy."

Here's a lovely review of The Marathon Conspiracy that appeared a few issues back in Suspense Magazine, which is well worth subscribing to.


“The Marathon Conspiracy” By Gary Corby 

Corby has most definitely brought to readers three amazing tales they will not soon forget. And now comes a fourth historical mystery set in Greece that, yet again, is so well-written you will feel as if you are truly part of the Ancient World. 


The elections are about to be held in the city of Athens and the city’s (wise) statesman, Pericles, asks his inquiry agent, Nicolaos, to look into a matter that could undermine all of the political elections. It seems that a skeleton has been found at a girls’ school located not too far from Athens. 


Nico is the super sleuth, to say the least; a sleuth who has just taken time off to wed his investigating partner, Diotima. Of course, Pericles and the case put that happy occasion on hold. Especially when the remains just happen to be those of Hippias. This was the massive traitor to the Greeks and, in the Battle of Marathon, was killed and left behind in Persia. The veterans of that battle are beyond angry. They have always claimed they were the men who thwarted the traitor, and they need to gain favor and political power, not stones to the head. And if this is not enough trouble, one of the girls who found the bones is dead, and the other has gone missing. 


Shocking surprises arrive to the Athenian world, as they wonder why and how the traitor is ‘back.’ There is no obvious reason behind the bones finding their home in Athens, and Nico and Pericles must solve the mystery as fast as possible before Athens becomes a bed of power hungry, angry, willing-to-do-anything tyrants. 


This will have the wealth of historical mystery buffs jumping up and down for joy. As with Corby’s other works, the tale is full of humor, suspense-filled plots, subplots, and characters that are unforgettable. It is no overstatement to say that Corby most definitely knows his history backwards and forwards, providing stories that are beyond exciting. 


Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion



Don't let the bedbugs bite!

In addition to deep and profound philosophy, classical Athens also scores in a slightly more prosaic subject:  the earliest documented mention of bedbugs comes from them.  It's in a play called The Clouds, written by Aristophanes.

In it, no less than Socrates is instructing a young man named Strepsiades.  Socrates asks his student what deep thoughts he is thinking.  Strespiades replies, "Whether there'll be anything left of me after the bedbugs have finished chewing."



Yep. it's Hades and Persephone

The archaeologists have uncovered the rest of the mosaic.  And there, sure enough, is Persephone.



Which means the guy carrying her off is Hades.  Which means you can't use this picture to predict who's inside.  It's a stock image, like putting Jesus on the cross over a modern tomb.

Of course, this one's a particularly exquisite stock image!  The intriguingly round damage in the centre is a bit of a bummer, but even so this mosaic will be gracing art history textbooks for the next century or so.

The press release on this mentioned the same thing I did in my last post: the style of this picture is very similar to one at the royal Macedonian burial ground at Vergina.  That other tomb is believed to be Philip II's, the father of Alexander.

Let me take a moment to talk about why the guy on the chariot could be called either Hades or Pluto.  In the original Greek religion he was Hades.  His underworld realm of the dead came to be known by the name of its ruler, but that wasn't originally the case.

By the time of Nicolaos and Diotima, the dead go to Hades, which is ruled by Hades.  This is kind of confusing.  In my books therefore I usually distinguish by calling the place Hades, and its ruler Lord Hades, which isn't technically correct but means you have some idea of which Hades is meant when my characters are talking.

Real classical Greeks had the same problem, so sometimes referred to the god Hades by his epithet Plouton.  The Romans picked that up and changed it to Pluto.

So technically I could call him Pluto in my books, but if I did, too many readers would imagine a lovable puppy dog, which isn't quite the reaction I want when discussing the feared Lord of the Dead.

More on that tomb in Amphipolis

A while back I wrote about the increasingly famous dig at Amphipolis, and explained why Alexander the Great is not in there.

The plot thickened slightly a few hours ago, when the Greek Ministry of culture released pictures of a terrific mosaic.

Here's the mosaic (I've taken all these from the press release):


Yes, the centre is damaged.  But the rest of the image is remarkably clear.

The guy on the left is Hermes.  He's got the staff in his left hand (it's called a caduceus).  He's got the wacky hat.  The hat is because Hermes travels a lot.  He wears the wide-brimmed affair to keep the sun off.

He won't need it where he's going on this trip though, because Hermes is leading someone to the afterworld.

In addition to being Messenger of the Gods, Hermes also leads dead people to Hades.  In that guise he's known as Hermes Chthonios.  If you're an H.P. Lovecraft fan then you'll be familiar with that last word.  It simply means "underground".




Weirdly, the guy on the chariot is probably Lord Hades himself.  It might seem odd that Hades needs a guide to get home, but this is a standard motif.  He's sometimes depicted on a chariot racing home with a very reluctant Persephone in tow.

The extremely erudite and in this case well-informed PhDiva has suggested the guy on the chariot might be Philip II, who was the father of Alexander.

Don't get excited.  This isn't the tomb of Alexander's father, unless there's something hideously wrong with the identification of another tomb at a place called Vergina.

Personally I think the jury will be out for some time on the identification of the driver.  If it's Hades, then it really doesn't say much about who's inside.

What is very interesting is that the picture looks much like another one at Pella, which was the capital of Macedonia in the time of Philip and Alexander.  The Pella mosaic shows an Abduction of Helen by Theseus.

If you told me the same artist did both, I wouldn't argue.  More likely it was a standard style of the times.  But it makes identical dating and the link to Pella very strong.

It also raises the probability that the tomb holds someone  closely associated with Alexander.  But that's just a guess.  Who it is remains a mystery.






Ancient Sausages

The classical and ancient Greeks had sausages.  Just thought I'd mention that piece of trivia.

How do we know this?  Because one of the main characters in The Knights by Aristophanes is a sausage seller who plies his trade in the agora.

However the earliest known mention of sausage is in the Odyssey, believe it or not.  At one point our heroes make sausages from pork stomach filled with blood and fat.  This is described as a tasty meal that the warriors can't wait to tuck into.

Personally, I'd run away screaming.  I am not keen on blood sausage.


Toilet seats of the ancient world

An ancient Roman toilet seat has been discovered along Hadrian's Wall. Just to prove a good design lasts forever...


I found this courtesy of a BBC article.


The Tomb of Alexander the Great

There's been a lot of news recently about a major tomb discovery in Macedonia.  In fact that tomb's been known of for years, but excavation is underway; the tomb has turned out to be massive and ornate, and it's just the right dating to be immediately post-Alexander the Great.  This has almost inevitably caused people to announce that we've discovered the tomb of Alexander.

So could this be Alexander's grave?

No, not a hope in Hades.

After Alexander died, his Generals fought each other in a super-war for control of the empire.   They were called the Successor Wars, and they weren't much fun.  If you think Texas Chainsaw Massacre Meets Gladiator with a cast of tens of thousands then you wouldn't be far off.  Throughout this brutal affair, whoever had possession of Alexander's dead body got extra victory points.

The major biographer of Alexander from the ancient world was a guy called Arrian.  Arrian -- and every other ancient writer on the subject for that matter -- says that Ptolemy hijacked the body of Alexander while it was on its way elsewhere.  (Yes, I know this is macabre.)

Ptolemy installed the body in Memphis, the capital of Egypt, while a temple and tomb was prepared in the newly-built city of Alexandria.  (Alexandria was, of course, founded by Alexander.)  Ptolemy's son, also called Ptolemy, oversaw the final installation of the corpse during the next generation.

Thus in the second century BC, Alexander is definitely in Alexandria, in a lovely temple in the middle of the city.

Cut to the birth of the Roman Empire.  The history of Dio Cassius says that after Augustus conquered Marc Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, he was taken to see the tomb of Alexander.  The sarcophagus was opened and Augustus gazed upon Alexander's face.

Augustus, future first emperor of Rome, then got it into his head to kiss a 300 year old corpse.  (Yes, this is kind of creepy.)  Dio Cassius reports that in the process Augustus accidentally broke Alexander's nose.

It's possible that some time in the intervening years someone moved Alexander to Macedon, but if so, then who was Augustus pashing in 30BC?   Furthermore, checking out Alexander's corpse became something of a de rigeur tourist attraction for high ranking Romans.  Strabo and Caligula are both stated to have seen him, still in Alexandria.  The tomb was eventually closed to tourists in the third century AD by Septimus Severus, who apparently had some sense of propiety.

Thus it's impossible that any grave in Macedonia could possibly hold Alexander.  I'm thinking someone digging deep in Alexandria will eventually find it.

  


...mixes fact and fiction into a fine froth of a meal

The San Jose Mercury News has printed a mini-review of The Marathon Conspiracy, along with three other good books.  I particularly liked the reviewers fun phrase "...mixes fact and fiction into a fine froth of a meal."

Here's the complete set of reviews.  I think I'll be reading those other books.


500,000 hits

This blog has passed half a million hits.

When I started it, I thought one or two, or perhaps as many as five people might be interested in odd facts about the ancient world.  It turns out there are slightly more of us than I thought.

Thanks for reading!


The Historical Novel Society has reviewed The Marathon Conspiracy.  You can see the full review on their site here.

But if you'd like the summary version, here is how a publicist condensed it!

“The author’s knowledge of ancient Greece is superb…a really well-told story. Highly recommended.”