Archaeological Detectives: an Emma Fielding Mystery, on TV

One of my colleagues in crime is Dana Cameron.  Dana is a for-real professional archaeologist, but in her odd spare moments she also writes murder mysteries and supernaturals.  

Almost inevitably one of her detectives is an archaeologist, called Emma Fielding, whose first adventure is called Site Unseen.

Site Unseen has been picked up and made into a movie for television!

Site Unseen is coming out from Hallmark in only a few days.  If you want to see an archaeological detective written by someone who actually knows archaeology, this is your big chance.  

Dana by the way has the most amazing New England accent, which people outside the US don't typically hear.  She should totally be doing podcasts.

Dana Cameron

Dana Cameron

The detectives, as viewed if you happen to be the victim.

The detectives, as viewed if you happen to be the victim.

Worst treatment of a politician, ever

I'm going to avoid the toxic cesspit that is US politics, but I thought I'd comment on a recent assertion by Donald Trump that, "No politician in history ... has been treated worse or more unfairly."

Well he'd have some stiff competition on that.  It set me to thinking about which politician in history did get the worst treatment. 

King Aelle from Vikings.jpg

Back in the ninth century in the city of York, King Aelle of Northumbria had the skin of his back sliced down the middle; then they tore away the skin to expose his spine and entire back — all while he was still alive, mind you — then they used an axe to cut away his ribs from his backbone.  The pressure on the cut ribs caused them to splay outwards away from the backbone, which must have been agonizing.  This completely exposed all his internal organs.  Then they put their hands into his body and pulled out his lungs.  All this while he was still alive.  But in this position, Aelle died.

This is called the blood eagle, because when it's over there's blood everywhere and the victim with his lungs lying beside him looks like an eagle with wings spread.

King Aelle is one of only two or three people in documented history to have had this happen to them.   The other two were Viking princes, and the people who did this to Aelle were the sons of the Viking Ragnar Lothbrok.

It must be said that Aelle had previously thrown Ragnar into a pit of snakes. So there was not a lot of love lost on either side.  On the other hand, having your lungs torn out through your back pretty much outranks anything that's happened to Donald Trump.

There is a superb TV series called Vikings, in which this unfortunate episode is portrayed.  Don't watch this unless you have a strong stomach.  

There are other candidates for worst treatment of a politician.  I'd be interested to hear your nominations.

Death On Delos: a starred review from Publishers Weekly

Death on Delos is the seventh adventure for Nicolaos and Diotima, and as you can tell from the cover, Diotima is slightly pregnant!

Death On Delos.jpg

I won't summarize the book for you, because the highly esteemed Publishers Weekly has done a sterling job of describing the opening disasters in their review, which you will find to the right.

You might notice it's a starred review.  It's also the seventh straight starred review for this series.  That's kind of a big thing in the publishing world.  

Beware the Ides of February: Cupid, Eros and St Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day.  Happy Valentine's Day!

St Valentine in a spot of bother

St Valentine in a spot of bother

As an author of murder mysteries I feel I must point out that February 14 is Valentine's Day because it was on this day that the real St Valentine was beaten with clubs, stoned, and then had his head cut off. Not perhaps the most auspicious beginning for a day to celebrate love.

Oil Flask showing Eros as he plays the aulos

Oil Flask showing Eros as he plays the aulos

However that was during the Roman period and I am an author of classical Greek mysteries.  There is a surprisingly strong connection between Greek mythology and our day of Love.  It comes via Cupid, the little fellow with the arrows, who we see on so many Valentine's Day cards.  

Cupid is the Latin name for the Greek god Eros.  Here he is, from a vase at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The wings for the little god of love were there right from the beginning.  It's not shown here, but the bow and arrow are original equipment too.  Some early pictures show the god blindfolded as he shoots his arrows, hence the meaning that love is blind, a common saying which is thousands of years old.

The earliest mention of Eros is, incredibly, from Theogeny, a book written by Hesiod in about 700BC.  It was the first ever attempt to describe the Greek Gods.  Eros gets a major mention.

Hesiod listed Eros among the very first of the gods, right at the start of Creation.

In the beginning there was Chaos.  From out of the chaos came Gaia, the Earth, the foundation of all things.  Then came dark Tartarus, the Underworld.  And then came Eros, the god of Desire, who is fairest of all the deathless ones.

So Eros, our god of falling in love, is one of the most primordial of all deities.  Zeus doesn't even appear for another two paragraphs. 

Eros then reappears a little later in Theogeny, emerging from the sea behind his mother Aphrodite.   Yes, I know that's a paradox.  Eros arose before the Olympian Gods, but Aphrodite is his Mum.  Welcome to Greek Mythology.

That, then, is the little deity who appears on our Valentine Day cards.  Oh, and he helped start the Trojan War.  But that's another story.


An unexpected election result

This seems a topical moment to talk about the world's first election that didn't quite go to plan.  It happened in 416BC, or thereabouts, in ancient Athens.

Back then two men were vying for control of the city: Nicias and Alcibiades.

Nicias was a crusty old conservative General and an associate of Pericles.  (Pericles had died thirteen years before.) 

Alcibiades was a charismatic, handsome, intelligent, deceitful, self-serving and utterly untrustworthy distant relative of Pericles.  If you think a combination of used car salesman and junk bond trader you won't be far wrong.

A vote against Hyperbolas, from the excellent site

A vote against Hyperbolas, from the excellent site

To put it mildly, these two didn't along.  They both controlled factions that between them were tearing apart the General Assembly, which was the world's first democratic parliament.  

Now in Athens they didn't need elections to their parliament, because every citizen was his own representative.

But they did have elections to exile people from the city.  This was called an ostracism.  The way it worked was that once a year anyone could propose that there be an ostracism.  If the Assembly voted in favour, then it was certain that someone was going to get tossed out, but no one knew yet who that someone was.  They had to have a vote.

This was a vote you wanted to lose, since the "winner" was exiled for ten years.  

On election day every citizen would write the name of the person they wanted to see gone.  Whoever got the most votes was the loser.  The voting slips were broken pieces of pottery, of which Athens had plenty since almost every type of food in every kitchen was stored in ceramic jars.  The ancient Greek word for pottery shard is ostrakon.  The vote was named after the voting slip: ostrakismos. Hence our English word ostracism is named for broken bits of pottery.

So Nicias and Alcibiades were causing lots of trouble, and everyone would be quite happy to see one or the other ostracised.

A dodgy minor politician named Hyperbolos, who wanted more power, realized he could make use of this.  He proposed an ostracism.  The followers of both Nicias and Alcibiades thought this was a wonderful idea, imagining the other side's leader being told to pack his bags.  The vote passed easily.

It was at this point that Nicias and Alcibiades both became very, very uneasy.  Neither was certain he'd survive the vote.

The two got together for a quiet chat, and probably through gritted teeth for the first time in their lives managed to agree on something.  

They both told their followers to vote for Hyperbolos.

When the count was complete, Hyperbolos was the one who ended up being ostracized.  Which probably isn't what he had in mind when he proposed the vote.

The result was such a shocker that the Athenians never again held an ostracism.

The voting slips when they were done with were used as landfill, since ceramic is kind of hard to get rid of any other way.  Thousands of these ostraka have been dug up around Athens.  The one in the picture has the name Hyperbolas written around the edge.  This is one of the votes that did him in.