Friday, June 25, 2004

The War of the Crowns: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

The War of the Crowns: A Novel of Ancient Egypt (Magnificent Queen of Freedom Trilogy): "Jacq continues his excellent Queen Liberty trilogy with this second installment chronicling the reign of Queen Ahotep in the seventeenth century B.C.E. After the brutish Hyksos have overrun most of Egypt, Ahotep stands virtually alone. Secretly training a cadre of crack soldiers, she single-handedly fosters a revolution. Despite the fact that she loses both her husband and her son, she continues the valiant fight for Egyptian freedom, resolving to prepare her younger son to become pharaoh and unmask the treacherous Hyksos spy who continues to plague her."

Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther

Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther: "Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.
After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. sther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom."

The Ptolemies

The Ptolemies: "Sprott chronicles the calamitous, ill-fated reign of the first Greek pharaoh of Egypt in his fascinating but overstuffed third novel, a historical reconstruction that traces the rise and fall of Ptolemy, the alleged son of King Philip of Macedonia. The initial chapters chart Ptolemy's ascension from soldier to leader in Egypt, where he becomes a satrap, keeping the body of the late Alexander the Great around as a good luck charm. After consolidating his power, Ptolemy agonizes over the decision to declare himself pharaoh while facing military challenges from a parade of enemies; he also must overcome emotional fallout from his exhausting relationship with his two wives, Berenike and Eurydice. "

The First Heroes: New Tales of the Bronze Age

The First Heroes: New Tales of the Bronze Age: "Here are 14 intelligent tales set in the Bronze Age, in which, the editors point out, the foundations of civilization were laid with the beginnings of agriculture, metalworking, and literature (such as the Gilgamesh and Homeric epics). The editors contribute personally to the overall quality, Turtledove with 'The Horse of Bronze,' in which humans perfect metalworking, and Doyle with 'Ankhtifi the Brave Is Dying,' extrapolated from the inscription on the tomb of an Egyptian warrior. "

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Amazon and the Warrior

The Amazon and the Warrior: "For eight years, the besieged city of Troy has withstood the relentless might of the Greek invaders. Now the dread Achilles, mightiest of the Greek warriors, seeks to conquer the fabled realm of the Amazons as well. But one woman stands between him and his ruthless ambition to conquer her homeland.

Penthesilea, Warrior Queen of the Amazons, watched her mother die upon Achilles' sword. A fiery, red-haired tigress of tremendous passion and courage, Pentha vows to take revenge on the legendary Greek champion, even if it means leading an army in defense of imperiled Troy."

Friday, June 18, 2004

Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives

Review by Harry Eyres

"What you can get from the Classics (though I doubt this holds for Troy or Alexander) is a uniquely illuminating perspective on the world and on yourself - a marvellously valuable way of seeing the wood for the trees. The degree of illumination, for westerners, is different from that gained by studying a completely alien culture because the Classical world or worlds are the western world in embryo.

That is the message of a racy new book by Cambridge professor of Greek, Simon Goldhill (Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives). He begins by quoting the Greek actress and culture minister, Melina Mercouri, at a conference: "I must first say few words [sic] of Greek: democracy. Politics. Mathematics. Theatre." She might have added poetry, tragedy, physics, philosophy. The fact is that most of our big words are Greek.

The pleasure and excitement of Classics for me is that of going back to the source - a mental equivalent of the 19th-century search for the sources of the Nile. Closer to the source everything seems clearer, fresher, less polluted, more dramatic (another Greek word). For example, what it is to be a human being, a citizen, a theatre-lover. Perhaps because the Greeks invented so many of the central disciplines and practices of western culture and society, they used them as if they mattered."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Tragic End of the Bronze Age: A Virus Makes History by Tom Slattery

Was a smallpox pandemic responsible for the Dark Age of Greece?: Years ago when Tom Slattery came across a picture of the mummy of Ramses V and noted the smallpox scars, he began to ponder the possibility that a smallpox pandemic may have been the cause of the classical Dark Age that overtook the civilizations of the Mediterranean in the 12th century B.C.E. His research into this possibility is detailed in his book, The Tragic End of the Bronze Age: A Virus Makes History.

Although ancient sources about this period are scarce, Slattery attempts to ascertain the dates of key migrations and defeats using possible references to solar eclipses within the Bible and even Homer that may be pointing to this disease.

"The disease called tsara'at in Hebrew has been translated as 'leprosy.' No one now knows exactly what tsara'at was. The meaning of the word has been lost. But it is clearly a disease that, unlike leprosy, takes very little time to produce death. Tsara'at is described as a disease of 'swelling' (se'et) as used for local inflamations, boils, or mole-like appearances, and 'breaking out' (saphahat) as used for rashes."

Ancient Medicine by Vivien Nutton

Ancient sense of humours:
Review by Peter Jones

"In this brilliant book (part of Routledge's excellent 'Sciences of Antiquity' series), Vivian Nutton, Professor of the History of Medicine at University College, London, surveys clearly and in gripping detail the story of ancient medicine from early Greece (8th century BC) to Late Antiquity (7th century AD). There are two figures that dominate: Hippocrates from the island of Cos (5th century BC), who was so important that treatises written hundreds of years after his death were ascribed to him (including the 'four-humour' theory), and Galen, a Greek from Pergamum and follower of Hippocrates, who made his name in Rome (2nd century AD) and left us his frequently dogmatic and pugnacious but deeply influential thoughts on medicine and many other topics, running to nearly three million words."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Emperors Don't Die In Bed

Review by Thomas Jones The third century ad was a bad time for the Roman Empire. It was under threat from enemies on all sides, and in a terrible state economically. Disgruntled legions were able to murder incumbent emperors and appoint new ones as the whim took them. Between 235 and 284 there were 21 'official' emperors, and countless ephemeral others, of whom all but one died of unnatural causes. The lucky odd man out was Claudius Gothicus, 214-70 (not all that lucky, actually: he was emperor for less than two years, and died of plague in Sirmium, in what is now Kosovo, while preparing for a major assault on the Goths). Fik Meijer's Emperors Don't Die in Bed (Routledge, £14.99, translated from Dutch by S.J. Leinbach) is a brief history of the empire structured around the deaths of its rulers, from Julius Caesar to Romulus Augustulus.