Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review: The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

" is possible to feel fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally to be affected pleasantly and painfully, either too much or too little, in either case wrongly; but to be thus affected at the right times, and on the right occasions, and towards the right persons, and with the right object, and in the right fashion, is the mean course and the best course, and these are characteristics of virtue." - Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
The Golden MeanIn her first novel, Annabel Lyon, has tackled the formidable task of imagining the life of one of the world's foremost philosophers, Aristotle. I have to admit, I knew very little about Aristotle's personal life other than the fact that he was asked by Phillip II of Macedon to tutor his young son, Alexander the Great. So a number of questions arose in my mind as I read Lyon's tale.

We meet Aristotle on his way to Macedon and find Lyon's philosopher is a rather strange man, who seems content to observe life from the shadows, but not enthusiastically embrace it. He ponders the actions of his wife as if he were musing about the behavior of a neighbor or perhaps a precocious niece, not an object of his own love (although I came to suspect Aristotle did not have the capacity for love). The couple travel with his "nephew" Callisthenes, that we learn is not really his nephew but referred to in that way to avoid unnecessary social speculation. It is obvious from comments exchanged between the older Aristotle and the young Callisthenes that some physical relationship had preceded their current situation but Aristotle makes it clear that the young man is now expected to establish his own household and take up a new life.
Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...Image via Wikipedia
Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy
after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos
from 330 BC

Callisthenes was actually Aristotle's great nephew by way of Aristotle's sister Arimneste. Whether or not the two shared more than ancestors, is not specifically recorded in the ancient sources although the Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda states that Palaephatus of Abydos, an historian credited with the titles of Cypriaca, Deliaca, Attica, Arabica was said to be the beloved (eromenos) of Aristotle so like other Greek aristocrats of the period, same-sex relationships were not unknown to him.

As Aristotle reminisces about his youth we learn his father, Nicomachus, was a physician and Aristotle, ever the dutiful son, trailed around after his father, carrying his kit and acting as his assistant when surgery was required.  Aristotle gets his first glimpses of internal human anatomy over the shoulder of his father who performs what we would call a Caesarean section on a young woman whose unborn child is lodged in the breech position.  Although Aristotle's father stitches the young woman up he explains to his son matter-of-factly that of course the woman will die in a day or two but the child was saved and that is a good day's work.  Although Aristotle does not shrink from the experiences encountered with his father, he decides he really does not want to become a physician.
Phillip II of Macedon, ivory. 
Courtesy of

The reputation of his father reaches the ears of King Amyntas of Macedon, Phillip II's father, who asks him to become his personal physician.  Aristotle's family moves to the Macedonian capital where Aristotle meets Phillip, a boysterous youth with intellect and natural athleticism.  I did not know that Aristotle and Phillip knew each other as children.  I just thought Phillip asked Aristotle to be Alexander's tutor because of Aristotle's reputation. It isn't directly mentioned in the sources I checked, but it's certainly plausible since Aristotle's father spent so much time at court.  I wouldn't exactly call them friends however.
"Ours was an odd friendship, with respect and contempt barely distinguishable.  I was smart and he was hard: that was what the world saw and what we saw and liked and disliked in each other.  I was not his first friend by any stretch, but he was interested enough in me that I became known around the palace... - Anabel Lyon, The Golden Mean
Phillip apparently spent most of his time with his noble companions training to be the consummate warrior while Aristotle, having expressed a desire to learn to write tragedies, is sent to a tutor, a drunken philosopher from the school at Athens who had retreated from the world and now spent his days eternally rewriting a play in a dingy hovel in the poorer neighborhood of the city.  The lecherous old geezer uses Aristotle to procure sexual companions for the old man but does manage to impart some of the knowledge he once acquired in the academy as a classmate of Plato.

One day Aristotle returns home to find his father ill and he recognizes the symptoms of plague, a constant risk to men in his father's profession.  Aristotle and his siblings are sent away to avoid the contagion but it carries away his parents.  Aristotle, who had been invited to study at the academy in Athens, then embarks on his first adventure, to learn at the feet of the famous Plato.
Portrait Head of Alexander Roman 1st half of t...Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Portrait Head of Alexander
Roman 1st half of the 3rd
century CE Bronze.  Santa
Barbara (CA) Museum of Art

Back in the present, Aristotle meets a curious boy of about 13 "with a ruddy face and eyes as big as a calf".  This child will become the greatest conqueror in history.  But, Lyon's Alexander is a curious boy with a savage edge to him.  When Aristotle dissects a chameleon then removes its heart and hands it to Alexander for inspection, the boy pops the bloody organ into his mouth.  When the leader of a theater troop apologizes to Aristotle and Alexander for a poorly made fake head that is to be used as a prop in a play to be presented at court, Alexander offers to produce a better one and (spoiler alert) pays a woman to poison another sick actor and hacks his head off.  (Aristotle noticed that the actors certainly sounded much more sincere when Alexander tossed them that head during the performance!)

Aristotle is frustrated by Alexander's repeated tardiness and unwillingness to ask questions in class, eventually confronting him and accusing him of a  lack of curiosity and intelligence.  But Aristotle discovers that Alexander is painfully aware, even at his very young age, of his role as future king and the need to project omniscience to his young companions that will eventually form his officer corps.  So, Aristotle arranges private lessons outside of the classroom setting.

Aristotle, as portrayed in this novel, seems to have difficulty deciphering human behavior, perhaps as a side-effect of his introverted personality.  He purchases a Scythian slave for his wife and when he asks about her past she relates to him that she was trained as a mid-wife but was forced to try to heal a previous master's sick wife.  When she failed and the woman died, the mid-wife was blamed for the death, badly mistreated and eventually sold to a disreputable slave trader.  Aristotle assures her that in his household, slaves are considered part of the family and family members are not sold.  Later, when Aristotle's wife Pythias becomes seriously ill and he orders the slave to care for her, the slave refuses, pointing out she is only a mid-wife.  Aristotle cannot seem to relate her refusal to care for his wife to her previous experience and even though he had told the woman when he brought her into the household that slaves were part of the family and never sold, he drags the woman back to the slave market.  He explains to his wife that the woman obviously was never cut out to be a slave and it was ethically wrong to retain her in that position.  At the same time he could not free her either because then she would have no place in the world.  It was if Aristotle was trapped by his own circular logic and unfortunately, the poor pathetic slave would pay the price for it. 

This lack of compassion and inability to understand even his own motivations eventually comes between Aristotle and Alexander as well.  Aristotle, though hired to tutor Alexander, encounters Alexander's brain-damaged brother Arrhidaeus and begins to teach him to care for himself and ride a horse.  There is no evidence this really occurred but it was a good plot twist to expose the nature of Aristotle and Alexander's intellectual competition.  Alexander accuses Aristotle of using Arrhidaeus as one of his projects, not helping his brother out of compassion.  It's as if Alexander, even at this young age, has already realized his understanding of human motivations surpasses that of his teacher.
Alexander the Great and his Beloved Companion ...Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Alexander the Great and his Beloved Companion
Hephaistion Side By Side As They Stood in Life at the
Getty Villa in Malibu, CA.

In later years, Alexander would send Aristotle specimens of plants and animals that his forces encountered during their conquest of Persia but the former student and old mentor apparently did not engage in friendly correspondence.  Perhaps intellectual rivalry prevented the formation of a closer relationship.  Of course it did not help that Aristotle harbored a virulent ethnocentric view of the world, either.
Aristotle advised the young conqueror to be, "...a leader to the Greeks and a despot to the barbarians, to look after the former as after friends and relatives, and to deal with the latter as with beasts or plants'. - Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon
This did not prevent Aristotle from developing a close relationship with Hephaistion, though, and correspondence between Aristotle and Hephaistion was maintained throughout Hephaistion's life.  Surprisingly, Lyon did not include any aspect of this relationship in her novel.  In fact, Hephaistion played only a very small part in the novel's narrative despite his importance to Alexander and, historically, to Aristotle as well.

A plot development that Lyon did introduce and that I found highly unlikely was Alexander's development of "soldier's heart" after his first major military engagement.  Aristotle is called to treat a severe gash on Hephaistion's arm after Alexander apparently suffered a Hollywood-esque flash back and struck out at his closest friend, mistaking him for one of the recently defeated enemy.  This definitely heightened the drama of the story but was a literary device that would not have served the character well if the novel had encompassed Alexander's later conquests.

The term soldier's heart is a poetic sounding euphemism for what we today would call post traumatic stress syndrome, sometimes referred to as Da Costa's syndrome.  The term is thought to have been coined by physicians during the American Civil War to describe the physical manifestations of stress caused by exposure to combat including left-sided chest pains, heart palpitations, breathlessness, and fatigue in response to exertion.

I personally find it hard to believe that Alexander could have been suffering from what technically would be called acute stress disorder (as it apparently first occurred during or immediately following combat), at least this early in his military career.  I don't think Alexander would have been able to astutely assess enemy battle formations and fluidly alter his own offensive strategy to capitalize on his enemies weaknesses in major battles time after time as he historically demonstrated if he had suffered from the disorder.   Not only would a condition like "soldier's heart" impair his command decisions, but being in such a trance-like state as Lyon describes, unaware of his real surroundings, would most certainly have proved eventually fatal to not only himself but those under his command as well.

Some scholars believe Alexander and many of his men exhibited the classic symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome after the battle of Hydaspes, mostly based on the reports of high alcohol consumption which varied significantly between the accounts of Curtius Rufus and Lucius Flavius Arrianus.  (Rufus, who reported extremely heavy drinking, is considered the most suspect source as he was a student of Aristotle's school in Athens and was unfavorably disposed towards Alexander because of the rift that had developed between Aristotle and Alexander over the integration of Persian culture).  Classicist William Woodthrope Tarn also pointed to the particularly brutal conquest of southern India that followed the defeat of Porus as possible evidence Alexander and his men suffered from high levels of frustration and exhaustion.

In the ancient world, though, it was not unusual for commanders to allow their troops to violently sack cities after particularly difficult battles or sieges.  This practice not only served to generate part of the soldier's payment from the loot that could be collected, it also gave exhausted and traumatized soldiers the opportunity to exact "pay-back" and relieve their psychological stress from the brutality of combat, especially the up close and personal variety of ancient hand-to-hand warfare.  Whether Alexander recognized the need for this in India as "treatment" for his troops following their refusal to proceed any farther east after Hydaspes or Alexander simply had become so demoralized by his previously unquestioning troops' unprecedented opposition to his plans that he simply allowed it to occur, we don't really know.

An interesting study entitled "Post-Traumatic Stress Reactions before the Advent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Potential Effects on the Lives and Legacies of Alexander the Great, Captain James Cook, Emily Dickinson, and Florence Nightingale" was published in the December 2008 issue of Military Medicine.

In it, researchers asked experts on the lives of these historic individuals to complete questions included on a typical diagnostic survey administered to patients to determine a clinical diagnoses of PTSD.  
Of Alexander, they observe, "Although until that time [his conquest of western India] he had been a peerless leader, brave, adventurous, adaptable, ingenious, and considerate of those who served under him, Alexander began to exhibit disturbing changes in his character during the return from India. First, he drove his exhausted army through the Gadrosian Desert, where two-thirds perished from dehydration, starvation, and hyperthermia. Then, he began executing the lieutenants and satraps who had served him as middle managers of the empire during his conquests to the east. By the time he reached Babylon, he was drinking heavily and had become so pathologically suspicious and easily alarmed that he regarded the "least unusual or extraordinary thing as a prodigy or a presage."
The researchers do admit Alexander's behavior could be attributed to other causes, "Diagnosing PTSD in historical figures is considerably more challenging than diagnosing PTSD in living subjects, because the instruments currently used to establish the diagnosis cannot be administered in traditional fashion.

Consequently, only the most florid historical cases of the disorder are likely to be diagnosed. Although in the present investigation we tried to circumvent this problem by having questionnaires completed by proxy for each of our subjects, the validity of data obtained in this manner, even from recognized experts, is uncertain. Moreover, historical records are only moderately helpful in establishing the diagnosis posthumously, because they rarely reveal subjects' inner feelings. For these reasons, standard criteria used to define PTSD "caseness" in contemporary patients are difficult to apply to historical figures. Nevertheless, all four of these famous subjects exhibited many of the cardinal features of PTSD in the aftermath of repeated PTEs, such that, even in the absence of responses to standardized PTSD instruments reported by the subjects themselves, the findings point to PTSD as a likely cause of the striking changes in behavior. Other diagnoses are also possible, however, and must be considered, either as alternatives to PTSD or as possible comorbidities.

For all four subjects, depression was a prominent feature of their post-traumatic psychological states and might well have been their principal disorder. In Alexander's case, because of his nearly constant inebriation for at least 7 months before he died, alcohol dependence rather than PTSD has to be considered as the principal diagnosis. It is also possible that, after more than a decade of fighting, scheming, and murdering in pursuit of absolute power, Alexander changed because he came to realize that absolute power demanded eternal vigilance.
The researchers conclude:
"The diverse premorbid personalities and backgrounds of these four patients emphasize the breadth of the susceptible population, given exposure to PTEs of sufficient intensity and duration, as well as the influence of the sociocultural environment in which the disorder arises on its clinical expression. Alexander was a warrior king whose psychological reaction to an accumulation of PTEs was dictated and then judged by the warrior society over which he presided as supreme ruler. Of these four individuals, he was endowed with perhaps the greatest resilience, which for a time seemed to inure him to the adverse psychological effects of the PTEs of conquest. Eventually, however, even for him, there was a limit to the intensity and duration of PTEs that could be tolerated before he was broken psychologically.
But, The Golden Mean is, after all, a novel, so we can certainly allow the author various divergences to heighten the level of dramatic tension.

The author herself points out in her author's notes that Aristotle, in fact, did not accompany Alexander to Chaeronea as he did in the book and although historical references acknowledge that Aristotle did dissect animals, he was not known to have dissected any human beings, as he does on the battlefield of Chaeronea  in the book, since violation of the dead was considered a severe breech of piety at that time.

Lyon has also rearranged events a bit.  In the book, Pythias, Aristotle's wife, falls ill shortly after giving birth to their only daughter and it is apparent to Aristotle before he leaves for Chaeronea that Pythias is dying.  The author must have intentionally wanted to draw attention, once more, to Aristotle's strange lack of compassion by juxtaposing the imaginary junket to Chaeronea with his wife's pending death, that did not actually take place until years later in Athens.
Aquamanile depicting Airstotle's girlfriend Ph...Image by mharrsch via Flickr
A rather whimsical Aquamanile depicting
Airstotle's girlfriend Herpyllis riding him around
the garden after Aristotle warned Alexander
the Great about women Copper Alloy
South Lowlands 14th century CE

I was particularly struck by the author's description of the death bed scene upon Aristotle's return from Chaeronea.  Pythias is drifting in and out of consciousness as Aristotle sits by her bedside.  Then Pythias begins rasping in the final death throes and Aristotle coldly leaves the room to go to the kitchen for a drink of water.  When he returns to the room, his wife is dead.  He seems relieved it is over and can now get back to work.  Throughout the book, Lyon's Aristotle expresses little emotion over the death of friends or family members.  He shows no grief over the death of his parents from the plague, the loss of his wife or the murder of his childhood "friend" Phillip II.  When Phillip is assassinated, Aristotle retreats, along with his "nephew" Callisthenes to the library to avoid being a victim of any out-of-control retributions.  It's as if his psyche is missing a limb.

But Aristotle himself would not view this emotional remoteness as a shortcoming, but an asset that allowed him to endure life's natural course of events and still focus on theoretical contemplation - an activity that he held up as the highest form of eudaimonia - happiness or well being (Nicomachean Ethics X.7).  He would have viewed his display of unfeeling behavior as a virtuous choice between the extremes of excess and deficiency - the ever elusive "Golden Mean".
In the course of the narrative, Aristotle attempts to describe the concept of the "Golden Mean' to Alexander and the boy immediately makes the connection to the reason behind Aristotle's appointment as his tutor.  Alexander's father, Phillip is the consummate warrior.  What better choice to balance his education thereby achieving the "Golden Mean" than to appoint Aristotle, the consummate philosopher?

So, as the novel ends with Alexander leaving to begin his conquest of Asia and Aristotle seeking a sterile cocoon of contemplation in his hometown of Stagira, we must ask ourselves, did Aristotle succeed in shaping Alexander into "The Golden Mean", a philosophical warrior king, balanced between conqueror and contemplative statesman?

Other resources:

Introduction to Aristotle by S. Marc Cohen, Department of Philosophy, University of Washington
Collateral Damage: How Can the Army Best Serve a Soldier With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Colonel Richard B. O’Connor, USA, Deputy Chief, Distribution Division, J-4 (Logistics), Joint Staff, the Pentagon.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review of From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival by Lawrence A. Tritle

The Golden Mean  Aristotle for Everybody   Nicomachean Ethics   The Nature of Alexander   Fire from HeavenThe Persian Boy   Funeral Games    Soldier's Heart: Close-up Today with PTSD in Vietnam Veterans (Praeger Security International) 
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Nefertiti: A Novel
Told from the perspective of Nefertiti's sister, Mutnodjmet, Michelle Moran's "Nefertiti" explores the world and relationships of the late 18th dynasty of Egypt.  Although her novel is a work of fiction, Moran draws upon fragments of history that have been discovered at the site of Amarna and other tombs in Thebes and Saqarra to create a vibrant story rich in detail and historical accuracy.
Replica of the bust of Queen Nefertiti 18th Dy...Reproduction of the famous bust of Nefertiti by the sculptor Thutmose at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.  Photo by mharrsch via Flickr
I was familiar with most of the main characters - Nefertiti, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), Queen Tiye, the Vizier Ay, Tutankhamun and the general Horemheb. But I did not realize that Nefertiti was probably a daughter of Vizier Ay and had a younger sister (although not all scholars agree) named Mutnodjmet (sometimes spelled Mutbenret).  I also knew nothing about the noble general Nakhtmin.
My overall knowledge of the period was based on an excellent lecture series I obtained from The Teaching Company presented by Dr. Bob Brier, as well as information I had picked up reading about Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.  I had also watched History Channel programs about  "The Heretic Pharaoh" and speculations about who might have murdered Tutankhamen (Of course, we now know according to Dr. Zahi Hawass that nobody did - he apparently died of natural causes as a CT scan of his mummy revealed a severely fractured left thigh bone and researchers found  DNA from the parasite that causes malaria .  For a more thorough discussion of these latest tests, check out my post on the official medical findings in my related blog "History's Medical Mysteries".
A reproduction of the golden throne of Tutankhamun
the young pharaoh and his queen Ankhesenamun.  Photo
by Mary Harrsch.
So, although I knew about Akhenaten's attempts to force monotheism on the Egyptian populace and had seen images of him, Nefertiti and their six daughters worshipping the Aten, I did not realize that Nefertiti was Ay's daughter and that Tut's queen, Ankhesenamun, was Nefertiti's daughter, Ankesenpaaten, and Ay's granddaughter.  This familial relationship was not explored in the "Who murdered Tut" program. If it had, the "detectives" may have been more reticent to point a finger at Ay who was the grandfather of Tut's wife, not just merely a scheming ambitious court official as inferred in the program.  I doubt if even the most hard-hearted grandfathers would have murdered a so obviously beloved husband of their granddaughter (at least the young couple looks very much in love in scenes of Tut and his wife I have seen portrayed on Tut's funerary objects like the famous golden throne).   We do learn from Michelle Moran's novel, however, that the courts of the rulers of the 18th dynasty were crocodile pits filled with scheming and manipulative high priests, ambitious and competing viziers, fortune-hunting seductresses and generals who sought glory on the battlefields of Mitanni (modern day Syria and Iraq) and could pose a very lethal threat to the throne of Egypt if they were not controlled or kept suitably occupied.
Statue of Goddess Sekhmet commissioned by King...Mutnodjmet was named for the goddess Mut sometimes depicted in her warrior aspect as the feline goddess Sekhmet.  Image by mharrsch via Flickr

As the novel opens, we meet Nefertiti and her half-sister Mutnodjmet at the estate of their father, the vizier Ay, in Akhmim, a provinicial capital in upper Egypt. Nefertiti is described as stunningly beautiful while her darker-skinned half-sister is portrayed as more "average" in appearance but with captivating green eyes that resemble those of a cat.  We quickly see that Nefertiti has learned to wield her beauty like a powerful weapon to bend others to her will and is confident she will be soon chosen for the next pharaoh's chief wife by his mother and her aunt, Queen Tiye.  Mutnodjment, on the other hand, has learned about herbs and the healing arts and has resigned herself to lifelong service to Nefertiti as the sister to the king's chief wife.

Crown prince Thutmose, son of the ruling pharaoh Amenhotep III unexpectedly dies (court rumors abound that his younger brother had a hand in his death) and Nefertiti now learns she will be married to his younger brother, Amenhotep IV. But, unlike his older brother, Amenhotep IV is not a warrior and has not been groomed for the role he must now play, although he covets it and appears to relish the prospect of  ruling the most powerful kingdom in the Near East at the time.  In fact, we find that Queen Tiye has chosen Nefertiti because she feels Nefertiti appears to be cunning and ruthless enough to distract the younger prince from a fixation with the religion of Aten and his apparent plans to promote the sun god above the current chief deity Amun, whose priests have once more grown too politically powerful

Before I researched this religious/political controversy, I was under the misconception that Aten was a relatively minor diety that Amenhotep IV adopted as his own because he felt estranged from society, possibly as the result of physical infirmities.  I probably developed this misconception after watching too many programs speculating about Amenhotep IV's physical abnormalities as evidenced by his strange representation in art discovered in the excavations at El-Amarna.  I was apparently wrong on both counts.

The rivalry between followers of Amun and Re/Aten had been brewing since the Hyksos were expelled about 1530 BCE.  As the Egyptians struggled to reunify their empire, a process that required pharaohs to be engaged directly in military activities, administration was often delegated to powerful civilian authorities.  These civilian authorities increasingly became synonymous with the priests of Amun, once devout laymen but now wealthy, worldly and corrupt.

Eventually, the priests lusted for power as well and when Tuthmosis II died leaving an under-age heir directed by his co-regent and aunt Hatshepsut, the Amun priests led by the high priest Hapuseneb, made their move proclaiming the new rulers as divine by oracle of Amun, then engineered the superimposition of Hatshepsut over her ward, probably thinking a woman would be easy to control.  Hatshepsut's supposedly divine birth is depicted on the walls of the queen's temple at Deir el-Bahri showing her descended from the god Amun.
After Hatshepsut's death, however, Tuthmosis III reasserted pharaonic power, even though, he, too, led a number of arduous military campaigns to resecure Egyptian interests in Syria and Palestine.  Although he continued to patronize Amun, he made it clear where the power lay.  He even refused to anoint any of his harem as chief royal wife to avoid any ambitious females trying to wrest power from him again.
His successor, Amenhotep (Amenophis) II, launched a campaign to strip the Amun priests of their power after Year 9 of his reign.  His successor, Tuthmosis IV, continued his predecessor's battle to curb the power and influence of the Amun priests.  Tuthmosis IV, the son of a northern queen, had traditionally worshiped the sun god Re like most people in the north anyway, with worship centered on the northern city of Heliopolis.  Tuthmosis IV is the prince whose dream beneath the mighty Sphinx is retold on the famous Dream Stela.

"Look at me, observe me, my son Tuthmosis.  I am your father Harmachis-Kepri-Re-Atum.  I shall give to you the kingship upon the land before the living."

So Tuthmosis recognized that he was chosen to succeed his father not by Amun but by Harmachis, "Horus in the horizon". And, the priests of the sun god in Heliopolis became the favored cult.  The Amun priests tried to retain their control by consolidating their god to Re, hence references that appear to Amun-Re, but this ploy was not as successful as they would have wished.

Tuthmosis IV begins wearing the distinctive beaded shebyu-collar and a disc on his crown to represent the sun god.  He also began to emphasize the solar manifestation of the sun - the Aten - with imagery of the solar disc sprouting arms beginning to appear in iconography of the early reign of Tuthmosis IV's sucessor Amenhotep III, the future Akhenaten's father.

However, Amun-Re remained as the official deity of the people because the composite deity was viewed as representing people from both the north and the south - Upper and Lower Egypt - so, at least, in that, the Amun priests had been successful.
Egyptian government reproduction of a statue o...Reproduction of a statue of Akhenaten at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.  Image by mharrsch via FlickrMoran does not refer to any infirmities in her descriptions of Amenhotep IV either.  There has been much speculation over the years about the young pharaoh's health because of his bizarre depiction in art found at el-Amarna.  Theories that he suffered from Froehlich's syndrome, Marfan's syndrome and most recently aromatase excess syndrome or Antley–Bixler syndrome, postulated by pathologists at a clinicopathologic conference at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (see their analysis)  have been bandied about.  But, Zahi Hawass' team found no evidence of these diseases in Amenhotep IV's mummy during extensive physiological and DNA analyses performed in 2010.
But, back to our story.  The Vizier Ay moves his family to Malkata Palace, the court of Amenhotep III.  You can easily envision its muraled walls and sumptuous gardens from the descriptions Moran provides.
The Head of a Statue of Amenhotep III ca 1380 ...
Head of Amenhoptep III ca. 1380 BCE
recarved as Ramses II.  Image by
Mary Harrsch
We discover the aging Amenhotep III has deteriorated into a rather lecherous drunk. Even this aspect of the story is based on very careful research by Moran.  The text on fragments of canopic jars that were discovered at the turn of the 20th century and recorded by French Egyptologist Georges Legrain elaborated on the sexual proclivities of this king.  Members of his harem were extolled for their sexual zeal, with one lady Sati referred to as Miss Whiplash!

We find his son, Amenhotep IV, appears to despise his father and is anxious to take over the sole rule of Egypt so he can put his plans to become a revered builder and beloved of the people into effect.  Like most men in the book, he becomes immediately entranced by Nefertiti even though one of his existing wives, Kiya, is pregnant with Amenhotep IV's child.
Study of an Egyptian queen
consort thought to be Kiya.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Nefertiti is, of course, extremely jealous of Kiya, recognizing the threat to Nefertiti's power that Kiya represents.  This jealousy is a constant thread throughout their lives (and our story) and is the basis for much manipulation of Amenhotep IV.  I would have almost felt sorry for Kiya if she wasn't portrayed as equally ruthless. Of course at the time this book was written, Kiya's mummy was not yet identified.  When the team led by Zahi Hawass performed DNA analyses on the cache of mummies found in KV55 as well as the mummy of a young female  in KV35, it was discovered that the young female in KV35 was probably Tut's mother and also Akhenaten's full sister, as she, too, was shown to be the offspring of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.(See Dr. Hawass's blog post)   However, Nefertiti must have triumphed over Kiya, as portrayed in Moran's book, because archaeological evidence shows that Kiya was the principal occupant of a small secluded palace north of the main palace in Akhetaten (el-Amarna) where Akhenaten and Nefertiti lived and ruled.
Sadly, Moran's Nefertiti is also domineering when it comes to her relationship with Mutnodjmet - so much so that it set my teeth on edge.  Nefertiti's ruthless ambition and selfishness even surpass her pharaoh husband.  When her sister, Mutnodjmet, falls in love with a young general named Nahktmin, Nefertiti even tries to destroy their relationship because of Nefertiti's obsessive desire to be the sole recipient of her family's love.
Amenhotep IV is crowned as co-regent then announces his plans to build a new capital city in the desert he will call Akhetaten. To fund his new endeavor, he strips temples of Amun of their hoards of gold.  He also recalls the army away from the fragile border territories in Syria and Palestine to serve as his labor force in efforts to complete the city more quickly.  This enrages his primary general Horemheb, who makes no bones about letting pharaoh know how he feels.  Horemheb is promptly banished to Kadesh where, with few troops, he is expected to perish rather quickly in the next Hittite incursion.

Signs of paranoia begin to creep into Amenhotep IV's behavior.  Historical evidence that supports Moran's portrayal of Amenhotep IV were actually uncovered at el-Amarna.  Ominously, one of only two literary texts recovered from the pharaoh's library there was the "Teaching of Ammenemes I".  It warns:

"Beware of subjects who are nobodies, of whose plotting one is not aware.  Trust not a brother, know not a friend, make no intimates - it is worthless!  When you lie down, guard your heart yourself, for no man has adherents on the day of woe.  I gave to the beggar.  I raised the orphan, I gave success to the poor as to the wealthy; but he who ate my food raised opposition, and he whom I gave my trust used it to plot..." 

Reliefs depicting Battle Scenes Early Dynasty ...Reliefs depicting battle scenes 18th dynasty Egypt.  Image by mharrsch via Flickr
Still, Amenhotep IV continues to build his city filled with temples to his new primary god, Aten.  As the city rises, Akhenaten, though elated by his shining new city, descends into despair because he senses that the people do not really love him, despite all of the gold he lavishes upon them. He doesn't even trust the army, resorting to employment of Nubians and Asians for his personal guard.  His frenetic building activities consumes his attention and he repeatedly ignores serious Hittite incursions in his vassal states in Palestine and Syria.

Scholars seem to be split on this interpretation of events.  Some seem convinced that records indicating serious upheavals reflect an inattentive administration while others point to Amarna letters in which provincial rulers earnestly point out that they have followed the instructions of pharaoh.  Moran addresses this inconsistency by having Nefertiti's father, the vizier Ay, take over administrative control during this time.
Ay tries desperately to hold things together but Pharaoh orders outrageous responses to pleas of help from his provincial administrators.  (Spoiler Alert) When one beseiged city pleads for help, Pharaoh dispatches monkeys dressed as Egyptian soldiers in reply.  This incident is so explicit that I would not be surprised if it is based on historical records although I could not find such a reference.  I did find a reference to a derogatory bit of imagery from the Amarna period where Pharaoh himself is portrayed as a monkey driving a chariot, though, a clear indication that he was not as beloved of the people as he would have had his courtiers believe.
GD-EG-Caire-Musée066Stela depicting the Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti and three of their six daughters.  Image via WikipediaIn the meantime, Nefertiti, feeling pressured by the fact that Kiya has given Pharaoh a son, churns out daughter after daughter in her quest to give Egypt an heir, her desperation increasing with each birth.  It was at this point that I actually felt at least a little compassion for her.  Struggling to maintain a grip on the reins of power, she promotes herself as the god Aten's favored ruler, having more  images of herself carved on public buildings and monuments than the pharaoh himself.  This aspect of the story, too, has been born out by excavations at el-Amarna.
When archaeologists first pieced together the religious revolution of Amenhotep IV, many Christians became enamored of this early monotheist.  Many pointed to the abundence of loving scenes of the pharaoh and his daughters that have been found at Amarna as proof of the benign nature of the young ruler.  But, continuing scholarship has revealed that this pharaoh was far from benevolent.  Between years 8 and 12 of his reign, Amenhotep IV now renamed Akhenaten, initiated a reign of terror that encompassed not only the priests and followers of Amun but the common peasants as well.

"An order went out from the palace to smash up the divine statues and hack out the names and images of these gods whereever they occurred - on temple walls, on obelisks, on shrines, on the accessible portions of tombs.  This was accompanied by a focused attack on the divine birth scenes both of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri and, to a lesser though still discernible extent, on the similar reliefs of his father Amenophis III..." - Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet

Reeves goes on to point out that this was no academic exercise but a real persecution that invoked fear among all the Egyptian people.

" was not only from Egypt's large, public monuments that the offending hieroglyphs were excised.  As the archaeological record shows, small personal items such as pots for eye make-up and commemorative scarabs were dealt ith in the same relentless fashion.  Fearful of being found in possession of such seditious items, the owners themselves gouged or ground out the three offending signs which articulated the god Amun's name, even in tiny cartouches containing the old king's birth name." - Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet

Reeves points to this self-sensorship as evidence that the country was gripped by paranoia fueled by the presence of the King's foreign soldiers (mostly Nubian and Asiatic) who patrolled the streets.  Malicious informers also plagued the people.  Reeves speculates that a picture painted by Manethos supposedly of Hyksos excesses, may have actually recalled a garbled memory of Akhenaten's Terror:

"...not only did they [pharaoh's men] set towns and villages on fire, pillaging the temples and mutilating images of the gods without restraint, but they also made a practice of using the sanctuaries as kitchens to roast the sacred animals which the people worshipped, and they would compel the priests and prophets to sacrifice and butcher the beasts, afterwards casting the men forth naked." - Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet

Reeves also observes that although temple and tomb reliefs depict the pharaoh and his family adored by a groveling populace, if you look closely you will see pharaoh's guards wear batons to beat back the crowds.

The situation was highly explosive and just awaiting a spark.

In Moran's novel, when plague strikes first the people of Akhetaten and then the royal palace itself, claiming all but two of the pharaoh's own children, people turn back to their old gods in desperate attempts to stop the ravenous harvest of Anubis.  Researchers have not yet been able to determine exactly what happened in the chaos of this period.  Although a plague is documented in the Near East during this time, there is no direct reference to it in the Amarna letters.  But, it would have caused the type of crisis Moran describes in the closing chapters of her novel and definitely would have brought down a pharaoh who promoted himself as his new god's representative on earth. Perhaps, now that Hawass and his team have the latest technology, more definitive autopsies can be performed on more mummies from both the tombs at Amarna as well as Thebes and evidence of plague may surface.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti statuetteNefertiti and Akhenaten statuette at the Louvre.  Image via Wikipedia
As the dream of Amarna collapses, Moran chooses to portray Nefertiti as a co-regent with her husband, who takes sole control after Akhenaten's death and is renamed Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten then Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare/Neferneferuaten.  Although there are scholars who support the theory that Smenkhkare was a younger brother of Akhenaten or even an older brother or half/brother of Tutankhamun, I think Moran's choice of theories is the more probable.  Not only did Nefertiti add the name Neferneferuaten to her name while still queen, but her elevation to kingly status was attested to on the Coregency Stela as well as several other unfinished stelae.
"The latter include the Pase stela (depicting two figures wearing crowns who are nevertheless identified as a king and queen by the three uniscribed cartouches); the Berlin 25574 stela (depicting Akhenaten and Nefertiti but with an extra, fourth, cartouche added to indicate two kings rather than a king and queen); and in Meryre II's tomb, a scene in which the figures of Akhenaten and Nefertiti are nearly superimposed over each other (which is interpreted as indicating the oneness of their co-rule)." - Smenkhkare,Wikipedia

(Spoiler alert)  New research indicates that Nefertiti's ultimate demise, however, may have been at the hands of her own bodyguard or other members of the army rather than disaffected Aten priests.  When I watched the History Channel program about who might have murdered King Tutankhamun, the detectives brought up the discovery of correspondence between an Egyptian queen and the Hittite king,Suppiluliuma, in which the queen of Egypt asked the king to send one of his sons to her to be her husband, pleading that her husband had died and she did not want to be forced to marry a servant.  Of course the detectives in the program assumed the queen in question was Ankhesenamun, Tut's widow, not Nefertiti, Akhenaten's widow, to support their conclusion that the "evil" vizier Ay was trying to force the young innocent Ankhesenamum to marry him.
Suppiluliuma II, last king of the
Hittite Empire.  Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Although the rather convoluted Hittite rendering of the pharaoh's name referred to in the letter could have been alternative names for either Tutankhamun or Akhenaten, researcher John R. Harris argues that the letter was written in the autumn, the same time of year as Akhenaten's death, as evidenced by wine jar dockets towards the end of his 17th regnal year, while the remains of offering plants in Tutankhamun's tomb indicate the young king was buried between the end of February and the middle of March.  This meant that Tutankhamun had died 70 days previously, the time required for mummification, and almost 10 months before the season of the communication to Suppiluliuma I.  If the Egyptian queen who authored the message was Ankhesenamun, she would have been sereptitiouly negotiating with the Hittites after her grandfather Ay had already assumed the throne.  Harris thinks Suppiluliuma would have never agreed to dispatch a son under those circumstances.  He also points out that the Egyptian queen's name in the letter was not a name at all but the Hittite rendering of the Egyptian title for king's wife "par excellence" and only Nefertiti, not young inexperienced Ankhesenamun, would have been referred to in that way.  Lastly, Harris points to references in the Hittite annals to military action in progress against Amqi, also referred to in vassal correspondence in the Amarna letters. By the time Tutankhamun died, Akhetaten (el-Amarna) had already been abandoned as Egypt's administrative center.

I don't think Nefertiti would have offered herself in a marriage pact with the Hittites unless she needed someone with military might at least equivalent or superior to her own Egyptian army, to help her subvert a coup d'etat by her own army commanders and retain her grip on power.  The army general(s), particularly Horemheb, would have reacted swiftly and decisively upon learning of such an offer as he/they apparently did, murdering the Hittite prince not far from Egypt's border.  You might wonder why Horemheb would have delayed seizing the throne, though, until after the death of Tutankhamun. He may have viewed the young Tutankhamun as an easily manipulated puppet, much like the Roman senate led by the optimates, viewed the young Octavian. The vizier Ay, Ankhesenamun's grandfather, possibly Queen Tiye's brother, and an astute politician who had been intimately involved in state administration since the rule of Amenhotep III, was probably not easy to get around either.  Otherwise, Horemheb, a mere commoner, would not have had to eventually force the lady Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti's half-sister, to marry him to legitimize his rule.
Sculpted portrait of  the handsome
General Nakhtmin. Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.

(Spoiler alert) Moran included one more little poignant touch to the conclusion of her novel that also had a basis in archaeological evidence.  Little Tutankhamun, whose mother Kiya died during his birth, is adopted by the lady Mutnodjmet and General Nakhtmin.  In my research I noticed that two shabti were found in Tutankhamun's tomb that were the only gifts from a non-royal person and they were dedicated by General Nakhtmin.  Egyptian history could have been much different if General Nakhtmin, Pharaoh Ay's designated successor, had successfully triumphed over Horemheb although Egypt may not have experienced the long rule of Ramses II if that had happened. Horemheb died without issue so one of his own commanders, Ramesses, ascended the throne, founding the 19th dynasty and giving Moran a sequel to write, "The Heretic Queen", about the lady Mutnodjmet's daughter Nefertari and the pharaoh Ramesses II.

Michelle Moran truly brought the Amarna period to life for me, so much so that I eagerly poured over research books and articles to learn even more after finishing it.  To me, that is always a clear  indication of a gifted historical fiction author.

I also enjoyed a tour of virtual Amarna up at Heritage Key:

Nefertiti: Unlocking the Mystery Surrounding Egypt's Most Famous and Beautiful Queen   Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet  Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation   Amarna... the Missing Evidence
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Review: How to Mellify a Corpse by Vicki Léon

How to Mellify A Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science & SuperstitionResearching a book can be as exciting as investigating a murder and authors often end up with hundreds of notes about fascinating details of a person's life or a culture's social practices or unusual uses for obscure compounds.  A love of learning can lead authors, particularly new authors, to include every last factoid into their novel or treatise, unfortunately often to the detriment of the work they are preparing. 

So what do you do with all of that intriguing background research?  Well, if you're Vicki Léon, you release a compendium of these factoids under the unlikely title of "How to Mellify a Corpse and Other Human Stories of  Ancient Science", a bibliophile's answer to the iPhone!  Just ask a question about the ancient world and chances are Léon has a chapter about that!

Although I have probably read more about the ancient world than the average person, I was astounded by the sheer variety of little-known pearls of wisdom Léon had managed to unearth.

Scholars have argued for centuries about what caused the fall of the Roman Empire and I had read about the "lead made them do it" theory blaming the Romans' lead water pipes for the apparent mental illness recorded by some ancient sources.  In fact, as recently as 1983, geochemist Jerome Nriagu argued that lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  However, Nriagu's evidence was almost immediately challenged by scholars who point to the protective nature of calcium carbonate deposits on Roman plumbing.

But in Léon's segment, Lead and Saturnism: Sweetly damning evidence, we discover that sweet-tasting "sugar of lead" compounds were commonly used to enrich wines, syrups and sauces.

"In a parallel development, Greek and Roman cooks learned to reduce unfermented grape juice to concentrate its natural sugars.  Their cullinary secret? Lead cookware.  The resulting high-octane syrup (called defrutum or sapa) was added to fruit preserves and also to entrees from meat to fish - much as fructose syrup is added to countless processed foods today." - How to Mellify a Corpse

Léon goes on to tell us that inside fermenting vats lead strips were glued to the lids and smaller vessels were lead lined.  She also notes that the Romans prepared infected teeth for extraction by pouring molten lead over them.  Léon points to early symptoms of lead poisoning, a persistent metallic taste and loss of appetitte, as a possible reason Romans loved strongly flavored sauces like garum made from fermented fish entrails and such a variety of spices in their cooking.

Naturally, I had to find out more about this so I turned to Google and found an excellent summary of the scholarly debates surrounding the impact of lead consumption on the Roman Empire on a University of Chicago website.

The article I found pointed out that the Romans were certainly not oblivious to the toxic nature of lead. 

    "Water conducted through earthen pipes is more wholesome than that through lead; indeed that conveyed in lead must be injurious, because from it white lead [cerussa, cerussite or lead carbonate, PbCO3] is obtained, and this is said to be injurious to the human system. Hence, if what is generated from it is pernicious, there can be no doubt that itself cannot be a wholesome body. This may be verified by observing the workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour; for in casting lead, the fumes from it fixing on the different members, and daily burning them, destroy the vigour of the blood; water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome. That the flavour of that conveyed in earthen pipes is better, is shewn at our daily meals, for all those whose tables are furnished with silver vessels, nevertheless use those made of earth, from the purity of the flavour being preserved in them" (VIII.6.10-11).  - Vetruvius, De Architectura

In fact the elite even complained about the unwholesomeness of gourmet wines being manipulated to improve their flavor. (I wonder what the Romans would have thought of genetically engineered fish?)

"Martial accuses a wine merchant of Marseilles of shipping poisonous and overpriced wines to his friends and, indeed, being reluctant to visit Rome for fear of having to drink them himself (Epigrams, X.36). Pliny, too, complains that "genuine, unadulterated wine is not to be had now, not even by the nobility" (XXIII.1), ruefully remarking "So many poisons are employed to force wine to suit our taste--and we are surprised that it is not wholesome!" (XIV.130). Indeed, "So low has our commercial honesty sank that only the names of vintages are sold, the wines being adulterated as soon as they are poured into the vats. Accordingly, strange though it may seem, the more common the wine is today, the freer it is from impurities" (XXIII.34)." - Lead poisoning and Rome, Emcyclopaedia Romana, University of Chicago

Of course after reading about the dire effects that ingesting lead could cause, including infertility if lead levels reached 40 to 50 µg/dL, it also got me to thinking about Augustus wrestling with the problem of the reduced birth rate during his reign.  But scholars including the Needlemans dismiss this possibility, claiming that couples simply preferred a single or childless state:

"Augustus sought to promote marriage and encourage procreation by legislation (the Julian laws of 18/17 BC and the Lex Papia Poppaea  a generation later in AD 9). "And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state" (Tacitus, Annals, III.25). Sheidel, too, in a review of the life span of emperors and aristocrats, dismisses any impact of lead ingestion on fertility: "Nor is there any need to suspect that the incidence of marital sterility in the Roman ruling class might have been much higher than in other groups, times, and places." - Lead poisoning and Rome, Emcyclopaedia Romana, University of Chicago

I also found Léon's discussion of early attempts at air conditioning and the method used to produce block ice to chill the elite's beverages interesting.  Léon explained that the ancients harvested snow and packed it into large underground pits that were deep enough so that the weight and pressure of the snow gradually turned the bottom layer to hard ice.  She pointed out that these underground icehouses had been in use as far back as 1700 BCE.  Even Alexander the Great had icehouses built during the seige of Petras to chill his officers wine.

I had read about the Romans using snow to chill wines and juices and even to create an ancient snowcone flavored with honey but I didn't realize cold beverages were so routinely consumed because of such an industrialized production of ice.  I also have to laugh about it a little, as one of my frustrations when traveling in Europe now is being served a beverage without ice.  Asking for ice may produce unexpected results as well.  When I was in Paris, I tried to ask for a soda with ice and was served carbonated water.  My French was pretty rusty and I guess the waiter didn't hear the "l" and thought I asked for water with "gas!"

Although the Etruscans are recognized as quintessential
diviners of the future from the study of an animal's liver,
this model of a liver used for instruction was found in the
ancient Babylonian city of Sipar.  Photographed at the British
Museum by Mary Harrsch.

 All the crossword gurus out there would get some great words reading Léon's section on divination entitled "Wide Open to Interpretation.  I already knew quite a bit about Etruscan haruspicy, foretelling the future by examining sacrificial animal entrails - usually the liver but also the gall, heart and lungs - after reading Mika Waltari's novel "The Etruscan".  Steven Saylor's new novel "Empire" (my review) did an excellent job of describing Roman augury, divination through the study of bird flight, when one of his protagonists studies augury beside the stammering future emperor Claudius.  I'd even read other sources that mentioned how the Roman army carried chickens with them to divine the auspices before battle by studying the way the chickens gobbled up scattered grain.  But I didn't know it was called alectryomancy

When Julius Caesar tossed the dice before
crossing the Rubicon, he was practicing
the divination technique of cleromancy. 
This heroic nude statue of "the divine
Julius" is dated to the 1st century CE. 
Photographed at the Louvre in Paris
by Mary Harrsch.
I learned that ignispicium looked for clues to the future in ignited matter and those practicing hydromancy read the patterns of oil on water.  When Julius Caesar threw the dice to determine if he should cross the Rubicon, he was practicing cleromancy although Léon explained that a more formalized version called the lots of Astrampsychus was developed in the third century CE in which a questioner chose one of 92 sets of questions then the soothsayer would perform some math to arrive at a number to indicate the answer in a table of answers from oracular gods - sort of a third century version of a oija board.

She also gave me one more big word to add to my vocabulary - Teratoskopos - the interpretation of human deformities.  I wonder if that one will ever show up in the New York Times crossword puzzle?

Several years ago I watched an absolutely fascinating program on the History Channel about the work of classical folklorist Adrienne Mayor and her study of the ancients' collection and interpretation of prehistoric remains. In the program, Mayor explained how the ancients may have mistaken a wooly mammoth skull for the skull of a Cyclops because of the large hole in it where the trunk once protruded.  I noticed that Léon referenced Mayor's work in her section on Paleontology and the possible source of Griffins in ancient mythology but she actually discussed Cyclopean myths later under a section on Eye Afflictions and Surgery.  In addition to discussing the mammoth skull speculations, Léon mentioned real life occurences of Cyclopean humans that could result from an overdose of a toxic plant called white hellebore.  I had never heard of this kind of birth defect.
Roman lamp depicting Ulysses offering
wine to the Cyclops Polyphemos  from
the 1st century CE.  Photographed at
the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.

"White hellebore actually became fashionable, used to treat a host of ailments from giddiness and palsy to epilepsy, tetanus and white leprosy.  As Pliny noted in his encyclopedia, scholars took it regularly to sharpen their brains.  It was also prescribed to patients for mental problems.  Besides its propensity to provoke vomiting in a stunning variety of colors, white hellebore contained the alkaloids cyclopamine and hervine.  It's now recognized that both are teratogens, which may cause one-eyed Cyclopean birth defects." - How to Mellify a Corpse

I think Pliny should have told them to stick to Sudoku puzzles!

I hope through these examples I have illustrated the mind-blowing diversity of topics contained in this book.  I believe that even those of you who, like me, have read quite a bit about the ancient world, will find fascinating nuggets of information in this book that not only entertain but could be used to enliven your next novel, next blog post or next classroom presentation. Léon also includes an extensive bibliography and an index which comes in handy to find particular references since the material is so eclectic it is only loosely grouped into geographic categories.

How to Mellify A Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science & Superstition    The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times.   Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History   Religion in the Roman Empire (Blackwell Ancient Religions)   The World of Odysseus (New York Review Books Classics Series)   Strange Superstitions and Curious Customs of the Ancient World    Natural History: A Selection (Penguin Classics)   Complete Letters (Oxford World's Classics)   Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture