Ancient and Modern

Just got back from holiday. I did something amazing this year – voluntarily went to sea on an actual ship! I’m not a good sailor, but the Aegean was relatively calm, and the ship lovely and comfortable. We flew to Istanbul, cruised through the Aegean, visiting Lemnos, Izmir, Skiathos, Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Nauplia, and ended the tour at Athens. It was a wonderful, and rather luxurious, way to cram in a lot of history in the space of two short weeks.

One reason for this particular visit was that I really wanted to see Ephesus, because there are some scenes set there in this novel I am writing. ┬áIt is a wonderful site. Most of the ruins there are Roman, dating to the first century AD, and some of the places we visited would have been known to St Paul, St Luke and their colleagues in the early church. For example, here’s the road that leads down to the harbour that the apostles would have sailed from. What harbour? OK, it has long since silted up.

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The tour company, Voyages to Antiquity, always have visiting lecturers on the ship. Dr James Morwood and Dr Thomas Mannack, both from the University of Oxford, were on board, and taught us a lot about the Classical Greek and ancient world we were visiting.

And we discussed this lady; Artemis of Ephesus, who vexed St Paul considerably, and who appears in my story:

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There has been much discussion about the rows of bead-like objects she has slung around her torso. Are they breasts? bull testes? eggs? Dr Mannack is convinced they are dates. Which makes sense, as Artemis was a goddess of fertility and fruitfulness.

Also on the tour I was looking out for details about modern Turkey. It was important to try Turkish tea, for example, and to see the landscape and describe how people are dressed.

While lounging on deck, I learned a lot about the more recent history of the region by reading Louis de Berniere’s novel Birds Without Wings, which is set in the declining Ottoman empire of the early 20th century, and explains much of the animosity between the Turks and the Greeks – a distinction which the Ottoman people would not have made. For example, I learned that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the “father of the Turkish nation” was born in what is now Thessaloniki, which belongs to Greece. Was he even Turkish at all? Well, that depends…

Our last day on the Turkish part of the trip was spent in Pergamon; the home of: a famous library, the first books on parchment, and the second century AD physician, Galen. He makes a cameo appearance in my story. Here’s the Asklepion, or hospital, of Pergamon, which we understood was something like a modern spa resort, with baths, massages, medical treatments and some psychological therapies too.

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I learned so much. What a fantastic way to research a novel!