Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stephanie Dray - Song of the Nile

Stephanie has kindly contributed an excerpt from her latest book - Song of the Nile:

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.  Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.  But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

Autumn 25 b.c.

My wedding day dawned rosy as the blush on a maiden’s cheek. Like the sun peeking between pink clouds to warm the sprawling city of terra-cotta roofs below, I must also shine for Rome today. As morning broke, I surveyed the middling monuments that blanketed Rome’s seven hills. I gazed to the Tiber River beyond, diamonds of dawn sparkling on its surface, and tried to see this day with my mother’s eyes.

She was Cleopatra, Pharaoh of Egypt, a woman of limitless aspiration. And I was her only daughter. She’d wanted a royal marriage for me. She may have even hoped my wedding would be celebrated here in Rome. But could she have conceived that this wedding would come to me through her bitterest enemy? In her wildest dreams, could she have imagined that the man who drove her to suicide—the same man who captured her children and dragged us behind his Triumphator’s chariot—would now make me a queen?

Yes, I thought. She could have imagined it. Perhaps she had even planned it.

Worn around my neck, a jade frog amulet dangled from a golden chain. It was a gift from my mother, inscribed with the words I am the Resurrection. On my finger, I wore her notorious amethyst ring, with which she was said to have ensorcelled my father, Mark Antony. It was now my betrothal ring, and I hoped it would steady me, for I was a tempest inside.

At just fourteen years old, I had neither my mother’s audacity nor the brazen courage that allowed her to so famously smuggle herself past enemy soldiers to be rolled out at the feet of Julius Caesar. I had heka—magic—but had inherited none of my mother’s deeper knowledge of how to use it. I didn’t have her wardrobe, her gilded barges, nor the wealth of mighty Egypt. Not yet. But the Romans often said I had her charm and wits  and the day she died, she gave me the spirit of her Egyptian soul.

Today I would need it.

It was early yet in the emperor’s household; only the servants were awake, bustling about the columned courtyard, trimming shrubbery and hanging oil lamps in preparation for the wedding festivities. They were too busy—or too wary of my reputation as a sorceress—to acknowledge my presence beneath an overripe fig tree, where my slave girl and I made my devotions to Isis. My Egyptian goddess was forbidden within the sacred walls of Rome, but no one stopped us from lighting candles and using a feather to trace the holy symbol, the ankh, into the soft earth. The Temples of Isis might be shuttered here in Rome, her altars destroyed and her voice silent, but my goddess dwelt in me and I vowed that she would speak again.

Once we’d offered our prayers, my slave girl and I strolled the gardens with a basket because it was the Roman custom for a bride to pick the flowers for her own wedding wreath. The summer had been ablaze, so hot that flowers lingered out of season. I had my choice in a veritable meadow. Stooping down, I plucked two budding roses to remind me of my dead brothers, Caesarion and Antyllus, both killed in the flower of their youth. I chose a flamboyant red poppy for my dead father, the Roman triumvir, who’d been known as much for his excesses as his military talent. Finally, for my mother, a purple iris because purple was the most royal color, and my mother had been the most royal woman in the world. The sight of a blazing golden flower, the most glorious in the garden, reminded me of my beloved twin. But Helios was only missing, not dead, and I refused to tempt fate by plucking that flower from its vine. Helios promised me that we’d never live to see this day; he swore he’d never let me be married off to one of the emperor’s cronies, but the day had come and Helios was gone.

A startled murmur of slaves made me turn and see a shadow pass between two pillars. It was the emperor. Augustus. The first time I ever saw him, he was a dark conquering god, a crimson-faced swirl of purple cloak and laurel leaf, ready to mount his golden chariot and bear me away as his chained prisoner. Today he wore only a broad-brimmed hat and a humble homespun tunic cut short enough to expose his knobby knees. But the smile he wore with it wasn’t humble. This morning—the morning of the day he’d give me away in marriage—Augustus looked supremely smug.

He was without his usual retinue of barbers, secretaries, and guards. Even so, the slaves, including my Chryssa, all dropped to their knees and genuflected. He stepped over their prone bodies as if he were one of the Eastern rulers he derided for tyranny, for he was the master here. He owned everything in this garden: the Greek statuary, the marble benches, the colorful flowers, and the slaves. For four years now, I’d been his royal hostage and he believed he owned me too.

One day soon, I meant to prove him wrong.

“Good morning, Caesar,” I said, sweeping dark hair from my eyes.

Understand that the emperor wasn’t an imposing man. His power was all in the snare of his ruthless winter gray eyes which now darkened with suspicion, as if he’d caught me trying to slip past his praetorians with their crested helmets and crimson capes. “What mischief are you up to, Cleopatra Selene?”

After all the opportunities I’d declined to run away from him, it was strange that he’d suspect me of it now. I wondered what accounted for his latest paranoia. “I’m only gathering flowers for my wedding wreath.”

I showed him my basket, and seemingly satisfied, he glanced over his shoulder through the open doors to where he received clients and other morning visitors. The tabulinum was now empty except for the clutter of scrolls, brass oil lamps, and busts of his ancestors, the Julii, each painted to create the most lifelike rendition. “Walk with me,” the emperor said, and I did, for no one refused him. “This morning I granted an audience to an ambassador from Judea, Selene. King Herod sends a last-minute wedding proposal. He wishes to take you as his junior wife.”

The mere mention of Herod’s name made my steps falter. The Judean king had been my mother’s rival and had long urged the Romans to exterminate my whole family. The news that he wished to make me, the last daughter of the pharaohs, a part of his harem, actually forced a gasp from my lungs. The proposal would have been more insulting if it were anything other than a pretext to kill me. Herod had already murdered his most beloved wife to make an end to her Hasmonean dynasty. He wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep over my death. “Caesar, you cannot mean to give me to Herod. You swore to make me Queen of Mauretania!”

Augustus smiled. I think it pleased him to see me lose my footing, to see my confidence waver. “Trust in Caesar, Selene. You’re already promised to another and in such an important matter as your marriage, I wouldn’t cater to the whim of a Jew—even if he’s already proved his loyalty, and you haven’t. Yet.”

I breathed, realizing that he’d told me this only to frighten me. To remind me of his largesse. To make me gasp with fear and then relief. Though Augustus was more than twenty years my senior, no wicked boy plucking wings off insects loved cruel games as much as he did. He stopped beside a small sphinx he’d pilfered from Egypt to adorn his garden. “Be grateful, Selene. By the end of this evening, you’ll be the wife of a newly made king, and the wealthiest woman in the empire. Not even your mother could have asked for more.”

Of course, she did ask for more. Offering her crown and scepter to him in surrender, she’d asked that her children be allowed to rule Egypt after her. Then she took her own life. My mother’s suicide had been convenient for him in every way, and I’m certain that his advisers all breathed easier when she breathed her last, but Augustus had been shocked by her death. Shaken by it. Octavian always wants most what he cannot have, she’d said, as if she’d known that it would ignite an obsession in him. He’d wanted her alive. He’d wanted her as a trophy. He’d settled upon me instead. “Half of Rome will be here for your wedding, Selene. Let my enemies bear witness to how kindly I treat Antony’s daughter. Your father’s partisans may whisper that I’m the descendant of slaves, but let them see how the grandson of a rope maker now gives away a royal princess in marriage.”

There it was. The cavernous insecurity at the center of his character that drove his every action. It didn’t matter that he’d vanquished all his rivals. Not his ever-expanding imperial compound with its marble and showy gardens, not the mountains of gold in his coffers, nor the might of his legions would ever conquer his fear that somewhere, someone was laughing at him. “Are you sure it shouldn’t be a simpler wedding, Caesar? More in keeping with austere Roman values?” I asked, because I feared Roman crowds and knew from bitter experience that they could be dangerous.

He tilted his head, his eyes shadowed beneath the brim of his hat. “I mean for your wedding to be a spectacle and you’re too ambitious to want it any other way. Today will make plain to Isis worshippers who foment dissent in Rome and rebellion in Egypt that they dare not oppose me, for I have a Cleopatra of my very own. Remember our bargain. Marry the man I choose for you and do as I command. Glorify me and I’ll show mercy to your surviving brothers, your countrymen, and to those who worship your loathsome foreign goddess. Be my Cleopatra and one day your mother’s Egypt may be yours.”

By late afternoon, the slaves had stripped my room bare. The golden incense burners, the red and green tapestries, the painted oil lamps, and even the kithara harp I played to amuse the emperor—almost everything that had ever lent color or comfort to my room here—all packed into trunks and satchels. Turning my eyes to my dressing table, I thought of the loose brick beneath it, the one Helios used to pull out of the wall so that we could whisper to one another when the Romans slept. We’d never do that again, I realized. Even if the emperor’s hounds hunted down my runaway twin brother and hauled him back to the Palatine, I wouldn’t be here . . .

With a sharp knock at my door, the emperor’s sister marched to my side to attend me. It was a mother’s duty to dress her daughter for marriage and Lady Octavia was the closest thing to a mother that I had left in this world. She’d been my father’s wife when he embarked upon his grand love affair with my mother. But after my parents were sealed in their tombs, Octavia had collected all my father’s children. Though she was a rigid woman, I’d come to love her. Even so, it felt like betrayal to let her take my mother’s place on this day. We were awkward together as we hadn’t been in years. “Well,” she said, both hands on her fleshy hips. “Let’s get you ready, Selene.”

She used a special comb to divide my hair into the six segments of the tutulus, the traditional hairstyle worn by Roman brides. “What a vicious little comb,” I hissed, wincing as she tugged mercilessly. “Why is it shaped like a spear?”

“It’s to drive out ill fortune,” she said, cheerfully. “It’s also to remind us of the Sabine women, the first Roman wives, forced to wed at the tip of a spear!”

“That hardly seems like something to be remembered with pride,” I muttered.

Octavia only tilted my chin with a sentimental sigh. “Oh, Selene, you’re going to be a lovely bride. Your father was always given to emotion, you know, and I think if he saw you, it would bring a tear to his eye.” In spite of the many wrongs he’d done her, Octavia never spoke against my father, for which I was grateful. “I think you have Antony’s best qualities.”

This puzzled me because my father had been a big jolly man with a raucous laugh whereas I was slender and decidedly sober. “I can’t imagine how I’m like my father.”

“He inspired people and so do you,” she said. “My daughters imitate you. Your royal poise, the way you hold your posture, and your piety. Because you work so hard at your lessons, the little ones study more. It’s your gift, Selene. You lead everyone around you to aspire to something greater. Even me.”

I stammered, because it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me. “E-even you?”

As the emperor’s sister, Octavia had always held influence. Now that her son Marcellus had married the emperor’s daughter, Lady Octavia was the most powerful woman in Rome. Wearing her distinctively severe hairstyle with its knot over her brow like a crown, she lifted her chin. “As the emperor’s heir, my son is still young, untested. Marcellus will need guidance more than ever and I think I can help him. He and Julia need to win over the people so I’m going to find a way to fund a beautiful new theater as a gift to the city.”

“They’re fortunate to have an ally in you,” I said, knowing how this would irritate the emperor’s ambitious wife, Livia. Octavia had supplanted her role as First Woman in Rome. Truly, it was a new day.

Octavia seemed to feel it too. “You’ve made a good match, Selene! And your story sounds so romantic. Two scions of African royalty. Two orphans saved by the emperor and adopted into his family, only to become stewards over a new land. Why, if I were your age, I might even envy you this marriage. Your groom is such a handsome young man.”

“I’m familiar with his virtues,” I said, for Juba was no stranger to me. The deposed Numidian princeling was a scholar. Such a prodigy, in fact, that he’d been my tutor. Once I’d even counted him a friend. Now he was just the husband the emperor had chosen for me and the first step I must take on my path back to Egypt.

“You’re a lucky girl,” Octavia chattered on. “He’s going to be a splendid, civilized king. Rex Literatissimus, they call him. And such a fine specimen of a man—no woman in Rome can avoid following him with her eyes. But remember that he is a man. No sweet boy like my Marcellus.” Given the clumsy way her hands worked in my hair, and her unusually breezy banter, I realized that she was working up to something. “Selene, do you know what Juba will expect from you in the bridal bed?”

My cheeks burned. Everyone imagined my mother as a seductress with great knowledge of the sensual arts, but I’d been young when she died; she’d never shared any of that particular wisdom with me. “I—I think I can guess.”

Octavia now looked sour, as if she were about to face a torment of the spirit. “This is what will happen. When you’re alone in the bridal chamber, Juba will call you wife and draw you into his arms. But you mustn’t go willingly or he’ll think you’re a lupa.” A she-wolf, she said, but she meant whore. “You must shy away and struggle just enough to please him but not enough to make him angry. Then submit to him as your husband and your king.”

Helios is my king. The thought came to me so suddenly and unbidden that I feared that I’d said it aloud. My twin was the rightful King of Egypt and dearer to me than I could dare admit. Some said that it was for his sake that the city of Thebes had rebelled. I’d bargained for my twin’s life, so I’d have to submit to the emperor’s wishes and to Juba too. I’d just have to remind myself every day how fortunate I was not to be married off to old King Herod of Judea.

When my little gray cat leapt onto the dressing table, upsetting a tray of hairpins and ribbons, Octavia cried, “Wretched creature! I won’t be sorry to see that beast leave with you. I can’t see why cats are sacred in Egypt. They’re nothing but mischief.” Bast took no notice of this insult, purring and burrowing into my arms while Octavia scowled. “Oh dear. I’m making a mess of your hair. My fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be. I’ll let your ornatrix fix it.”

My slave girl fixed my hairstyle, and then we dallied until dusk, trying to decide between two pairs of sandals, one of which was prettier but pinched my toes. At last, Chryssa helped me into my wedding garments. The white muslin tunica and accompanying girdle. The floral wreath and the orange flame-colored veil. This was the garb of a modest Roman bride, but in spite of all the years I’d lived amongst my father’s people, it still looked foreign to me. When I glanced into the polished silver mirror, I groaned in dismay. Octavia had bound my hair in such a way that it smothered everything unique about me. The white muslin left me looking pale, hiding what beauty I possessed, and I was all but suffocated by the saffron veil. “It’s horrible.”

“No,” Chryssa said, softly. “You’re a beautiful bride.”

But this was something people said to brides, whether or not it was true. I pulled the veil away. “I need . . . something else.”

Chryssa’s eyes widened. “It’s almost time for the wedding. Half the city is at the gates.”

This did nothing to calm me. Roman weddings were supposed to be small and modest affairs, simple contracts that required only a few witnesses. Mine would be different. The guests would be looking to see if I was just a Roman girl, the daughter of Mark Antony, or if I was Cleopatra’s daughter, a sorceress whose blood made flowers grow, whose hands left crocodiles docile in her wake. As the foremost worshipper of Isis in Rome, stories about me had passed from temple to temple, tavern to tavern, and the slaves and the lower classes whispered that I might bring them a Golden Age. I’d emboldened them. Perhaps I’d inspired them. So maybe I need not fear the crowds; I wasn’t a prisoner anymore.

Be my Cleopatra, the emperor said, and one day your mother’s Egypt may be yours.
Augustus was a grand actor in a pageant of his own creation and the only way to remain in his favor was to play my role. He wanted spectacle? Well, I would give him one. With deep resolution, I unwound the braids that Octavia had so painstakingly fastened, brushing out my dark hair so that it curled and cascaded, loose and free over my shoulders. “I won’t be a Roman bride,” I said. “My mother was Pharaoh and I’ll let no one forget it.”

Chryssa’s mouth formed a circle of surprise when I threw open my wardrobe chest, giving no care to the fact that the slaves had carefully packed it for the journey. I rifled through it until I found a beautiful diaphanous gown that Helios had given me. Octavia had tried to make it modest with stitches and brooches. Now I refashioned it. Removing the pins, I wrapped the gown under my arms and tied it between my breasts in the knot of Isis, the tiet, a loop with trailing sides that was a variant of the ankh. My wide-eyed slave girl watched me as if I’d gone mad. “You’re going to give insult. You’ll anger the emperor!”

“I know him better than you do.” Since I was a little child, I’d learned to play all the emperor’s games; this was just one more. Be my Cleopatra, the emperor had said, and I was young and foolish enough to believe I knew what that meant. “Don’t stand there gaping, Chryssa. Help me!”

Reluctantly, she went to my dressing table, searching for the proper cosmetic pots, as I told her what to do. My mother had been a Hellenistic queen, and when she dressed for the civilized Greek-speaking world, she dressed accordingly. But she’d also been Pharaoh of Egypt. It was that reminder of Egypt I wanted now, so I urged Chryssa to draw on my eyelids with black kohl, the dark lines of the wedjat—the eye of Horus. Then she used the greens and blues and reds of Egypt to color my face. When she was done, I held up the mirror and peered at myself with the green eyes of a jungle cat, exotic and wild. “You need more jewelry,” Chryssa suggested, finally warming to the idea. “Something sparkling to go with your little jade frog and betrothal ring.”

I knew just the thing. Carefully wrapped in the bloodstained dress I’d worn as a prisoner, was a golden snake armlet with gemstone eyes that my mother left for me when she’d foreseen her own death. I retrieved it from under my mattress, where I’d kept the bundle hidden for years, and slipped the armlet up until it hugged my bicep, its history merging with my skin. The effect was dazzling and scandalous. “You look like your mother’s portraits,” Chryssa breathed.

But I saw in myself someone entirely new.

About Stephanie:
Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

From Books To Blah

Have you ever gone through a stage of really looking forward to reading a book only to find that part way through your anticipated joy has turned to blah.  I am currently in that place with a couple a books right now.

Often in the past I have picked up and started a book only to place it back on the shelf, bookmark in place, never to reach for it again - though I continually promise myself that I will pick it up again just to finish the thing.  I have quite a number of books with raggedy old dust-covered bookmarks wilting where they had been once proud virile things.

Often I am not disappointed - the book may have been one I have had for ages - whether new or second hand - or one that I really wasn't too keen on picking up in the first place.  Often it is a case of having too many books on the go at the one time that I neglect all.

However, currently I have two tomes that have reached the blah stage - and both were books that I was really keen to read.

The first is "Heretic Lives: Medieval Heresy from Bogomil and the Cathars to Wyclif and Hus" by Michael Frassetto.  Now for some strange reason I have not been able to "get into" this book despite being interested in this area of history.  I am sure it is not fault of the author - afterall the subject matter is hardly boring and has been the cause of many important historical events.  Yet I just can't progress past the first 20 pages.  I will attempt again - though when is the question.

My second book is "Marguerite of Navarre - Mother of the Renaissance" by Patricia & Rouben Cholakain.  I don't mind telling you I paid more than I normally would for this book (hardcover) as I had not seen it before in any of the book shops that I regularly haunt (yes, I still shop in person in shops where you can physically touch the product).  Marguerite was an amazing woman in a time that was constantly changing - so I eagerly anticipated sitting down and getting to know her more.  

But since December 2010 I have only managed to reach Page 117.  Far from being a straight-forward biography of a remarkable woman, this book interposes an analysis or comparison of her books "The Heptameron" with current events in her life. So as her life unfolds on the pages before us, the authors then compare these events with the stories told in "The Heptameron" - with the usual proviso of "only the names have been changed, etc etc" - to see where or how Marguerite came to write these stories.

Maybe this is where I am losing interest.  Maybe had this been a straight-forward biography I would have been more inclined to continue.  But as the authors divert our attention, so too does my attention wane and interest decline.  Quite possibly it might have been more interesting as an appendix at the conclusion to discuss Marguerite's works with key events in her life.  I cannot say - but I shall persevere8965567y.

Or maybe it just time for a change of subject matter - something of the "fluff" variety to give the "little grey cells" a break - or a new challenge.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hollow Crown

As I own three books of pretty much the same title (Hutchison, Hollick & Rubin), I wondered just how many other "Hollow Crowns" there were.

The Hollow Crown: A Life of Richard II by Harold E Hutchison (1961).
"In this portrait Richard himself emerges as neither a tyrant nor a weakling, but an able mediaeval king."
"The brilliant abilities which Richard share with the rest of the Plantagenets were marred by a fitful inconsistancy, an insane pride, and a craving for absolute power."

The Hollow Crown: An entertainment by and about the kings and queens of england by John Barton (1962 & 2005) which was also published as: The Hollow Crown: The follies, foibles and faces of the kings and queens of England (1971)

The Hollow Crown: an ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom by Nicholas Dirks (1993) - The only one on the list that does not concern England.

The Hollow Crown: Story of Saint Edmund by M. Champion (1997)

A Hollow Crown: the story of Emman, Queen of Saxon England  by Helen Hollick (2004) - A tale of Emma of Normandy, wife and queen to both Aethelred II, Saxon King of England, and Canute, King of Denmark, Sweden & Norway and of England.

The Hollow Crown by Miri Rubin (2005 & 2006) - A history of 14th Century England.

The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare, Hobbs & the Changing Nature of Kingship from 1600 to 1650 by Timothy Zajac (2006)

Within the Hollow Crown by Margaret Campbell Barnes (2010) - A tale of King Richard II of England.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cadaver Books

I seem to have developed a macabre interest in anthropodermic bibliopegy – the practice of binding books in human skin. Rest assured that I am not a practitioner of this “art” but rather a curious onlooker.

Cadaver Books
Cudmore Book
The practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy was first practiced and documented in the 17th century and continued into the 19th century. However, the use of the human skin as a medium dates back to antiquity and is usually associated with warfare and the treatment of prisoners.

Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings. There are a number of texts today that are bound in the skin which have found a home in a number of well-known academic libraries worldwide.

Examples in Academia:
Harvard Law School: Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treatise on Spanish law. A faint inscription on the last page of the book states:
The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma (an African tribe reputed to inhabit Zimbabwe) on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Btesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.
Brown University, John hay’s Library: contains three human-skin books, including a rare copy of the 16th century anatomy text De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), and two 19th-century editions of a medieval morality tale, The Dance of Death.

Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley : 1676 French prayer book bound in human skin.

Wellcome Library: three volumes were reputed to be bound in human skin. It is now thought that only one is bound that way, a 17th-century text on anatomy that was rebound in the 19th century.

College of Physicians of Philadelphia: contains books on the skin condition trichinosis bound by medic John Stockton Hough, who used a patient's skin to bind three volumes.

University of Southern Carolina: is home to an early copy of Dale Carnegie's Lincoln the Unknown which is covered with a jacket containing a patch of skin from an African American man, onto which the title had been embossed.

Dr John Hunter (1728-1793), the famous anatomist, father of British scientific surgery, and the person after whom the London Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England is named, reputedly commissioned a textbook on dermatology to be bound in human skin.

The classic medical text, Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles of the Human Body by Bernhard Albinus (translated from Latin into English in 1749), not only was bound in human skin, but the original white skin was dyed black. This was intended to reflect one of the subjects within: "On the location and cause of the colour of Ethiopians and of other peoples."

Dr Victor Cornil (1837-1908), the famous professor of pathological anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris and author of Syphillis (1882) the definitive work on the subject at the time, possessed a piece of tattooed human skin from the time of Louis XIII. He had his copy of The Three Musketeers, set during the time of Louis XIII, bound in human skin.

Bailey Library at SRU: contains a book of erotic Spanish poetry, El Viaje Largo "The long journey "  by Tere Medina (Medina-Navascues) from South America was said created in 1972.
“The cover of this book is made from the leather of the human skin," it reads. "The Aguadilla tribe of the Mayaguez Plateau region preserves the torso epidermal layer of deceased tribal members. While most of the leather is put to utilitarian use by the Aguadillas, some finds its way to commercial trade markets where there is a small but steady demand. This cover is representative of that demand."
The book "Aurora Alegre del dichoso dia de la Gracia Maria Santissima Digna Madre de Dios" written by Joseph Bernardo de Hogal (d.1741) was bound in human skin (1748).

And a human-skin bound ledger was found in downtown Leeds, England, in 2006 written in French handwriting in black ink, appears to date back to the 1700s.

A copy of The Rights of Man and several copies of the French Constitution of 1793 were also said to have been bound in human skin.

While their credibility is questionable, there are some historical reports of a 13th century bible and a text of the Decretals (Catholic canon law) written on human skin.

Criminal Examples:
James Johnson
The earliest known instance of a criminal whose body was ordered by the court to be dissected is found in the sentence of one James Johnson, condemned to the gallows on March 19, 1818, by Mr. Justice Dallas of the Norfolk Assizes, who also ordered that the culprit's body "be delivered to the surgeons to be anatomized."

Following the execution, which took place on the Castle Hill, Norwich, in the presence of 5,000 spectators, the dissection was performed by Mr. Wilson, "a gentleman from London," and Mr. Austen, "a pupil of Mr. Dalrymple's," who prepared the body for a series of daily lectures delivered by a Mr. Crosse. " (Source: Norfolk Annals)

A copy of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was bound in his skin.

John Horwood
John Horwood was an 18 year old miner from Hanham. John was 17yo when his relationship with Eliza Balsom ended (1820). The following year, Eliza was out walking with her new boyfriend, one William Waddy, when John saw them and in a fit of pique, threw a pebble at her. The pebble hit her on the head, making only a small wound.

Cadaver Books
John Horwood

Eliza was initially treated at home but when she went to Bristol Royal Infirmary to get the wound dressed properly, chief surgeon Richard Smith decreed that it had become infected and decided to operate. In those day, operating meant trephining – drilling a hole in the unfortunate girl’s head – to relieve pressure. This caused a fatal abscess and between some four to seven days later Eliza died (17/2/1821).

Despite the fact that Eliza did not die as a result of John’s impetuosity but rather through Dr Smith’s medical treatment, Smith gave John’s name to the police, and Horwood arrested.

Horwood’s trial took place at the Star Inn in Bedminster (11/4/1821), and Smith, who would hold the position as chief surgeon for 50 years, testified against him as chief witness for the prosecution. Horwood was condemned to death.

In the condemned cell, Horwood did admit to having violent intentions towards his former sweetheart, and on the day of his execution, he left behind a poignant verse which read:
‘John Horwood is my wretched name and Hanham gave me birth. My previous time has been employed in rioting and mirth. ‘Eliza, oh Eliza dear! Thy spirit, oh, is fled! And thy poor mangled body lies now numbered with the dead. ‘Curs’d is the hand that gave the blow. And curs’d the fatal stone, which made thy precious life blood flow. For it has me undone.’
He was hanged at New Bristol Gaol (13/4/1821), three days after his 18th birthday, and his body was requisitioned by Dr Smith for medical research. Horwood’s family pleaded that his body be released to them for burial, but Dr Smith refused. A group of friends and relatives even tried unsuccessfully to hijack the cart taking the body from the prison to the hospital.

Dr Smith dissected the corpse in front of 80 people at one of his medical classes. The findings were then bound with a transcript of the trial in a book. Smith’s final, macabre flourish was to send Horwood’s flayed skin to a tanner, where it was turned into leather and used to cover the book.

Its front was embossed with a skull and crossbones at each corner and the words Cutis Vera Johannis Horwood (‘The Skin of John Horwood’) were added in gilt letters.

Dr Smith kept the skeleton, complete with a noose round the neck, in a cabinet at his Bristol home, showing it off to guests, until it was moved to Bristol University. Horwood’s remains have now been buried by his family.

William Corder – the Red Barn Murderer
The indictment charged William Corder with having on the 18th of May 1827 murdered Maria Marten by feloniously and wilfully shooting her with a pistol through the body and likewise stabbing her with a dagger The indictment consisted of ten counts.” (Source: Celebrated trials of all countries and remarkable cases of jurisprudence). The museum of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, England contains an account of the trial proceedings against William Corder, bound in the executed murderer's skin.

The Red Barn Murder was a notorious murder committed in Polstead, Suffolk, England, in 1827. A young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder. The two had arranged to meet at the Red Barn, a local landmark, before eloping to Ipswich. Maria was never heard from again. Corder fled the scene and although he sent Marten's family letters claiming she was in good health, her body was later discovered buried in the barn after her stepmother spoke of having dreamt about the murder.

Corder was tracked down in London, where he had married and started a new life. He was brought back to Suffolk, and after a well-publicised trial, found guilty of murder. He was hanged in Bury St. Edmunds in 1828; a huge crowd witnessed Corder's execution.

See also:

George Cudmore
George Cudmore, a ratcatcher from Roborough, was convicted of killing his wife Grace by poisoning her with a potion of roasted apple and milk, laced with arsenic (1830). This act was said by George to have been instigated by his lover Sarah Dunn. Dunn readily confessed to being aware of Cudmore’s intentions to do away with his wife and that she made no attempt to prevent the deed. Dunn was acquitted and Cudmore was convicted.

Cudmore was hanged at the Devon County Gaol - on the site of the current Exeter Prison - (25/3/1830) at the Lent Assizes in front of a large crowd of onlookers. Cudmore’s last request was that Dunn be kept in Devon County Gaol and made to witness his execution. For some reason that is unclear, his request was granted even though Dunn had been judged not guilty. She reportedly fell into hysterics and fainted when he dropped. As part of his sentence, his dead body would be taken to an Exeter hospital to be dissected.

From the hospital, a piece of his skin which found its way into the hands of Mr W Clifford, an Exeter bookseller, would eventually be flayed, tanned and used to cover an 1852 copy of The Poetical Works of John Milton. An inscription in the front of the book states whose skin it is and his crime. The book is now housed at the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter.

Henry Garnet
"A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet A Jesuit and His Confederates," tells of the grisly end met by the Gunpowder Plotters. It is thought the skin was cut from the corpse of one of Guy Fawkes' fellow conspirators, the Jesuit Priest, Henry Garnet. And, it is said, that if you hold the novel in the right light, you might even see a ghostly face on the cover.

Many believe that marks on the leather are evidence of torture, and says a Latin inscription on the cover which reads "severe penitence punished the flesh" was written to make sure people knew what had happened to the victim. The book, which was made in London in 1606 by Robert Barker, the king's printer.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an attempt by Catholic rebels to kill Protestant King James I of England, his eldest son and much of the English court and government by exploding gunpowder beneath a session of the Houses of Parliament. The plotters would then have seized the king’s younger children and formed a new, Catholic, government around which they hoped England’s Catholic minority would rise and rally. The plot failed and the plotters were discovered, tracked, arrested and executed.

Henry Garnet (c.1553-4 – 1606) was the son of a Nottingham School Master who, aged 20yo, went to Rome and became a Jesuit (11/9/1575). He left Rome (8/5/1586) when he was summoned to return to England by Father Weston. Following Weston’s arrest, Garnet took over the office of superior, which he held till his death.

Garnet's involvement in the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was controversial. He claimed he knew about the conspiracy but was not involved. Some scholars now believe that he was most likely trying to prevent the action against James I rather than conspiring against him.

Garnet is thus described in the proclamation issued for his arrest —
Henry Garnet, alias Walley, alias Darcy, alias Farmer, of a middling stature, full faced, fat of body, of complexion fair, his forehead high on each side, with a little thin hair coming down upon the middest of the fore part of this head; his hair and beard griseled. Of age between fifty and three score. His beard on his cheeks close cut, and his chin very thin and somewhat short. His gait upright, and comely for a feeble man.

Cadaver Books
Garnet Book
But Garnet was captured, confessed he knew of the affair, was found guilty of treason and executed (3/8/1606) at old St Pauls. The king ordered his hanging but he was spared the cruelty of being drawn and quartered. The execution was closely guarded to prevent Catholics from gathering the relics of his martyrdom.

According to legend, a piece of bloodstained straw found at the scene of his execution started to develop an exact image of the priest's face, which is what is said to have happened to the centuries-old book.

See also:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Search of the Musketeers

From the Ottawa Citizen:
"A five-year quest to locate the tomb of d'Artagnan -- the inspiration for Alexandre Dumas's novel The Three Musketeers -- has led to a small Dutch church where new research suggests the swashbuckling hero is buried.

Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan died during the Siege of Maastricht on June 25, 1673, and, according to a leading French historian, was laid to rest only few kilometres away at Saint Peter and Paul Church in Wolder."

Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers in 1844 after reading about d'Artagnan's exploits in Les Memoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, which was published almost 150 years earlier. Although he brought the action forward by 15 years and invented much of the storyline, the main characters are rooted in history."

Okay, now I have read "The Man in the Iron Mask" by John MacDonald (and highly recommend it for those with a interest in the period).  It is an indepth research into 17thC France and the secrecy surrounding the identity of the Mask. Apparently all four Musketeers were real - and the man in the iron mask was not Fouquet as is popularly believed. There were three other important "political prisoners" jailed with Fouquet - one of which was the Mask.  Whilst 17thC France is not my forte, this makes for very interesting reading.

Musketeer Reading:
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas
The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexander Dumas
Louise de Valliere by Alexander Dumas
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas

17th Century France - Novels:
The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
Gardiner to the King by Frederic Richaud
The Courtier's Secret by Donna Russo Morin
To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker
Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland
Emilie's Voice by Susanne Dunlap

17th Century France:
Mirrors of Infinity: the French Formal Garden by Allen S Weiss
French Literature of the 17th Century eds: Frederic P Miller, Agnes F Vandome, John McBrewster
The Four Musketeers: the true story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos by KL Maund & Phil Nanson
The Days of the Musketeers by Pierrie Miquel
Louis XIII the Just by AL Moote
The Institutions of France Under the Absolute Monarchy 1598 - 1789 by Roland Mousnier
Seventeenth century Europe: state, conflict, and the social order in Europe by Thomas Munck
Richelieu: A Tale of France in the Reign of King Louis XIII by GRP James
Richelieu and the councillors of Louis XIII: a study of the secretaries of state and superintendents of finance in the ministry of Richelieu, 1635-1642 by Orest A Ranum  

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bundle of Borgias

With the Showtime series "The Borgias" gaining in popularity, it's time to get your Borgia on. Here are a few tomes you may want to add to your reading list:

Borgias In Fiction:
The Borgia Bride & The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower
The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas
Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance & The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole
Poison in the Blood: The Memoirs of Lucrezia Borgia by M. Scarsbrook
Lucrezia Borgia: A Novel by John Faunce
Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons by Roberta Gellis
Madonna of the Seven Hills (Lucrezia Borgia, #1) & Light on Lucrezia (Lucrezia Borgia, #2) by Jean Plaidy
City of God by Cecelia Holland
The Family by Mario Puzo
The Banner of the Bull by Rafael Sabatini
The Borgia Testament by Nigel Balchin
Lusts of The Borgias by Marcus Van Heller

Lucrezia Borgia:
Lucrece Borgia by Victor Hugo
Lucrezia Borgia Duchess of Ferrara by William Gilbert (2 vols)
Letters of Lucrezia Borgia & Pietro Bembo translated by Hugh Shankland
Lucretia Borgia by Ferdinand Gregorovius
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy by Sarah Bradford
Lucrezia Borgia by Maria Bellonci
Lucrezia Borgia – The Life of a Pope's Daughter in the Renaissance by Maike Vogt-Luerssen
The Life & Legend Of Lucrezia Borgia by M. G. Scarsbrook
Lucrezia Borgia - A Biography by Rachel Erlanger
Lucretia Borgia - According to Original Documents and Correspondence of Her Day by Ferdinand Gregorovius

Cesare Borgia:
Cesare Bogia by Robinson (1 vol of 3)
Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times by Sarah Bradford
The Life of Cesare Borgia: of France, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna by Raphael Sabatini
Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times by Sarah Bradford
Cesare Borgia: the Machiavellian Prince by Carlo Beuf

The Borgias:
The Borgias by Alexandre Dumas
The Borgias & Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert
The Borgias by Marion Johnson
The Borgias: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Dynasty by Michael E. Mallett
At the Court of the Borgia - Being an account of the reign of Pope Alexander VI, written by his master of ceremonies, Johann Burchard.
In the Pillory: The Tale of the Borgia Pope (Damning Exposure of Romanism) by John Bond
The Fall of the House of Borgia by E.R. Chamberlin
The Renaissance Popes: Statesmen, Warriors and the Great Borgia Myth
The Borgias by Clemente Fusero (trans. by Peter Green.)
The Borgias by Ivan Cloulas
Chronicles of the House of Borgia by Frederick Rolfe