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July 7, 2020

The Romans perfected firing clay bricks during Miriam’s time, the first-century CE. Previously, the only kind of bricks were mudbricks dried by the sun.


Miriam describes a neighborhood of mudbrick tenements in THE DEADLIEST LIE:


Rows of shoddy, sun-scoured, mudbrick tenements jammed together with hardly a slice of sky between them. Pigeons roosted above their listing doorways, squirting excrement on their c...

June 30, 2020

In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam tells her aunt why she studies alchemy:


I want to make it safe to study metals. If I can make an apparatus for experimenting with metals safely, it might prevent the sicknesses that are afflicting our alchemists. And not just the alchemists but the dyers in our textile factories. They too are showing the same deadly symptoms. I think they’re being poisoned by the metals in either the dyes or...

June 23, 2020

One of Jesus’s reported miracles was that of cleansing a leper. Like many diseases, leprosy was considered a form of divine punishment for worldly sins, and the outward signs of the disease were taken as proof that the victim was utterly embroiled in sin. 


According to tradition, the soldiers of Alexander the Great contracted the illness when they invaded India in the 4th century BCE and carried it into...

June 16, 2020

In THE DEADLIEST THIEF, Miriam shares with Judah the few clues she has to find the remaining scoundrel who broke into and ran off with the treasure in the Temple of Artemis:

We have a few bits and pieces that boil down to a big brute from Tarsus with tiny deep-set, obsidian eyes, a small head with a sloping forehead, and a massive upper body. And one more thing: He has an accent. I’m guessing it was Cilician since he was from T...

June 9, 2020

Prostitutes were a recognized and substantial contributor to Alexandrian life. In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam mentions them frequently and nonchalantly. For example, she mentions them among the various people she encounters in the agora:


Haranging hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and astrologers, tricksters and swindlers, magicians and conjurers, snake charmers and peddlers, wizards and sorcerers…[a...

June 2, 2020

After the last two blogs on Asclepius and his daughter Hygeia, can you imagine my surprise when I came across a reference to the common genus of plants known as milkweeds? Wait! Let me explain. They are in the genus Asclepias, yet they are poisonous to humans. In fact, I remember as a child playing with them as they grew wild around my house in New Jersey.


They are called milkweeds because they exude a form of latex, a...

May 26, 2020

Hygeia (we get the word hygiene from her name) was the daughter of Asclepius, who was the son of Apollo, who was the son of Zeus. As the Greek goddess of healing both the mental and physical illnesses of people and animals, she advised rest, a wholesome diet, and cleanliness to prevent disease in the first place.


So, why is she posed with a snake? The Greeks regarded snakes as sacred. Even their venom was...

May 19, 2020

In The Deadliest Lie, Judah tells Miriam about an asclepion where his mentor’s wife was treated for mania. (see my blog of February 23, 2016). An asclepion is a spa-like temple dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of health and medicine. The patient participates in exercises, diet, mineral baths, massage, and various other rituals before lying down on a sacred skin (called a kline from which we derive the word clini...

May 12, 2020

The popular Greek legend about Thessalonike is that she turned into a mermaid who lived in the Aegean for hundreds of years. According to the legend, Alexander, in his quest for the Fountain of Immortality, retrieved a flask of immortal water, which he used to bathe his sister’s hair. When he died, she was so overcome with grief that she tried to kill herself by jumping into the sea. But instead of drowning, she became a merma...

May 5, 2020

“It’s a deep bowl, like the one I use to serve figs, like a basin but with a lid.”


That’s the way Miriam described a lecane to Phoebe. It’s one of the dozens of kinds of two-handled Greek vessels called “vases”. This kind was used as a basin for washing one’s feet, vomiting into, or storing miscellaneous household goods like cups and clothes. A smaller version of the same shape was filled with gifts from the fath...

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