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This painting in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples of a richly dressed Pompeian woman bringing a stylus to her mouth and holding wax tablets reminded me of Miriam in the first scene of THE DEADLIEST HATE.

The corners of Phoebe’s lips trembled as she handed me the wood-framed tablets. She’d been cradling them in her arms as if she were carrying a baby.

“Miriam, the jewelers’ courier just delivered this letter for you. It’s from a goldsmith’s shop in Caesarea.”

…And so, I withdrew to my sitting room to compose a response. Taking up my silver stylus, I used the flat end to wipe out the message and the pointed end to scratch my reply into the wax…. I had to re-write the letter a few times…. I was trembling, and the stylus kept slipping through my clammy grasp. At last I completed the letter, folded the tablets together with their frames overlapping slightly to prevent the wax surfaces from rubbing, re-tied the leather bands, melted a stick of wax across them, and stamped the puddle with my seal. I sighed as if I’d finished a day’s work in the mines.

Simple, informal notes in those days were written in ink on the rough surfaces of broken pieces of pottery, but short documents like Miriam’s letter were scratched into wax tablets with a bone, bronze, or silver stylus. Longer documents were written on either papyrus or parchment [see my blog of January 30, 2018] with a split reed pen and an ink that was a mixture of lamp-black and gum.

Little did Miriam realize that, upon sailing to Caesarea, she would be targeted by Judean assassins. Her challenge would be whether she can elude the terrorists long enough to trace the alchemical secret that brought her to Caesarea. Click here to find out more.

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