Friday, December 20, 2013

Unlocking the Scrolls of Herculaneum

From BBC News...


The British Museum's 2013 show of artefacts from the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in ash during an explosive eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was a sell-out. But could even greater treasures - including lost works of classical literature - still lie underground?
For centuries scholars have been hunting for the lost works of ancient Greek and Latin literature. In the Renaissance, books were found in monastic libraries. In the late 19th Century papyrus scrolls were found in the sands of Egypt. But only in Herculaneum in southern Italy has an entire library from the ancient Mediterranean been discovered in situ.
On the eve of the catastrophe in 79 AD, Herculaneum was a chic resort town on the Bay of Naples, where many of Rome's top families went to rest and recuperate during the hot Italian summers.
It was also a place where Rome's richest engaged in a bit of cultural one-upmanship - none more so than Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a politician and father-in-law of Julius Caesar...

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pompeii! New Movie Coming February 2014



This blog post explores a theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Daughters of the Nile, a new novel by Stephanie Dray


Daughters of the Nile slide
From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra's daughter.
After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?
Read the Reviews
"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray's crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews
"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned..." ~Modge Podge Reviews
"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair
Read an Excerpt
Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.
And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"
There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"
The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.
I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.
If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."
I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."
###
Daughters of the Nile cover
Available now in print and e-book!

Available now in print and e-book!



Stephanie Dray Headshot
STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on 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.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Tour Through the Cairo Egyptian Museum



It really is one of the "greatest historical treasures of the world." The Cairo Egyptian museum, or Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is home to hundreds of thousands of artifacts excavated from the ancient sites around Cairo and throughout Egypt.
Cairo Egyptian Museum
Tourists flock to the funeral mask of King Tut and the vast collection of human mummies, two of which were, sadly, destroyed in 2011's Arab Spring.

I, on the other hand, was more interested in the papyrus and coin rooms, the incredible Fayoum portraits and the tribute to mummified animals.

Pictures are not allowed, and I had to check my camera at the door (along with my bag,) but I still had my iPhone. Below are the blurred shots I captured while looking out for security.
Fayoum Portraits Via iPhone


Mummified Croc Via iPhone


The museum is poorly annotated and most of the signage is in Arabic, so it might be helpful to buy a guidebook before heading through. It's also not air-conditioned, and in the summer you'll find yourself surrounded by about ten thousand sweaty tourists. When you arrive, head to the gift shop on your left and pick up a guidebook. Then you go through metal detectors that beep every time someone passes through them, but the guards just wave everyone through anyway.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The *New* Great Library of Alexandria

Have you ever dreamed of wandering through the Great Library of Ancient Alexandria? Unrolling a papyrus scroll written by Cleopatra in one of the nine languages she spoke? Hob-knobbing with Aristotle in the world's first think tank?

Well, you can. Sort of.

Today's visitor to Alexandria, Egypt can visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern-day recreation of the great library of the ancients. And this creation is definitely worth a visit. But for those who can't toddle off to Egypt this week, I offer here a photo tour instead.

One can spend an hour or more exploring the breathtaking architecture of the library. The building is modern and imposing, and it was designed to appear as if the library is sinking into the sea - a nod to the loss of its ancient counterpart. Indeed, one must cross a short bridge to access the library, passing by the "sinking" dome and approaching the tall structure.
The Library at Alexandria, Egypt
Exterior Spires
The Sinking Library
Waking Across the Bridge to the Library
The dome of the planetarium is prominently visible from the outside (although no photos were allowed from the inside!) Here we see the planetarium dome and the library's bust of Alexander the Great.

Planetarium of the Library
Bust of Alexander the Great with Planetarium Dome
The granite walls surrounding the library are inscribed in hundreds of languages. Even Cleopatra would have been awed! We see another tribute to literacy in the "big read" book bench, which happens to be open to a page written in Arabic on the left page and English on the right page. Within the library, the theme continues: one can find a manuscript museum and a legendary rare books collection. There is even a Nobel collection, dedicated exclusively to the works of Nobel laureates like our own Jeff Wilson.





The library features several tributes to the science of the ancients, including a planetarium, a History of Science Museum, and this marble sundial (below.) 
Marble Sundial

Arabic and English Descriptions of Sundial
English Description of Sundial
The interior of the library is bright and modern, taking advantage of the Mediterranean sun as a natural light source through a crystalline network of windows. The "library" is so much more than a library, featuring several art galleries, an IMAX theater, a museum of antiquities, an Alexandria and Mediterranean research center, and a center for Hellenistic studies, among many other resources.
The Library at Dusk

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Lighthouse, the Library, and the Caesarium of Alexandria, Egypt

The lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was located at the tip of the island of Pharos, at the mouth of the Eastern Harbor of Alexandria. Detailed descriptions in ancient literature give us a complete picture of the library's architecture, size and scale.

Today's visitor to Alexandria finds Fort Qaitbey, instead, at the tip of the crescent-shaped island.


From Midan Saad Zagloul, the square once dedicated to the offspring of Cleopatra, one can gaze across the harbor to the castle. The modern square is the descendant of the Caesarium, the monument Cleopatra built to immortalize her son with Julius Caesar. Today, a tribute to Cleopatra's patron goddess, Isis, still sits in Midan Saad Zagloul. The two obelisks referred to as "Cleopatra's Needles" have been relocated from this square to London and New York City.




Also lost to time from very near here was the legendary Great Library of Alexandria. Today, a visitor to Alexandria can visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern library designed to appear as if it is sinking into the sea - a tribute to the loss of the ancient library and its thousands upon thousands of stolen books.

The New Library of Alexandria
The Library Slipping into the Sea
All three ancient monuments--the Caesarium, the lighthouse, and the library--would have been located within line of sight within one another in Cleopatra's day. Was this proximity significant? Was it deliberate? Find the answer in best-selling historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope .

I glanced out again at Fort Qaitbay, and then I turned to look behind me at the square. Beyond it were modern buildings, buildings that had been erected where the ancient library of Alexandria once stood. The lighthouse would have been visible from the library, and vice versa.

The lighthouse. The library. The Caesarium. All three lost to time.

But in my mind, the three ancient monuments appeared before me in all their grandeur, and I felt a chill through the warm Mediterranean air. Because I suddenly knew what I needed to do.

“I’m sorry, Jeff,” I said aloud.

I stepped across the square and into a pharmacy, where I purchased a bottle of sleeping pills.


-Excerpt from The Vesuvius Isotope, best-selling historical thriller by Kristen Elise. 

Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Central Library, Downtown San Diego

Library exterior with dome
The eagerly anticipated moment has finally arrived! Months after the old Central Library was shut down in the ghetto, the  new library has re-opened in a new ghetto! But seriously, folks, don't be intimidated by your surroundings. Once you get past the front doors, the new library is awesome. I highly recommend checking it out (and while you're there, check out The Vesuvius Isotope...which should be on the shelves by now!)

So what makes this place so great? For one thing, it is nine stories high and filled with resources. Here's a much abbreviated summary of what they are:

First floor:
350-seat state-of-the-art theater
Garden courtyard
East arcade "reading nooks"
Library shop
Conference center
Video wall
Lobby
Friends of the Library Used Bookstore
Branch library for downtown residents (library within the library)
Elevator art
Resources for customers with disabilities (Braille, etc.)
Children's library

Second floor:
Teen center
Homework center
Health and wellness information center
Business, science, and industry collection
Social science collection

Third floor:
8th floor open-air reading room

Patent and trademark resource center
Government documents
Newspapers and periodicals

Fourth floor:
Computer lab and computer training center
Multi-media studio and training center
Wall art
Literature collection

Fifth floor:
Career center
Rock garden
History collection

Sixth and seventh floors:
Onsite civic high school (I'm not kidding: there's a school inside the library)

Eighth floor:
Open-air reading room offering views of downtown San Diego and the Coronado bridge
Literacy services (READ San Diego)
IDEA (Innovation and digital expression activity) lab
Baseball research center (sort of a museum for the Padres)
Art, music, and recreation collection

Ninth floor:
Special collections
Rare book room
Art gallery
Sculpture garden
Rooftop terraces
Special events suite with catering kitchen

In addition to all of that, the library is jam-packed with little reading nooks and windows, meeting rooms, and computer resources. There is a 250-space parking lot beneath the library and easy public transit accessibility. Supporters of the library have the opportunity to purchase a brick, which will then be displayed with your personalized message for all to see!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Trust, Treachery and the Caduceus

Today I'm guest posting on www.florenceinferno.com - a site dedicated to Dan Brown's latest, with a post about the symbolism of the caduceus in Inferno. Check it out...here...


This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Murder in the Spa



I've just found the location for the opening scene of my third thriller. No, I'm not kidding.

Who opens a thriller with a scene at a spa? This girl, I suppose. And I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, given that my last novel, through no conscious choice of my own, ended up opening on a nude beach. It's funny how settings (and characters, for that matter) just barge right in and novel-bomb one's latest piece of writing without even so much as an introductory handshake.

This time, it's the spa. Specifically, it's the Spa: The one around which the town of Spa, Belgium sprang up (pun fully intended.) The one from which all other spas take their universal nomenclature.
The word "spa" is thought to descend, as so many things do, from ancient Rome. These healing waters in the mountains of Belgium, once visited by the likes of Pliny the Elder, birthed the Latin phrase Sanus Per Aquam, meaning "health through water." How lovely. Follow the acronym and you get the word "SPA."

Other famous visitors to these therapeutic springs included Peter the Great, Charles II, and everyone's favorite head-hunter, Henry VIII. The natural elixir bursting forth from the underground here is rich in calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, and bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda.) So its healing properties are not a myth: we realize today that each of these minerals is essential.

Indeed, from their discovery in Roman times, to the development of the city of Spa in the 15th century, to today, these waters are where people go to detox and rejuvenate. They are recommended for anemia, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disorders, rheumatism, gynecological disorders, mental fatigue and stress. And they always have been.

Perhaps Henry VIII should have spent more time here.
So what does all of this have to do with a thriller? Well, I'm sure you can imagine all sorts of possibilities. Drowning in the mineral baths (duh). Strangulation during an overzealous deep tissue massage. Being thrown from the top of the mountain or a drop of arsenic in your mineral water. But you'd be dead wrong.

You see, the protagonist of this WIP is a healer. Having recently discovered The Vesuvius Isotope, Katrina Stone has now built a pharmaceutical empire around the therapeutic properties of natural elements. And so, in pursuit of science and medicine, she must visit the spa of Spa.

Ah, the hardships of field research.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in the third Katrina Stone novel, in progress by Kristen Elise. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel, in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

What a Difference a Snake Makes: The Caduceus Versus the Rod of Asclepius


**Rod of Asclepius
The confusion between the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius is suddenly all the rage.

In Dan Brown's Inferno, Robert Langdon clarifies the distinction between the two symbols to World Health Organization director Elizabeth Sinskey. In The Vesuvius Isotope, we follow the caduceus from Paris to ancient Egypt.

But here, we begin in ancient Greece.

Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine, and he held a rod that bore one snake. This snake winds around a Rod of Asclepius asymmetrically, and there are no wings.

There are two hypotheses as to where the rod of Asclepius came from and how it became associated with medicine. One is the 'worm theory,' which dates to the Ebers papyrus (~1500 B.C.E,) one of the first ancient Egyptian medical documents. The Ebers papyrus describes a treatment for worms. The emerging end of the worm is to be wrapped around the end of a staff and the staff wound until the worm is removed, like a big fish is reeled in on a fishing rod. This technique is still used today.

The other hypothesis dates to the Bible. In Biblical Lore, Moses carried a bronze staff, around which a bronze serpent was wound. Anyone bit by a serpent need only look at the staff to be healed of the snake's venom. This particular medical technique, I’m fairly certain, is not in practice today.

In contrast, the caduceus is a symmetrical staff with wings and two snakes. The common dogma claims that confusion between the two symbols is what led to the association of the caduceus with medicine. The common dogma also claims that the caduceus symbol first appeared as a medical symbol in the 15th century, when a Swiss medical printer used it as his printer’s vignette.

I happen to believe that all of this is a crock.

Image Credit: Medical Van Caduceus by takomabibelot licensed by CC BY 2.5

This story maintains that, like the Rod of Asclepius, the caduceus hails from ancient Greece. It is thought to have originated with Iris, the messenger of Hera. Yet, this association of the caduceus with Iris and then with medicine is actually quite ironic—because Iris, while frequently referred to as messenger, was actually more like Hera’s hit woman. In Greek mythology, Iris carried a vessel filled with water from the River Styx. And at Hera’s request, she used this ancient elixir—an ancient pharmaceutical, if you will—to put liars to sleep.

In later myths, the caduceus also became associated with Hermes, which brought the connotations of treachery and deception along with Hera's connotation with death.

So we see that our so-called ‘Greek’ medical symbol was in fact more like a skull and crossbones in ancient Greek mythology. To find the caduceus in medicine, on the other hand, we must travel instead to ancient Egypt, where Isis—the ancient Egyptian Goddess of medicine—brings wings and snakes to a vertical staff.

But first, we go to Paris.

We enter the Louvre and descend into the Egyptian rooms, and we are immediately drawn to the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Ramses III. On this sarcophagus, dating to approximately 1150 B.C.E., is a large, winged Goddess Isis.

Red granite sarcophagus of Ramesses III (Louvre) by Korribot Public Domain
The Egyptians liked to incorporate Isis in their burial chambers because they believed in resurrection, and Isis brought life. To an imaginative eye (or to one who works in the medical field and sees a caduceus in everything,) the Isis depicted on this tomb may resemble a caduceus.

Not convinced? That's OK. Me neither.

We now travel to Aswan, Egypt, to the largest Temple of Isis of the ancient world. It is on the island of Philae, and the temple is the single, massive feature adorning the entire tiny island.

We progress into increasingly smaller and darker rooms until we are led by birds and more birds into the inner sanctuary. Look at the birds—do they remind you of anything? Me too.
Temple of Isis at Philae, Inner Sanctuary, Aswan, Egypt

As we progress deeper and deeper into its depths, we realize why this place is called a sanctuary. The temperature drops abruptly, and we at last feel a life-giving breeze, relief from the merciless Egyptian sun.

Perhaps it is not coincidence that Isis' powers of healing hail from the legend that she used her wings to breathe life into the dead Osiris. Yet, wings are rarely depicted on the Goddess Isis in Egypt or elsewhere in the world. Normally, she looks like this:

The Typical Depiction of the Goddess Isis
Sometimes Isis carries a staff (as in this photo,) and sometimes an ankh. She almost always has the Horns of Hathor and the sun disk on her head (as in this photo.) And she almost always has a snake somewhere affixed, typically on her head (as in this photo.)

She always wears a sheath dress (as in this photo.) And she never, ever has wings.

Why?

Why would the Goddess Isis, whose powers of healing were born from her wings, be forever depicted without them? It is from this question that the hypothesis arises: the winged Isis, specifically, is the healer.

So imagine our surprise when we follow those birds, as if fluttering in on the life-giving breeze their wings provide, into the cool, dark, inner sanctuary at the Temple of Isis at Philae.

And in the very heart of the inner sanctuary of this temple we find a rare example of the winged Isis in ancient Egypt.

On Isis' head are the Horns of Hathor, and protruding from her forehead is the typical snake. The wingspan of Isis is embracing her son Horus, who holds a vertical staff.

Across from Isis stands another figure, also adorned with snakes. And between them stands a bouquet of the lotus and papyrus, symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Winged Isis in the Inner Sanctuary of the Temple of Isis, Aswan, Egypt

Is it any wonder that our modern medical symbol would come to be a winged staff with snakes? And, which goddess is the most likely representative of this symbol: the ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis, or the Greek Iris, the Angel of Death?

The caduceus may not have appeared on that Swiss printer's vignette until the 1500s, but Isis was referred to as a "woman doctor"—more than once—in the Ebers papyrus (~1500 B.C.E.) Yes, the very same ancient medical document that gave us the Rod of Ascelpius.

Oh Isis, thou great enchantress, heal me, deliver me from all evil, bad, typhonic things, from demoniacal and deadly diseases and pollutions of all sorts that rush upon me, as thou didst deliver and release thy son Horus!
-The Ebers Papyrus, ca. 1500 BCE

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California. 

**Photo Credit: "Rod of Asclepius2" by Original: CatherinMunroderivative work: Hazmat2 - This file was derived from: Rod of asclepius.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -