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 - 


Friday, October 4, 2013

Another $50 Giveaway: Your Local Library

Do you like free money? Then do this:

Call your local library. Ask them if they carry The Vesuvius Isotope. If the answer is no, ask them to carry it. If they agree, e-mail me their phone number. Once I verify that the novel is there, you'll be automatically entered in a $50 Amazon gift card giveaway. It's that simple!

What...$50 isn't enough for you? OK, then, here's a way for you to win another $50.