Monday, June 15, 2015

The Buried Books of Herculaneum Part 2

Map of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum
"The Villa of the Papyri is unfinished business. In consideration of the immense income from Vesuvian sites, excavators have considerable margin of choice. Their priorities could extend to completion of the excavation of the Villa of the Papyri, halted largely due to piranha-like demands for payment for expropropriated lands."


- Judith Harris, Pompeii Awakened

In Part I of the Buried Books of Herculaneum mystery, we presented the following question: Why was the Villa dei Papyri never fully excavated? The villa is prominently off limits to this day. To answer this mystery, we must travel back in time to the year 1709: the year the Villa dei Papyri was rediscovered after nearly two thousand years beneath the ash.

In 1709, Naples and surrounding regions were under Austrian rule. Like so many of the world’s most amazing discoveries, the lost city of Herculaneum was rediscovered by accident. While digging a well, a feat accomplished in 1709 by leading a heavily yoked ox in a circle, a farmer began unearthing marble.

Map of Herculaneum ruins; Villa dei Papiri is closed off
The farmer began selling the fragments, and one of his earliest prospective customers was Emanuel d’Elboeuf, the French prince commanding the Austrian cavalry. Eager to complete his own summer residence, the task that had brought him to shop for marble in the first place, d’Elboeuf confiscated the poor farmer’s well on behalf of the Austrian government. He began digging in earnest, and three female statues were unearthed. They were quickly followed by a statue of Cleopatra. The statues were claimed as property of the Austrian government and placed in the king’s garden in Vienna.

D’Elboeuf and his workers pillaged the building he had drilled into until it was stripped clean. When the booty was gone, they filled in the holes, and with no interests whatsoever in art, no such field as archeology, and no apparent concept of historical preservation, there were no real records of the find. The story might have stopped right there, had it not been for a succession of women as ambitious as Cleopatra herself.

Continued in Part 3 of The Buried Books of Herculaneum.

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. 


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