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At the Soane Museum

Josephine Quinn: ‘The Romance of Ruins’, 12 August 2021

... Howls​ of rage greeted the new concrete paths that were laid over the notoriously treacherous rock of the Acropolis last year. Increasing the numbers the site can handle arguably brings visitors closer to the experience of visiting it in the fifth century BCE. At the height of the glory of classical Athens, built on empire and slavery, the sacred area would have been bustling with people ...

Nothing beside remains

Josephine Quinn: The Razing of Palmyra, 25 January 2018

Palmyra: An Irreplaceable Treasure 
by Paul Veyne, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan.
Chicago, 88 pp., £17, April 2017, 978 0 226 42782 9
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... The​ Syrian oasis town of Tadmur is close to the middle of nowhere, 140 miles east of Damascus, 125 miles west of the Euphrates, and 20 miles from the nearest village. It’s famous for two institutions established under the French Mandate at the turn of the 1930s. One is the archaeological site now known by the Greek name of Palmyra, until recently one of the most extraordinary survivals from the ancient world ...

Your own ships did this!

Josephine Quinn: The Hittites, 18 February 2016

1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed 
by Eric Cline.
Princeton, 237 pp., £11.95, September 2015, 978 0 691 16838 8
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... In​ 1982 a sponge diver spotted a ‘metal biscuit with ears’ on the seabed off the southwest coast of Turkey. It was a copper ingot from what is now known as the Uluburun ship, a single-mast sailing boat built of cedarwood from Mount Lebanon, which sank around 1300 bce. The wreck was lying at a depth to which archaeologists could safely scuba dive for only twenty minutes at a time, twice a day ...

Goose Girl

Josephine Quinn: Empress Theodora, 4 May 2017

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint 
by David Potter.
Oxford, 277 pp., £17.99, January 2016, 978 0 19 974076 5
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... One problem​ with writing about the lives of Greek and Roman women is that the Greek and Roman men who wrote about them first tended to be more interested in writing about other men. As a result, famous ancient women are usually famous because they had more famous male relatives. The protagonists of the ten books so far published in Oxford University Press’s series on ‘Women in Antiquity’ include a bishop’s mother (Monica), a tribune’s sister (Clodia Metelli), an emperor’s mother-in-law (Faustina I), a king’s daughter (Arsinoe) and, with some double counting, no fewer than eight politicians’ wives ...

Enemies on All Sides

Josephine Quinn: Masada, 12 September 2019

Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth 
by Jodi Magness.
Princeton, 280 pp., £24, May 2019, 978 0 691 16710 7
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... Highway​ 90 follows the Great Rift Valley from Jerusalem down to Masada alongside what’s left of the Dead Sea, making it the lowest road on earth. On the right, sheer cliffs hide the caves of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. On the left, over-extraction from the River Jordan upstream and mineral harvesting from the inland lake itself means that the shoreline is receding, by two kilometres in some places since the 1980s, revealing cracked mud, salt flats and dead beaches ...

They burned and looted with discrimination

Josephine Quinn: A Goth named Alaric, 18 March 2021

Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome 
by Douglas Boin.
Norton, 254 pp., £19.99, July 2020, 978 0 393 63569 0
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... The Fall of Rome​ is the historic catastrophe of Western civilisation. It ushered in an era when, as Petrarch put it in the 14th century, even the eyes of talented men ‘were surrounded by shadows and dense fog’. These new Dark Ages reversed the standard medieval metaphor in which the light of Christianity had banished the shadows of the pagan era, and set the scene for Petrarch’s own project, a renaissance of classical culture ...

A Palm Tree, a Colour and a Mythical Bird

Robert L. Cioffi: Ideas of Phoenicia, 3 January 2019

In Search of the Phoenicians 
by Josephine Quinn.
Princeton, 360 pp., £27, December 2017, 978 0 691 17527 0
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... child sacrifice, temple prostitution and necromancy.There is just one problem with this picture, Josephine Quinn tells us in her extraordinary book, In Search of the Phoenicians: ‘They did not in fact exist as a self-conscious collective or “people”.’ Quinn’s central claim – that the concept of ...

A Djinn speaks

Colm Tóibín: What about George Yeats?, 20 February 2003

Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats 
by Ann Saddlemyer.
Oxford, 808 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 19 811232 7
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... new wife, soon to call herself George, was 25. Ezra Pound, best man at the wedding, wrote to John Quinn in New York to say that he had known Georgie Hyde-Lees as long as he had known his wife, who had been her best friend; he found her sensible and thought she would ‘perhaps dust a few cobwebs out of his belfry. At any rate she won’t be a flaming ...

It’ll all be over one day

James Meek: Our Man in Guantánamo, 8 June 2006

Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantánamo and Back 
by Moazzam Begg and Victoria Brittain.
Free Press, 395 pp., £18.99, February 2006, 0 7432 8567 0
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... a counter-skinhead, mainly Asian gang in Birmingham called the Lynx, he was drawn to the Anthony Quinn movie about the birth of Islam, The Message, with its portrayal of seventh-century Arabs as noble, chivalrous, thoughtful warriors. Begg denounces terrorism – ‘senseless acts of murder . . . carried out by desperate mujahedin’. But early on in the ...

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