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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

3 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 ...

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 ...

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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... of Rome. They appear to have a darker side, too, as evidence has mounted for the practice of child sacrifice, temple prostitution and necromancy.There is just one problem with this picture, JosephineQuinn 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 ...

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, 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 ...

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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... two incomes together will keep us in comfort.’ They were married in October 1917. He was 52; his 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 ...

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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... his life, he looked for a good fight – ‘good’ in both senses of the word. As a teenage member of 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 . .  ...

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