In July 2021 I was interviewed by fellow children's author Iszi Lawrence (left) for the British Museum Membercast. We talked about artefacts in the British Museum that have inspired my writing. For anyone who wants to know more, here are some of the objects we discussed. Click the photos for links to the objects.
1. Rock crystal die. Find it in the Greek and Roman Life room (room 69) display case 9. This beautiful little object was a vital clue to the identity of a dog-killer in my first book, The Thieves of Ostia.
2. Wax-tablet and writing things. Greek and Roman Life room (room 69). I try to make some artefacts a matter of life and death, like a wax-tablet for Lupus, a character from my Roman Mysteries series of books. Lupus is mute and illiterate but as he learns to read and write his wax tablet becomes a vital means of communication. My replica wax tablet smells like honey because of the beeswax on it.
3. Why would you put a scary actor’s mask on a baby feeder? I believe the answer is that it is apotropaic (turns away evil). A face like this, possibly called a mormolukeion, keeps malicious spirits from turning the milk sour. This becomes an object of life or death importance in my book Escape from Rome. Find it in the room next to the Greek and Roman life room, in room 70 and display case 14.
4. Hydria. This beautiful Greek jar for carrying water is one of literally thousands of Greek, Roman and Etruscan vases in the British Museum. Women and slave-girls would take a pot like this to the fountain and bring it back on their heads, full of water. Other Greek vases range from tiny perfume bottles to big mixing bowls for wine. The decoration on them gives us glimpses into daily life, customs and beliefs. For a scene where kids hide in a fountain, check out my book Adventure in Athens.
5. Oil-lamps are like snapshots of the ancient world… Many of them also have apotropaic images on them, and the oil-lamps themselves – lights in the darkness – keep away evil. One of my favourite oil-lamps is in the Greek and Roman Life room (room 69) and shows what racing chariots really looked like. I incorporated that knowledge into Roman Mystery 12, The Charioteer from Delphi.
6. This superb statuette of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates informed my most recent historical thriller, The Time Travel Diaries, Adventure in Athens. Note that he is only wearing a cloak, probably light linen for those hot Athenian summers. Find him downstairs in Room 22 and display case 6.
7. Another figurine, a little ivory hunchback from Alexandria, is inspiring my current work in progress, a retelling of Aesop’s Fables. (According to some ancient sources, Aesop was a hideously ugly hunchback.) Note that he is wearing nothing at all. You can find him near the Socrates figurine just mentioned in display case 6 in room 22.
Thanks to Iszi Lawrence for letting me gush about some of my favourite objects and thanks to the British Museum for inspiring my writing. Find out more about my books at carolinelawrence.com. Find out more about Iszi's books at iszi.com.
P.S. All the photos on this post are copyright of the British Museum.
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