Category Archives: The Writing Life

Ancient World Now: Mycenae, Tiryns, and Epidaurus

Listen to my podcast on Mycenae: Episode #36: The Mycenaean World
After all these years of reading Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and marveling at Heinrich Schliemann’s fabulous discoveries, I finally made it to the Lion Gate at Mycenae! This place holds special meaning for me because the story of the Trojan War is my life’s focus, and its richness and depth continue to lead me in new directions.


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The Lion Gate is the main entrance to the citadel of Mycenae, which is on the hilltop behind me in this photo. This is where Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, and the rest of the Greek warriors met to discuss their plan to get Helen back from the Trojans, and where Clytemnestra watched for the signal fires for her husband’s return from the war.
Agamemnon had no idea what awaited him, but Cassandra, princess of Troy and war prize to the king, wailed unabated as she was brought in to the palace.

Shown below is the Tomb of Agamemnon, or the Treasury of Atreus, a beehive tholos built around 1250 B.C.: a massive structure. Bees actually inhabit the tomb and you can hear their buzzing hum when you walk inside.  This land is layered in myth and metaphor; every hill and valley, stream and copse tells a story. I still can’t believe I am 1 (1)
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Before our visit to Mycenae we stopped to tour the fortress ruins of Tiryns. This site is where the term “cyclopean walls” originated, and in Homer’s Iliad, its epithet was “mighty-walled Tiryns.” Legend claims Hercules ruled here and that the walls were built by the cyclopes. Mycenae controlled the mountain pass into the plain, while Tiryns controlled access by sea.
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At the 4th century Theatre at Epidaurus, the first 2 scenes from my Iliad play were performed by some members of our tour group. Considered by scholars to be the best preserved theatre from the ancient world, it is a masterpiece of acoustical engineering and architectural proportions.  Erika, from the audience, receives a copy of the play.

Ancient World Now: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, ancient world groupies! You have all been very patient. I plan to finish my long-awaited first novel by this Friday! After that, a celebratory weekend and full resumption of our favorite ancient world podcast next week with Plutarch on Alexander the Great! Thanks for all your good thoughts at this exciting time! Ciao!

Ancient World Now: On Vacation!

Well, after 2 weeks, I still have not finished all the writing projects I have going. By summer’s end, I intend to finish a novel I’ve been working on for years. Those of you who know me have heard this before, but it is time. I have just enough distance from the latest manuscript to be able to approach it with a fresh eye! I am so excited to be on the verge of completing this project!

And today, I finished a teacher’s and student’s guide to grammar that I have been working on for about 6 months now. Teaching grammar to kids is difficult if one textbook says there are 8 parts of speech and another says there are 9 (articles are really adjectives!) And what about the use of multiple terms for a concept? Outrageous! Mode/mood, auxiliary verb/helping verb, copulative verb/linking verb! No wonder kids (& adults) are confused. Anyway, I had to write my own book in order to make it clear to myself & my students. Tomorrow I will start looking for a publisher!

And then I am taking a couple of online classes!The History of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to the Middle Ages and The History of the English Language. Both are from UCBerkeley Extension Online & both are top-notch. Scroll down to the classes on Humanities. Highly recommended. Intense reading & heavyweight writing! I am loving it. And learning a lot! In future, I’ll be podcasting on Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle and we’ll look at how they fit in to the ancient world we know.

So, our next podcast will be the first weekend in September. Have a great rest of the summer, and take comfort in the knowledge that I am working for you in the meantime!

Ancient World Now:Freya Stark

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #32.

Click here for previous episodes.

Freya Stark went boldly where no woman (& sometimes no man) had gone before. She is one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. Born in 1893, she followed in T.E. Lawrence’s and Gertrude Bell’s footsteps across the Middle East. Like her predecessors, she learned Arabic and Persian, and lived the life of a nomad whenever she was able. She often traveled where no woman had gone before, and in some cases could claim to be the first Western explorer. She dressed as was the native custom in the lands she walked, and crossed deserts and mountains by camel. She wrote touchingly perceptive descriptions of what she saw, as with the scene in today’s podcast of young Turkish boys going off to war in the Black Sea town of Giresun. She knew her classics, knew her geography, and knew her “place” (on the road!). She wrote dozens of books and lived to be 100 years old, dying in our own lifetimes, in 1993.
Today I read from her book Rome on the Euphrates.

Check out Moe’s Books in Berkeley for a top-notch selection  of Classical literature.

Thank you, Freya, for being bold and brave and living your life to the fullest!

Next week we continue with prehistoric times, focusing on the Neolithic period. When will it end???

Ancient World Now:Homo sapiens in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic Eras

Click here for direct link to audio podcast #31.

Click here for previous episodes.

Yabba Dabba Do! Here are Bianca & Jacob on the Flintstone ride at The Canyon Inn. Click here for the Flintstones Theme Song! It cracked me up (no pun intended!) that I was working on this podcast on Stone Age humans and I happened to be sitting right next to this Flintstone mobile! Talk about “Ancient World Now”! I always loved that their legs powered their vehicles!

And the great guys in the kitchen made me an amazing Bleu-Cheese Garden Burger and the Canyon Inn’s famous fries. I was in heaven! Thanks, guys!

This is the book I picked up in Berkeley yesterday: Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. I’ve learned so much from it already! Incredibly rich in obscure details on the products being traded around the Bronze Age Mediterranean and Aegean.

Sorry, Fred, we will have to leave your crude Stone Age world behind soon!

Ancient World Now:Change is Good

Hello Friends,  

Last week, my editor at Scholastic told me that my book will not be reprinted and will only be available as a download. I had been looking forward to making a few changes to a new edition.
I felt like a friend had died and was sad all day. Later, I began to see it as the natural unfolding of this new technology. Cuneiform on clay tablets, papyrus, vellum & parchment, movable type….

Thanks to my friend Austin, I saw my first iPad a couple of weeks ago: I am astounded at the possibilities. And I am one of the biggest bibliophiles around! So celebrate this new era with me and check out my new Scholastic e-book. Let’s just see where this takes us! It’s all good.

Thanks for staying with me!


Ancient World Now:Marine Boy & Neptina

Podcast Episodes On Vacation……

Click her for previous episodes.

The podcast is “o’er the river and through the woods” the weekends of Christmas and New Year’s, so enjoy the peace of the holidays, everyone! The technical difficulties with last week’s episode will be worked out & I’ll rebroadcast Episode #28 on Monday, January 10, 2011. Thanks for hanging around!

And for those of you not visiting “grandmother’s house”, I give you this early Japanese anime to brighten your spirits. This holiday, I rediscovered Marine Boy, one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Riding Splasher the dolphin is Marine Boy and his friend Neptina. The story has all the elements of what we know and love in ancient tales. Seeing my old cartoon pals made me wonder about all the little things that contribute to a life. Mythological and ancient world references stuck with me—barnacle encrustations on the barque of my life, as I moved joyously through the waters of experience. Life is an adventure that we don’t know we are living until we are old. It is a story already written, full of symbolism and meaning, and if we are really lucky, we get a chance to rewind and analyze the passages with a key to understanding. Can you rewind and “see” the barnacle encrustations that make up who you are?

Click below to enjoy Marine Boy: Land of the Strange Vikings (1966)
Episode Part I
Episode Part II

Ancient World Now:Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #25.

Click here for previous episodes.

Today’s episode is dedicated to my loyal listeners in Michigan! Turns out the Detroit area is home to a slew of ancient world groupies! A free autographed copy of my book to the first 5 fans from Michigan to give me a shout-out at Thanks for listening!

Today I show you how to read an epic. You’ll learn how to break it down so you can analyze it in chunks, be it for fame, fortune, or fun! Impress your friends with your newfound ability to distinguish between an aristeia and a prolegomena! Actually, these two topoi are more readily found in The Iliad, than The Odyssey, which is our epic du jour.

The “sacrifice & prayers” topoi is one of the most common of topoi, along with the “catalogue or parade” of something or other. Book XI of The Odyssey begins with both. To the right you can see Odysseus with sword in hand, the blood gushing from the sacrificial animal, and Teiresias, the famous seer, getting ready to tell Odysseus “what it is”.

And like the sweet segments of an orange, whose nectar prevents scurvy, so too, Gwen Minor will separate out the various epic segments. Let’s roll!

Ancient World Now: Mithraism-Astronomy Behind the Worship

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #16.

Click here for previous episodes.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star….. Humans have gazed at the stars since the beginning of time. Have you ever wondered how the concept of the universe has changed over time? Babylonians, ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Aztec cultures all had their own view of the universe. Mithraic iconography abounds in astronomical symbolism.

The Greco-Roman world was a geocentric world and the axis of the earth and the celestial sphere were thought to be stationary. But in 125 B.C., Hipparchus rocked the ancient world when he discovered the precession of the equinoxes.

On the right is a pocket globe from 1772. The inside lining of its hinged case details the constellations, including the latest discoveries of the time, Edmond Halley’s celestial maps of the southern hemisphere. To see this fabulous object “in person”, you have to visit the National Maritime Museum in London, England. And to see the Southern Cross, you have to travel to Antarctica, where my husband worked for many years. Check out David’s blog to get a
taste of “The Ice”!

And check out this week’s audio episode to find out how in tarnation all this relates to the ancient world!

Ancient World Now: Introspection in the Character of Odysseus

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #12.

Click here for previous episodes.

Now that I have told you the three most important tales of the ancient world, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, we can turn our attention to going deeper into the characters and familiarizing ourselves with the cycle of stories surrounding each epic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had the distinct feeling that Odysseus was really a scoundrel. In all the stories I knew, he was dishonest. He lied, he stole, and he got away with things. That was how I saw it. It just wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter to me that he triumphed over divine obstacles, was revered by his fellow soldiers, or that his wife Penelope thought he was worth waiting for (although I did so love the story of the bed he carved from the olive tree). What mattered to me was his truthfulness. Are there degrees of honesty? Or is honesty like pregnancy, you either are or you are not? Consider these questions and ask someone else what they think. Let’s create a dialogue of issues of great import—we seem to have less and less of that in our daily lives these days! To me, honor and truth were all. If I worked hard and told the truth, why should a man like Odysseus, who lies, runs and hides, and looks out for his own best interests to the peril of others, be held in high regard. Indeed, he is called “hero”. In today’s podcast, I delve deeper into the character of Odysseus, trying to get at the qualities others admire, while honoring my own personal biases against him.

In fact, one of the many benefits of the process of writing is that it brings clarity of thought. After much meditation, and revision after revision, I have come to an understanding with myself on the matter of Odysseus. I had to address the question as to why truth and honesty matter so much to me. I find it impossible to lie. To me, there are no little lies, and telling an untruth about something insignificant is as despicable as telling an untruth about something significant. Why does it matter so much to me, when people all around lie in their everyday lives and see no harm in it? Some of my very biases against Odysseus have to do with my own personal life struggles. The mark of good literature raises good questions, and this question, like all things worthwhile, made me face myself and who I am. For this new insight into my understanding of myself, I thank Homer and his wily hero, Odysseus, and hope you, too, find wisdom through these ancient tales.

I would be very interested in hearing what comes out of your discussions. Please leave a comment or write to me at the website by clicking on the “Contact” button above. I’ll post your comments in all their various hues. Oh yes, and be sure your little talk about honesty doesn’t “come to blows”, as there are many ways of seeing it! Have fun and see you next week!

Reference books used in today’s podcast: The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art by Oskar Seyffert and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World by Michael Avi Yonah & Israel Shatzman.