Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest blog with Vicky Alvear Shecter, co-author of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Please welcome author Vicky Alvear Shecter.  She joins us today with a guest post as part of the blog tour promotion for the anthology A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii.

Authors: Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray
Publisher:Knight Media, LLC
Date of publication: November 2014

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain's wrath . . . and these are their stories: 

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii's flourishing streets. 
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire. 
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished. 
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue. 
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls. 
A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried. 

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

On the Proliferation of Phalli in Pompeii 

Scandalized early excavators did not know what to make of the abundance of erect phalluses they found throughout Pompeii. They stumbled across symbols of the engorged male member carved on roads, signs, walls, and doorposts. Phalluses hung from wind chimes, peeked out of tunics on mosaics, strained to attention as oil lamps, and even stood stoically at crossroads on herm statues.

Early excavators assumed that the phalli pointed the way to houses of sexual services.  Gob smacked by the sheer number of them, they concluded that Pompeii was nothing more than a craven, sex-obsessed brothel town. They were wrong.
True, parts of Pompeii were craven and sex-obsessed, but not any more so than any other Roman town. The proliferation of phalli (say that five times fast!) was not at all sexual. It was apotropaic. In other words, it was a symbol that averted evil.
So if a baker carved a phallus onto his bakery sign, it didn’t mean that a man could get his loaf raised there. It meant that the bakery was protected against the vagaries of random evil.  It made perfect sense to them.

So convinced were they of the phallus’s power of protection, Roman children wore bulla necklaces from the moment of birth. Bullas were pouches that contained—yep, you guessed it—tiny phalluses made of clay.

No one knows exactly how or why the erect phallus came to be seen as an excellent tool for averting evil. I imagine, though, that it could’ve begun like this: a pre-Bronze Age man is scared by something evil and dark on the edges of his awareness. He reaches between his legs to hold himself for comfort. Evil quickly “disappears” in the intense distraction of self-pleasuring. When he emerges from the fog of release, he’s convinced that evil was actually turned away by his engorged member. After all, he’s no longer afraid, nor does he detect any evil around him!  Since he can’t physically ward off evil with his own erect member 24/7 (no Viagra then), he comes up with the next best thing—a symbol of it.

Hey, it’s as good a theory as any.

There’s no denying that Pompeii was indeed an “earthy” city and we tried to give full expression of the many types of people who lived in the thriving resort town in A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii. Prostitutes, senators, corrupt politicians, down-on-their luck soldiers, the idle rich—they all make an appearance in the novel, hopefully, giving voice to the magnitude of how much was lost on that fateful day Vesuvius erupted.

The irony is that the average ancient Pompeian—to make sense of the tragedy—likely would’ve thought, “Whoa, we should’ve put even more phalli around the city for protection.” Because clearly the ones they had were not up for the job.

About the author:

Vicky Alvear Shecter wishes she had a time machine to go back to the glory days of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Until she can find one, she writes about the famous and fabulous lives of the ancients and their gods instead. She is also a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University.

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