Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Buried Books of Herculaneum: Part 7

Vittorio Emanuele
King Big-Nose was placed back on the throne for a third time, at which time he traded some of the scrolls to Britain’s King George IV in exchange for a giraffe. The English again tried a chemical softening process to unwind them. Again, the scrolls were ruined. No more had been unearthed...

Part 6 of this series continues the story of the excavations of Herculaneum, as we seek to unravel the answer to the Novel Travelist mystery: Why was the Villa dei Papyri never fully excavated?

Here we continue this story. To read the story from the beginning, click "Novel Travelist Mystery: Buried Books" on the right hand side of this page. Then scroll down to the bottom and start with Part 1.


By 1870, Naples was in shambles following a long succession of Ferdinand’s offspring, all of whom were as incompetent as he. The king that finally ended this legacy was Vittorio Emanuele, who brought about the Unification of Italy that has remained to this day. Emanuele was the first king of a united Italy in over a thousand years.

Under Emanuele, the technique of plaster casting of human bodies was developed, along with the plaster casting of root systems that permitted a complete reconstruction of Pompeii's agriculture-based economy.

Plaster cast of human body from Pompeii
Also under Emanuele, the church and state divided. The fledgling unified Italian state used every weapon imaginable to defeat the Catholic Church. The secularism of ancient Rome proved to be an invaluable one and sparked a new interest in the ruins of Pompeii. Emanuele and the architects running renewed excavations posed—literally with shovels in hand—for the recently developed medium of film. The perfectly preserved slice of ancient Rome that was Pompeii inspired an Italian nationalism never seen before.

This set the stage perfectly for a young journalist coming to power as Italian premier in 1927. Benito Mussolini exploited the nationalist fervor that was sweeping the nation and developed a cult that tightly associated Roman antiquity with Italian racial superiority. And according to Il Duce, the ruins of Pompeii held the archaeology to prove it.

Mussolini and Hitler
The ancient Eastern good luck symbol that was found repeatedly in the ruins was picked up by Mussolini’s German counterpart. Hitler’s hijacking of it as the symbol for his political party tarnished the swastika globally and forever.

By the end of World War II, Pompeii and Herculaneum had been excavated, bombed, and excavated some more. But the Villa dei Papiri remained mostly submerged. By that time, approximately 400 scrolls had been opened and read, with approximately one in ten of those written in Latin as opposed to Greek.  This fact, in agreement with popular ancient Roman culture, suggested that a still-buried Latin library probably existed within the house.

If so, it is still there.

To be continued in part 8, August 29...

Author's Note: Part 8 will conclude the Buried Books of Herculaneum Novel Travelist Mystery, a non-fictional theme explored in my new novel, The Vesuvius Isotope. WARNING! PART 8 WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the novel. Readers of this blog series who are interested in the novel are encouraged to pick up a copy and read it before August 1.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, a new novel by Kristen Elise. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 


  1. I always forget that the swastika symbol was taken from ancient Roman ruins. Ick - what a way to ruin a perfectly good symbol.

    Great story - thanks for posting!

    1. I know, and it's too bad because that is SO not what a swastika is supposed to be about!