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The Destruction of the Temple of Artemis - an Editorial Review of "Life and Death in Ephesus"

Book Blurb:

I shall reveal the true story of the destruction of the temple of Artemis...

For over a thousand years, Ephesus, on the Aegean coast of what is now modern Turkey, was a thriving city. It was the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, and a destination for religious pilgrimage long before the advent of Christianity. In the first century CE, St. John and St. Paul introduced Christianity to Ephesus, where it survived its turbulent beginnings and hosted, in 431 CE, the God-defining Council of Ephesus.

Life and Death in Ephesus is a collection of stories about major events in the history of the ancient city. Characters appearing in these stories include Herostratus, first to commit a "herostratic crime"; Alexander, the warrior king; Lysimachus, his lieutenant and later his successor; Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, both conquerors of Cleopatra; Heraclitus, the philosopher who said, "You can't put your foot in the same river twice"; St. Paul, persona non grata in Ephesus; Nestorius, whose characterization of Jesus split the Eastern and Western church, and others.

"Life and Death in Ephesus" will be a delightful and enjoyable accompaniment to the many available guidebooks. Not just tourists, but anyone interested in history will benefit from reading them." - Hilke Thur, Austrian Academy of Sciences

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Author Bio:

Finlay McQuade is a retired educator. He was born in Ireland, went to high school in England, and university in the USA. He has a BA in English from Pomona College, an MA in British and American literature from Harvard, and a PhD in education from the University of Pittsburgh. He began his career as a high school English teacher, but after co-writing How to Make a Better School, he found himself in demand as a consultant to schools and school improvement projects in the USA and abroad. After retiring from Bogazici University in Istanbul, where he taught in the school of education, he lived for eight years among the ruins of Ephesus, where he wrote a series of stories about major events in the history of that ancient city.

Editorial Review:

In the ancient city of Ephesus, Finlay McQuade explores a very humanized perspective on history in his remarkable collection of short stories, "Life and Death in Ephesus." The backdrop for these stories is the city's rich history, steeped in myth, religion, and political turbulence. McQuade brilliantly navigates this terrain, immersing readers in the lives of characters who left an indelible mark on Ephesus.

The stories are organized into chapters, each focusing on a significant historical event or character. McQuade's meticulous research and storytelling prowess bring to life the city's vibrant past, capturing the essence of each era with vivid descriptions and compelling narratives. The genius of this strategy lies in its ability to ground us in the everyday realities of the past. The juxtaposition of ordinary lives against the grand backdrop of memorable events in history offers a fresh perspective, one that fosters a deeper appreciation for the era's intricacies.

Aristagoras, the secretary of the Council, approached me. He put his arm around my shoulders and gave me the most astonishing news I have ever received. Alexander wanted to meet me. “Me? What have I done?” I cried. I could think of nothing but disaster. “Why does he want to meet me?”

Aristagoras was an old man, a veteran politician and a wily survivor. He held me tight. “Don’t panic,” he said, his gray beard touching mine, “it was my idea.” I tried to interrupt, but he told me to be quiet and to listen. “He wants to learn about the burning of the Temple and I’m nominating you to tell him. No one knows more about it than you do.”

True, I had to agree. I had tried to befriend and comfort Herostratus in his misery, but knowledge of the destruction of the temple was a secret I had hidden like a disease for thirty years, and despite the revolution of the past few weeks, I was most reluctant to reveal it. Uttering the very name Herostratus was forbidden in Ephesus. “He’s talking about making a gift, but first he wants to know why the Temple was destroyed,” Aristagoras told me. “And he wants it in writing,” he added as he released me.

I hired a reputable scribe, who took an oath of secrecy as befitting his profession, and began to dictate the following story.”

The first chapter transports us to the anticipation and trepidation that gripped the city when Alexander the Great was on the brink of arrival. McQuade masterfully paints the atmosphere, and the reader is drawn into the heart of the city's struggle and hope as it grapples with impending change.

Each story in this collection is told from the point of view of a character caught in the throes of monumental historic events. A unique aspect of this collection is its remarkable ability to put into perspective the fact that these were real people living regular lives in extraordinary times. The heart of this book lies in its dedication to presenting history through the eyes of those who lived it. McQuade often delves into the experiences of (seemingly) ordinary people, giving life to their emotions, aspirations, and struggles. The result is a powerful and immersive experience that reminds us that history is not merely a collection of facts and dates but a repository of human lives.

The author's narrative technique of focusing on the experiences, emotions, and decisions of these everyday characters achieves a powerful and thought-provoking result. Readers are granted a rare opportunity to connect on a deeply personal level with the protagonists, finding their own hopes, fears, and struggles reflected in these relatable characters. This ability to humanize history is a testament to McQuade’s storytelling prowess. As we follow these characters, we become invested in their fates, feeling their triumphs and tribulations as our own. The backdrop of historic events takes on a new, profound significance when viewed through the eyes of these ordinary people.

Character development is a strong suit of this book, as we witness the transformative power of history. Characters evolve, responding to the challenges and moral dilemmas of their times, making each story a compelling exploration of personal growth and historical complexity. The characters we encounter are not mere bystanders in history; they are complex, three-dimensional figures who evolve through the ever-changing tides of time. Their stories mirror the evolution of society, offering readers a profound understanding of the human condition across different eras.

Throughout the book, we encounter an array of fascinating characters. From Herostratus, infamous for setting fire to the Temple of Artemis, to the enigmatic Saul, who spreads the teachings of Jesus, McQuade delves into their lives, bringing depth and humanity to historical figures. The chapters exploring the rivalry between Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe and the political machinations surrounding her fate provide a captivating glimpse into the intrigues of the time. Saul's struggle to spread the word of Jesus and the opposition he faces are portrayed with a blend of humor and gravity.

But it is the story of Ahirom, the woodcutter turned Christian, that tugs at the heartstrings. McQuade skillfully captures the transformation of a simple man into a person of profound faith, navigating a complex world. The narrative then shifts to the world of academia, with Meliton's quest to recover a stolen manuscript. The tension between protecting knowledge and the desire for intellectual advancement makes for a compelling tale.

Nikos, meanwhile, takes readers on an emotional journey, dealing with loss and profound change. His deep connection to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers and the mystery of resurrection is fascinating. Nestorius's story, set against the backdrop of the Council of Ephesus, is a masterclass in portraying political and religious intrigue. McQuade brilliantly captures the theological disputes, power struggles, and the emotional turmoil of a man caught in a whirlwind of events beyond his control.

Traditionally, after prisoners-of- war were paraded in a Roman triumph they were executed in the dungeon of the Tullianum prison. Ganymedes, Arsinoe’s tutor and onetime general of the Egyptian army suffered that fate, but Arsinoe was spared. Whether Caesar acceded to the will of the people or the compassion of his soldiers, or both, is not known. Instead of death by strangulation, Arsinoe was sent to Ephesus in the province of Asia. There she was given sanctuary in the Temple of Artemis, well away from Rome and well away from Alexandria.”

But perhaps the most interesting story is the historical drama surrounding Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra's younger sister. The chapter is a compelling blend of historical accounts and the personal narrative of Arsinoe herself. We are introduced to Arsinoe's tomb, a historical site discovered in the ancient city of Ephesus. This setting serves as the bridge between the past and the present, offering us a tangible sense of context. Arsinoe's story is unveiled through a manuscript, a precious document hidden away for centuries, providing us with a rare glimpse into the mind of the often overshadowed sister of Cleopatra.

Arsinoe's tumultuous journey, from being captured by Julius Caesar and imprisoned in Rome to her sanctuary in Ephesus, becomes a record of her resilience in the face of hopelessness. The text is a conduit that allows us to feel her frustrations, fears, and aspirations as though we are by her side. The author's attention to detail shines in this story in particular. One of the remarkable qualities of this chapter is the portrayal of Arsinoe's narrative in both well-schooled Greek and informal language, reflecting her emotional and intellectual journey. We accompany her to the depths of her emotional turmoil, and our hearts ache as she navigates the treacherous waters of politics, betrayal, and exile.

The secondary characters, too, play a crucial role in shaping the story. Ebo, Arsinoe's Egyptian slave, adds a layer of humanity to her story, and their interactions provide insight into the world of their captivity. The chapter's climax, with Arsinoe's public humiliation in Rome, is a heart-wrenching moment. The chapter skillfully unravels the mysteries surrounding Arsinoe's fate, her eventual exile to Ephesus, and her refuge in the Temple of Artemis. The temple becomes a sanctuary for her, thanks to the enigmatic high priest, Megabyzus. McQuade captures the atmosphere of Ephesus succinctly, from the temple's gaudy commercialism to the activities taking place around it.

Each chapter includes a staggering amount of historical detail (that leans towards fascinating rather than overwhelming), immersing readers in the sights, sounds, and sentiments of ancient Ephesus. This is often accompanied by relevant notes that include interesting facts about how we look back on events and places in our own time, which is both educational and provides an excellent perspective. The vivid descriptions of the city, its people, and their interactions create a captivating atmosphere that makes the book a delightful voyage for the imagination.

This is a novel way of experiencing history - with this book’s ability to transport readers into the heart of Ephesus, to walk its streets, share its joys and sorrows, and witness the shifting sands of its history. McQuade takes us beyond the grandeur of monuments and into the nooks and crannies of everyday existence, from the hustle of the marketplace to the tranquil moments of a family's life. We are gifted with a profound sense of connection to the past. McQuade's storytelling serves as a bridge between then and now, reminding us that the stories of Ephesus are not relics but threads woven into the fabric of our own existence.

"Life and Death in Ephesus" is a reminder of the enduring impact of the past on our present, and the people who shaped it. This collection is a must-read for history enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling. If you are looking for a dramatized story in typical historical fantasy form, you will be disappointed by this book. However, if you are in the mood for an exceptionally well researched, historically accurate collection of biographical stories that serve as a companion to a study guide for the era, then this book stands as a truly unique offering.


“Life and Death in Ephesus” by Finlay McQuade receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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