By Brenda W. Clough
Museums are a writer’s friends. Never pass one up! Background research is forever. There is nothing like actually seeing a helmet or a cup. And unless you are independently wealthy you are probably not traveling to Olympia or Belize to visit the actual venue of your novels. (We will put aside for now the problem of visiting Mars, or Tatooine or Hobbiton.)
And therefore when the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC geared up a major exhibit about the ancient Greeks, of course I had to go. No, I am not writing a work that involves bronze leaf-shaped blades and boar-tooth helmets and hair coils crafted of golden wire. But I needed to see them anyway. It is tons cheaper than an airplane ticket to Athens!
Since archaeologists continue to find new stuff, this is the first time I have seen Philip of Macedon’s grave goods. His bronze greaves are here! Not symmetrical, because they were made for him and he had sustained some leg wounds. His party silver service is here! Silver cups and pitchers that you could slide into Tiffany’s and buy today, if only you were a millionaire. The captions call these items serveware for symposiums. You and I know they were surely chug-a-lug parties of frat-house rowdiness.
And, OMG, the grave jewelry of all these women. They must have swanned around clanking with every step, adorned with gold. The NGS got artisans to make reproductions of bone plaques covered with gold foil, and bronze swords, so that there are thrilling educational videos galore. This is not one of those super-intellectual Oxford prof exhibits, full of citations from archaeological papers. It’s geared towards the general public, and is thus full of things (like biographies and histories) that I already know. But that’s not important. What is important is the things you can see. There is no substitute for actually experiencing something; the only thing that might be better is actually doing it — and I don’t actually want to be in a phalanx when the sarissas come down, I really don’t.
I have written about ancient Greece in the past, and I might in the future — life is long, and you never know what that Muse might take into her head. This exhibit runs in Washington DC until mid-October, and search as I will I cannot find whether it is a traveling exhibition. If it happens to show up in your town, don’t miss it.