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Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

Edinburgh Festival Fever

People all over the country have been gripped by Festival fever this month and we at the BM Press are no exception! Not one but two of our authors were invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival: Irving Finkel, the curator in charge of the British Museum’s collection of cuneiform tablets – the largest in the world – and Henrietta Lidchi, Keeper of the Department of World Cultures at National Museums Scotland.

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

In his sell-out event, Irving took his audience on a roller-coaster tour of the 3,500 year history of the world’s oldest writing system – cuneiform. With his trademark enthusiasm, he explained that the strange, wedge-shaped markings invented in Mesopotamia represent syllables and so can be used to record any language, from Sumerian to Spanish. He then pointed out that we can find a surprising parallel in modern text-speak, in which symbols have  once again come to stand in for syllables or even whole words – just look at ‘c u l8r’. The audience were left full of questions and many stayed behind to talk to Irving, have their books signed and admire the real cuneiform tablet that he had brought along with him.

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving was similarly well-received at the National Museums Scotland, where he taught a group of 90 local schoolchildren how to write their own cuneiform inscriptions. They used plasticine and lollipop sticks rather than clay and reeds, but the results still looked as if they could have come from the museum archives!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

The weekend also saw Henrietta Lidchi launch her wonderful book Surviving Desires: Making and Selling Native Jewellery in the American Southwest – the product of twenty years of research. She captivated the audience with her talk about the iconic turquoise and silver jewellery and the transformations it has undergone in response the competing desires of traders, tourists, curators and government agencies. The audience were fascinated and at the end many came forward with their own pieces of Native jewellery, which Henrietta was able to put into context for them.

Henrietta signing books after her event

Henrietta signing books after her event

Many thanks to Henrietta and Irving for taking part in the Festival and to the National Museums Scotland for hosting the schools event. We hope to be back next year!

If you would like to find out more about either of the books, just follow the links below:

Cuneiform

Surviving Desires

Defining Beauty at the Hay Festival

After a long hiatus, the British Museum Press blog is back!

Our summer got off to an exciting start when Ian Jenkins, curator of the Greece and Rome Galleries and the blockbuster Defining Beauty exhibition, was invited to speak at the Hay Festival at the end of May.

Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is now an international phenomenon, with spin-off festivals bringing writers and readers together on five continents throughout the year. The original, held in Hay-on-Wye, prides itself on its community spirit and rightly so – we were welcomed at Hereford station by a local volunteer who ferries authors around the festival every year. He was happy to share all his stories about the area, the history of the festival and, of course the celebrities who’ve shared his car!

Festival-goers relaxing

Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and blue skies, the festival site looked like an idyllic village fȇte – snowy white tents interspersed with flowering plants and trees, and all bedecked with 16 miles (!) of bunting. There were bookshops selling both new and secondhand books, and plenty of deckchairs to relax and read them in. There was food for the body as well as the mind – special mention goes to the red London bus selling oysters and cocktails!

Ian was introduced by history author Jerry Brotton, and took an enthusiastic audience of around 100 people on a verbal tour of the current Defining Beauty exhibition. They were amused to learn that the exhibition opens with a view of the Queen’s bottom – because Her Majesty owns the crouching Venus sculpture that beckons viewers into the gallery.

Ian takes the stage

He explained that the first room showcases the work of the three greatest Athenian sculptors – Myron’s iconic Discobolus (or ‘Discus Thrower’), which is a study of opposites; Praxiteles’ Doryphoros (‘Spear-bearer’), whose beauty comes from its perfect mathematical proportions, and finally, Pheidias’ river god Ilissos, made famous earlier in the year by his trip to Russia, but remarkable here for being the only Greek original, and the only one whose realism seems intuitive and effortless.

Next came the revelation that far from being the polished white figures that we are familiar with today, many Greek statues would originally have been brightly painted or even gilded, sometimes with metal accessories or weapons attached. Even the bronze statues could be embellished with copper lips and glass eyes, as with the amazing statue only recently recovered from the depths of the Croatian sea – named the Apoxyomenos, or ‘The Scraper’, after the fact that he is scraping the oil, dust and sweat from his skin after a long workout.

The exhibition compares and contrasts Greek art with that from other world cultures to show just how unique the Greeks’ perspective on nudity was. Scenes from the Parthenon Frieze, where the nude figures are the city’s noble warriors, are paired with an Assyrian relief, where the naked figures are defeated enemies being humiliated and killed. However, whilst nudity was a heroic signifier for a man, we see that it was altogether more problematic in the case of women, who were thought to be wild and uncontrolled. This aligned them with mythical groups such as centaurs, satyrs and Amazons – all represented in the exhibition, and all seen as ‘other’ – their representations symbolising the darker side of human nature.

The audience had plenty of questions, and many stayed to have their books signed by Ian. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I’d recommend the Festival to anyone – I’m looking forward to Hay 2016 already!

See our authors at the Oxford Literary Festival

A Little Gay History

Desire and Diversity across the

World

Richard Parkinson
Tuesday March 25th

A Little Gay History 3D mock-up - low-res

British Museum curator and egyptologist Richard Parkinson and author of A Little Gay History examines a series of artefacts to see what they tell us about love and sexuality in the ancient and modern world. How old is the oldest chat-up line between men, who was the first lesbian, and were Greek men who had sex together necessarily gay? Parkinson uses objects ranging from Egyptian Papyri and the Roman Warren Cup to work by modern artists including David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar in his search for answers.

Parkinson is professor of egyptology at the University of Oxford and a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum.

Find out more about the event and book your ticket!

The Cyrus Cylinder and

Ancient Persia

Tuesday 25th March
John Curtis

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The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived the ancient world and has become a symbol of respect and tolerance for different peoples and different faiths. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform at the behest of Persian King Cyrus in the sixth century BC and is often referred to as the first bill of human rights. It appears to allow freedom of worship in the Persian empire and for deported people to return to their homes.

The Cyrus Cylinder is held by the British Museum and was the centrepiece of an exhibition touring the United States in 2013. John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East collections and curator of the exhibition,  and author of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia, explains the history and importance of the Cyrus Cylinder.

Find out more about this event

Parthenon: Power and Politics

on the Acropolis

David Stuttard
Thursday 27th March

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Classicist, author of The Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis and theatre director David Stuttard tells the dramatic story of the conception and creation of one of the world’s most iconic buildings, the Parthenon in Athens. It symbolises Greece today and, in the fifth century BC, was the embodiment of the power of the city’s empire and of its politicians, artists and citizens. Stuttard places the Parthenon in its historical context, examines its place in the wider ancient world and looks at its subsequent history.

Stuttard has a background in classics and drama. He is well known for translating and directing Greek plays and is also author of several books including AD410, The Year That Shook Rome; and The Romans Who Shaped Britain, both co-written with well-known archaeologist Sam Moorhead.

Find out more about this event

Vikings: life and legend at Bath Literary Festival

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Last Saturday we spent the day at Bath Literary Festival with Vikings life and legend curator and author Gareth Williams. If you didn’t manage to come to the brilliant talk that he gave at the Guildhall, never fear – here are the highlights:

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Why choose to do an exhibition on the Vikings?
• Suitable topic for Anglo-Danish co-operation
• Vikings seen as ‘sexier’ than other past civilisations
• Vikings one of the most popular subjects for museum visitors
• The exhibition provides an opportunity to conserve and present a spectacular ship

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The Viking Ship – Roskilde 6

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This is the longest Viking ship found to date, at over 37m in total! It has never previously been displayed, and conserved and mounted specially for this exhibition.

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The ship is at the heart of the history of the Vikings, and of the exhibition and the related books.

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Don’t miss the Vikings: life and legend exhibition which opens today!
We’re publishing a wonderful array of Viking titles which are a great way to get acquainted with the Viking world before attending the exhibition or to follow up on your particular interests afterwards.

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Exhibition essentials:

Vikings life and legend edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff (paperback £25)

The Viking Ship by Gareth Williams (£9.99)

Further reading for Viking fanatics:

Runes by Martin Findel (£9.99)

The Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll, Stephen H. Harrison and Gareth Williams (£10.99)

For little Vikings:

The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure by Thomas Williams (£7.99)

Make your own Viking ship (£5.99)

The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them by Irving Finkel (£4.99)

Love Poetry ~ from the Vikings to Haiku

If you’re feeling romantic, why not share a verse with your loved one? Here we offer you the best of the British Museum’s collections of love poetry,
with a historical twist!

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From Viking Poetry of Love and War edited by Judith Jesch

Viking culture valued poetry highly and rewarded poets handsomely. The language of Viking poetry is colourful, intricate and is often light-hearted, even in the face of death and tragedy.

The pure, white headband-Nipt
of forearm-snow brought us wine;
the guys could see Ermengard’s
beauty when we met.
Sharp swords swing from scabbards
now, as the staunchly bold
guys get ready to attack
this castle here with fire.

Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (12th century)

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From Medieval Love Poetry edited by John Cherry

The quest is the essence of medieval romance, whether it is for the Holy Grail or for the jewel of Love…

I know of a beauty, a beryl most bright,
As lovely to look on as silver-foiled sapphire,
As gentle as jasper a-gleam in the light,
As true as the ruby, or garnet in gold.
Like onyx she is, esteemed on the height;
A diamond of worth when she’s dressed for the day;
Like coral her lustre, like Caesar of knight;
Like emerald at morning, this maiden has might.
My precious red stone, with the power of a pearl.
I picked for her prettiness, excellent girl!

Anonymous

~


From Classical Love Poetry edited by Jonathan Williams and Clive Cheesman

From the first stirrings of passion to the true torture of unrequited love, from the lifelong bond between husband and wife to the pain of being left behind, the subjects of Classical poetry differ little from our preoccupations with love and romance today.

Great Aphrodite came to me once in my sleep
Leading little Eros by the hand – he
Stared shyly at the ground. She spoke,
‘Dear rustic swain, take this lad, and teach him to sing.’
She goes, and I, fool, teach Love my songs,
How Pan invented pipes, Athena the flute,
Hermes the lyre, weet Apollo the harp.
So I taught him, but he pays no heed.
He sings his own songs, of the loves
Of gods and men, his mother’s works.
What I taught him then I now clean forget,
But what he tauught me stays with me yet.

BION. 5

~

From Indian Love Poetry edited by A. L. Dallapiccola

Love is widely celebrated in Indian poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or the passionate and affectionate feelings between loves, husbands and wives, parents and children, family and friends.

He left me saying he would return tomorrow,
I covered the floor of my home
Writing repeadedly ‘Tomorrow’.
When dawn returned, they all enquired:
Tell us, friend,
When will your tomorrow come?
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I lost all hopes,
My beloved never returned.
Says Vidyapati: Listen beautiful one,
Other women lured him away.

Vidyapati, Girl playing with peacock

~

From Haiku Love edited by Alan Cummings

Although haiku poems are usually focused on the natural world, many poets have used haiku to capture the fleeting human experience. Elegant haiku poems explore all aspects of romantic love with humour, satire, wit and compassion.

over my shoulder
I saw her under her umbrella
just a glance

Nishiyanna Soin


a shooting star—
in love, not knowing
where it will lead

Mayuzumi Madoka


don’t cry, insects!
lovers must always part
even the stars

Issa

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If you’d like to find out more about any of these books simply visit our website

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Inspirations from China ~ Happy New Year

As we look ahead to a new year on the Chinese calendar, we look back at some of the wonderful Chinese art that inspired our recent book.

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

by Clarissa von Spee

An informative and elegantly illustrated introduction to Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries


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The British Museum came to house one of the largest collections of classical and modern Chinese paintings in Europe. Many of these entered the collection in 1753 through Sir Hans Sloane who had acquired prints and paintings throughout his travels in many parts of the world.

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In 1903 the Museum acquired it’s most famous painting The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, an eighth-century copy of the earliest and finest painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi.
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Drawing on the British Museum’s rich collection, this book explores the development and diversity of Chinese ink painting in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States through the twentieth century to the present.

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1. The Admonitions Scroll
To celebrate the Chinese New Year Modern Chinese Ink Paintings will be on sale at an exclusive discount on The British Museum online shop. Find out more about the book here


Last chance to see: Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

The acclaimed British Museum exhibition  Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum will be closing this Sunday 29th September. Don’t miss your last chance to see it!

Preserved under ash, Pompeii and Herculaneum lay buried for just over 1,600 years, their rediscovery providing an unparalleled glimpse into the daily life of the Roman Empire. This spectacular exhibition, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, is the first ever held on these important cities at the British Museum, and the first such major exhibition in London for almost 40 years. It is the result of close collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Naples and Pompeii, bringing together over 250 fascinating objects, both recent discoveries and celebrated finds from earlier excavations. Many of these objects have never before been seen outside Italy.

From the bustling street to the intimate spaces of a Roman home, this celebrated exhibition will take you to the heart of people’s lives in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

If you don’t get the chance to see it by the end of the week, check out the accompanying catalogue published by the British Museum Press.

Praise for Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum:

“[Encapsulates] the latest research and opinions on these once living cities, invaluable in preparation for a visit there”. – Brian Sewell, The London Evening Standard

“Paul Roberts’ book, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, is a brilliant piece of work and gives a full description of a unique event in the history of the world… hugely absorbing.” – EdinburghGuide.com

“Undoubtedly one of the most momentous archaeological exhibitions ever staged” – The Guardian

“A wonderful show of wonderful things. Unmissable” – The Independent

“Nothing I’ve seen or read before tells the story in the way the British Museum does’ – The Daily Telegraph

“A brilliantly told story of love, life, sex and death” – Metro

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, by Paul Roberts, is published by the British Museum Press in paperback (£25) and hardback (£45). To look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

Roman Empire: Power and People

Roman Empire: Power and People opens this Saturday 21st September at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in partnership with the British Museum.

Roman Empire: Power and People brings together over 160 stunning pieces from the British Museum to explore the story of one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen. Highlights include sculpture from the villas of the Emperors Tiberius and Hadrian, coins from the famous Hoxne treasure, beautiful jewellery and even near-perfectly preserved children’s clothing from Roman Egypt.

The exhibition explores the wealth, power and organisation of the Empire, but also how the Romans viewed their provinces and other peoples. Religious, military and personal objects give an insight into the lives of people across the Empire, from northern Britain to Egypt and the Middle East.

Roman Empire: Power and PeopleThe book, Roman Empire: Power and People by Dirk Booms, Belinda Crerar and Susan Raikes is available now from the British Museum Press. Ahead of the opening of the exhibition, we’ve published here an exclusive extract from this fascinating new publication.

“The Roman opinion of their barbarian foes, particularly the Celtic people of north-western Europe, written about in contemporary literature initially seems contradictory: by some authors they were portrayed as uncouth, untamed savages in dire need of the civilizing lessons of Rome; at other times they were noble, simple people with a brave spirit, unhampered by the complex pressures of Roman life and the softening character that came through luxury and comfort. As Caesar wrote in his Gallic Wars: ‘Of all of these tribes, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are the furthest removed from the civilization and elegance of the Province [Gallia Narbonensis], and because merchants visit them least often to import those things that effeminate the mind’ (Caesar, Gallic Wars 1.1). However, despite seeming incompatible, the two opinions worked in tandem: the barbarian way of life was not to be praised or emulated, but victory over an unworthy foe was not much to celebrate. Therefore, the bravery and fighting spirit of the barbarians was to be applauded and mentioned at every opportunity as a tool for increasing Roman pride as their conquerors.

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Bronze eagle found at the Romano-British town of Calleva (modern Silchester). Despite being the inspiration for Rosemary Sutcliff’s book The Eagle of the Ninth, it was probably not part of a military standard but rather may have come from a statue of Jupiter. Silchester, early 1st century AD. Bronze, H. 15 cm, L. 23 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Attitudes towards the peoples of the Hellenic and Persian worlds generally differed from feelings about those of the Celtic provinces. The Greeks were greatly admired by the Romans for their intellectual accomplishments, not to mention their art which the Roman elite imported and imitated with relish. However, they were generally seen as somewhat ‘soft’ –lacking the hard-nosed political acumen and military prowess on which the Romans prided themselves. To be seen as too much of a ‘philhellene’ (a lover of Greek culture) was, for a Roman, a sign of weak and soft character and an accusation often leveled at the emperor Hadrian who spent a great part of his reign in the Hellenic provinces and earned the nickname Graeculus (Little Greek).

Further east, Arabia held a particular fascination for Rome as the source of luxury goods such as spices and silks. For example, a beautiful bust shows a Persian woman wrapped tightly in a veil and wearing the distinctive curved Phrygian cap which characterized eastern people in Greek and Roman art. The immediately alien aspect of this figure demonstrates the hold that the east had on the imaginations of the people of Rome. However, she is carved in a classical style and her facial features appear European. The idealizing of foreigners expressed by this sculpture is also seen clearly in Roman images of Gallic and German foes and their actual resemblance to the people of these areas is highly doubtful.

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Marble bust of a woman wearing a Persian headdress. Rome, 2nd century AD. Marble, H. 69.9 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

“…Like the images on coins, Roman art throughout the empire is filled with depictions of bound captives, or of Roman soldiers and emperors crushing foreign enemies physically under their feet or their horses’ hooves. It was one thing to set up such images at home in Rome, where, as with the arch of Claudius and Trajan’s Column, they fed an already inflated sense of cultural and moral superiority, but they also repeatedly appear in the conquered provinces themselves, visible to the very people they pertain to represent, broken and subdued. … In Aphrodisias, in modern Turkey, two brothers erected a monumental temple complex for the cult of the Roman emperor with depictions of all the nations that the Romans had conquered, as well as images of the emperors physically trampling their subjects.

… It is interesting to wonder how the native peoples of these areas responded to having such graphic reminders of their suppression erected right on their doorstep. Would these peoples have identified with the depictions of ‘barbarians’ that adorned these monuments, or did their exaggerated, caricatured features make them as alien to them as they were to the Romans? The relationship between Rome and the peoples whom it conquered was far more complex than simply winner and loser.”

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum. Roman Empire: Power and People, by Dirk Booms, Belinda Crerar and Susan Raikes is published by the British Museum Press in paperback at £10.99. For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

London Gay Pride 2013

Happy Gay Pride everyone!  For more information, visit http://www.londongaypride.co.uk/.

In the spirit of Gay Pride, we’ve included here a short extract from our new book, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson (British Museum Press, paperback, £9.99).

A Little Gay History front cover - low-resPacific Embraces

“In the early eighteenth century, European explorers recorded sexual practices between males in the eastern Pacific region. European missionaries and colonial officials in the following centuries strongly discouraged such activities.

In many parts of the eastern Pacific or Polynesia, same-sex acts were tolerated only between a gender-crossing male and a socially accepted man. Polynesian languages have terms such as mahu (Tahiti) and fa’a fafine (Samoa) that define men who act and dress as women and who, as in many areas of South-East Asia, represent a third gender between man and woman. However, not all man on man sex involved such individuals: in Hawaii, aikane were young masculine men who had sex with the king. David Samwell (1751 – 98), a Welsh surgeon on Captain Cook’s ship the Discovery, noted in 1779 with some surprise that

It is an office that is esteemed honourable among them & they have frequently asked us on seeing a handsome young fellow if he was not an aikane to some of us.

Treasure Box

Above: This ‘treasure box’ was designed to be stored, not on the ground, but suspended. New Zealand, late eighteenth century. Wood and shell, H. 9.4 cm; L. 43 cm; D. 9.8 cm.

Below: Detail.

Treasure box close-up

This box from eighteenth-century New Zealand is made of wood and decorated with shell. It is a so-called ‘treasure box’ that would contain the powerful personal ornaments of a high-ranking Maori person, such as a chief. Every surface (including the underneath) of this prestigious box is covered with designs which show fourteen highly stylized figures, intertwined and linked in various types of sexual union, several showing an embrace between two males.”

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

New this week is the first-ever British Museum audio recording on the subject of A Little Gay History, featuring British Museum curators, Simon Russell Beale and Maggi Hambling discussing a number of objects in the British Museum collection. A free guide to objects from A Little Gay History on display is also available from the British Museum website.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World is available from all good bookshops and from the British Museum shop online.

Pompeii Live

Tonight is Pompeii Live, an exclusive new event from the British Museum. See the wonders of the exhibition from the comfort of your local cinema, introduced live by Peter Snow and Bettany Hughes, with Mary Beard, Rachel de Thame, Giorgio Locatelli, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, exhibition curator Paul Roberts and British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

For a full list of participating cinemas and for further information, visit the Pompeii Live webpage.

For a taster or what’s to come, we’ve included here a couple of spreads from our exhibition gift book, Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum by Paul Roberts with Vanessa Baldwin: a visual treasury of the art of these two cities. With page after page of exquisite details of frescoes, mosaics, marble reliefs, jewellery, statues, glass and silverware, these close-ups of masterpieces evoke the skilled hands and practiced eye of accomplished classical craftsmen.

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Left page: Fresco showing Theseus and the Minotaur. Pompeii, House of Gavius Rufus (VII,2,16). H. 97 cm, W. 88 cm. Naples, MANN 9043

Right page: Fresco showing Perseus and Andromeda. Pompeii, House of Dioscuri (VI, 9,6). H. 128 cm, W. 106 cm. Naples, MANN 8998

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Left page: Gold snake bracelets. Herculaneum, ancient shoreline, vault IX, skeleton 65. Diam. 9. 3 cm. Herculaneum, SAP 7835809.

Right page: Painted marble panel showing women playing knucklebones. Herculaneum, House of Neptune and Amphitrite (V,6-7). H. 42 cm, W. 49 cm. Naples, MANN 9562.

For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.