gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month - guest post by Nicky Strickland

Nicky Strickland is a creative soul in love with words. If she’s not writing stories with fantastical elements, she is playing with letters and borders with calligraphy and illuminated letters. If they weren’t enough she is also back in academia studying so as to return to another love, libraries, where words and knowledge surround one all day.

What started the passion I’ve carried all my life for ancient history? Who grabbed my attention? I would read about the various gods and goddesses of ancient civilisations (and still do). Though the Romans and Greeks were the university spotlights, I remember reading about the Egyptians (Hatshepsut in particular), Sumerians, Inca and Aztec civilisations too, I’m not fussy.

A current work in progress has sent me back to the Roman Republic, in particular the lives of the Vestal Virgins. They have been challenging to find information about. Well, other than the “there were taken at six, are six novices, are six active, keep the flame alive and be buried alive if they broke their vow of chastity” information. It’s not a surprise that the Vestals who are remembered are the ones who broke rules.

My search has taken me away from the easy literature found in the junior and/or generalised sections of a library back to the realms of the academic where there are those who have taken the time to find the facts and details about these interesting women (at time of posting, primarily “Rome's Vestal Virgins: A Study of Rome's Vestal Priestesses in the Late Republic and Early Empire” by Robin Wildfang and “Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion” by Sarolta A. Takacs). I must really love this story huh?

In saying that, this story also makes me think about who writes and as importantly, who keeps the history records. It’s a common saying that history is written by the victors. Even then, how select is the group who are remembered? Were there more documents about this sacred group before Christianity became the Roman Empire’s chief religion? Would it have been sacrilegious for descriptions to be kept about these women, given the surviving histories we have are mostly by men?

Of course, this also gives me great leeway to play with the writer’s love of “What If?” - what did or did not go on in the Vestal House, especially at the time the Republic was starting to fall over. Julius Caesar was only an up and coming young man, though Sulla, the dictator at the time of my story, is warning people about him. And the Vestals do an interesting thing for young Julius, which is one of the turning points in my story. And yet, it’s hard to know for certain if my sources are right. They are as far as we know but who knows what really happened? Oh, to have access to a portal or some type of time travelling device to be an (invisible) butterfly on the wall.

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