Continuing the festivities of author Killian McRae's 12.21.12 blog tour, My Need to Read has been given the amazing opportunity to hold an interview with Dr. Sheppard Smyth, the book's protagonist. In McRae's story, "Shep" Smyth finds himself dropped into the middle of a whirlwind of mythology, high adventure and historical intrigue. I sit down with him today to discuss some points about his profession as a well-respected archeologist and specialist on Egyptology.
My Need to Read: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Smyth. Your reputation as a prominent Egyptologist precedes you; I’d love for you to tell us how and when you first discovered an interest in Egyptology.
Dr. Smyth: Well, I first discovered a love for Egypt when I was in high school. I was sick one day and got stuck home from school. I spent the whole day watching TV, and as I was flipping through the channels, I happened on the film "Cleopatra." You know, the one from the '60's with Liz Taylor? I don't know exactly why, but the second I started watching, I became obsessed. I felt like I came alive. I mean, of course I had heard of the pharaohs and the pyramids and all that, but it didn't seem... You know, real to me until there was a concrete person I could scaffold all that knowledge around. I had always enjoyed digging up stuff in the yard, and as I read more and more about Egypt, I guess my two loves just sort of ... merged.
MNtR: You've spent much of your career attempting to prove that the infamous Cleopatra VII did not commit suicide, but rather was murdered. What made you first believe in this theory?
S: First, you have to understand this, and I know it's going to sound like I'm overturning my own theory, but it needs to be said: when you study history, you have to be careful not to make presumptions and overthrow truth based on the moral and cultural framework you take to the field with you. The accepted version of history is that Cleo killed herself when Rome had seized power over Egypt and she felt like she had fought every fight she could. Some even speculate that her heart was broken because of Mark Antony's death shortly before her own. And the truth is, suicide in the ancient world was considered an honorable option for a defeated leader to exercise. Still, every bit of my instinct has always told me this wasn't in line with her ways. Even if Octavian had gotten her back to Rome, I think she still would have felt that she'd have allies. She did have friends amongst the Romans, though few. Also, few people outside the field don't realize how exceptionally intelligent Cleo was. The whole snake thing? It sounds suspicious. Cleo would have been considered a physician in her time; she had a keen knowledge of poisons and how to prepare them. I doubt a snake would have been necessary.
But the clincher for me was actually a bit of papyrus that turned up recently that documents the arrival of what I believe were Cleopatra's children to a nearby Nubian region south of Egypt. In this text, it states that three children and their guardian asked the Nubian king for sanctuary in the wake of the Pharaoh's death. We know from history that Octavian was very concerned with what to be done with Cleo's children, and no doubt those in Egypt that thought they still had a chance to rise up against Rome would have wanted her bloodline preserved. Cleo always had a plan, and I think this fits with her character. She would have had a plan for where her children would go if she should fall. Someone knew they were in danger. Someone tried to get them to safety.
MNtR: That's a fascinating find, although I'd imagine your work is not accepted by your peers. Are there any other Egyptologists that you look up to or admire?
S: Zahi Hawass is the current Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities... Well, I mean to say, he was, prior to the overthrow of the Mubarek regime. Still, I think as things normalize in Egypt, you're likely to see him continue in that post, as well he should. Zahi is an exceptional talent in the field, and because he's Egyptian, he's brought the passion of a native of the region to his work. Because of him, a whole new generation of Egyptian youngsters are embracing the rich, cultural past of their country. He's also re-popularizing Egyptology in the west by encouraging a multi-disciplinary approach to the discipline.
But, I would have to say, the legend who inspires me is Anathea Hermapolous. Anathea pioneered the use of modern technologies like carbon dating and sonar in the field of archaeology, and has the most in depth knowledge of anyone in our field. If there's any figure I inspire to be like, it's her.
MNtR: What about Egyptian deities...do you have any favorites, any you find particularly fascinating?
S: Everyone loves a good story, right? To me, I've always been entertained by the story of Horus, most notably the story of his conception. As the story goes, Isis - I guess you might call her the matron of the goddesses, sort of like Hera is in Greek myth- conceived Horus by resurrecting her dead husband. Only, there was a catch- her husband was resurrected without a... how should I put this politely- without a male reproductive organ. I guess a crocodile had eaten it. So, Isis made one for him out of gold, and the result of their coupling was Horus.
MNtR: What are your thoughts on the popular 12/21/12-related theories…namely, that the world will end on that date?
S: You mean that Mayan prophecy thing? I guess I haven't thought much about it in particular. But, I guess I can say this: If I had a penny for every silly end-of-the-world prediction that has come and gone during the history of the world, I'd be a very rich man. They're all hogwash. But in this day and age, like any day and age, humans fear time. We fear our mortality. People who propagate these things play on the weak-minded's fear and exploit it- for money, for fame, for power. Whatever their drug of choice is. So this--what was it, 12.21.12?--yeah, let's just say I'm not scared.
MNtR: A logical outlook, indeed. In that case, how do you plan on spending December 21, 2012?
S: It falls a few days before Christmas, so I'll probably be avoiding the shopping centers.
MNtR: That’s certainly a good idea in any case. It's been an honor and a pleasure to have you here today, Dr. Smyth!
Many thanks to Killian McRae for the interview! You can pick up a copy of 12.21.12 here at Omnific Publishing's website. It's also available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
-----The blog tour continues throughout the rest of March, across a wide swath of book blogs. The schedule includes the visits below. Be sure to check them out for more information about the book and author.
Julie @ A Tale of Many Reviews - Review – March 1st 2011
Yelania @ The Itzel Library – Interview – March 2nd 2011
Damaris @ Good Choice Reading – Top Ten/Giveaway – March 3rd 2011
Mandy @ Twimom101's book blog – Interview – March 4th 2011
Casey @ Dark Readers Blog – Interview – March 5th 2011
Alisha @ My Need to Read – Character post – March 6th 2011
Jules @ One Book Shy of a Full Shelf – Interview/Giveaway – March 7th 2011
Lisa K. @ Baffled Books – review – March 8th 2011
Sarah @ The Book Bee – Character Interview – March 9th 2011
Page @ One Book at a Time – Guest post/Interview – March 10th 2011
Michelle @ Hooked To Books – Giveaway/Review – March 11th 2011
Kristin @ My Bookish Ways – Review/Interview – March 12th 2011
Celine @ Nyx Book Reviews – Top Ten – March 13th 2011
Sherri @ Urban Girl Reader – review/Q&A/giveaway – March 14th 2011
Cherry @ Cherry Mischievous – Guest post – March 15th 2011
Bianca @ Sweet Nothings xo – review/giveaway – March 16th 2011
Rebecca @ My Life with Boys and Books – review – March 17th 2011
Megan @ A Trail of Books Left Behind – review/character interview – March 18th 2011
Jennifer @ Ponytails Book Reviews – review – March 19th 2011
Tammy @ Into The Mystic – - March 20th 2011
Lisa @ Bookworm Lisa – Top Ten/Giveaway – March 21st 2011
Tara @ Taming the Bookshelf – - March 22nd 2011
Rachel @ Parajunkee’s View – - March 23rd 2011
Melissa @ I Swim for Oceans – review/interview – March 24th 2011
Kathy @ I Am A Reader, Not A Writer – giveaway/interview – March 25th 2011
Christin @ Between the Covers – review – March 26th 2011
Stacy @ Girls in the Stacks – review – March 27th 2011
Ash @ Smash Attack Reads – character interview – March 28th 2011
Aleetha @ bacaan-ally blog – review – March 29th 2011
Ashlie @ Bookish Novelties – review/interview – March 30th 2011
Yara @ Once Upon a Twilight – Review/Giveaway – March 31st 2011
Once Upon a Twilight Author Live chat – March 31st 2011 @ 9pm CST