Urine, Squill & Women’s Acrid Odours.

I’m very quiet on my blog at the moment because I’m writing a book. It turns out that writing a book is a very big job! I had hoped to be done and dusted mid next year but with further toil I am starting to realise this may be a ‘several years’ kind-of a time frame.

It is set over 2000 years ago in south central Italy. It’s lots of fun and there is much to be learned.


Primarily I am having to learn how to write a story. This is taking place via a deeply confidence sapping & hugely expensive course (think how much it costs to have a month’s holiday in Italy…from New Zealand, and you’re just about there).

There is a bit of a structure to creative writing (as opposed to the loose and free blog post), and I’m deep in Ernest Hemingway and Arundhati Roy getting a grip on scene structure, rising tension, concrete markers and denouements.


But then; the fun part, I have to research every thing I write …

-my character is eating, …what would she be eating?


-My character is cold,… what is she putting on?

-What were her shoes like?


-What does she use to cook?

-How is her house constructed?


-What trees are in her garden and on it goes.

It is magic and I am loving the process.

I did come across the most wonderful thesis on the internet that I wanted to share, Farm like a Roman: Livestock in Ancient Italy by Holt Akers-Campbell: ( https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2663&context=etd_hon_theses.)

Holt has studied the writings of the ancients such as Pliny, Cato and Varro to explore the beliefs the ancient Romans had about animal husbandry. Some is very similar to what we would do now, some is very different and some is now known to be plain wrong.

Here are some highlights I came across at a quick scan :

-Ancient Romans’ relationship with their working cattle, runs deep. Italia, the name given to the peninsula by the Greeks, comes from their word for cattle, itali, and the Latin word for wealth, pecunia, was believed to have derived from the word for cattle, pecus. Varro states, nam omnis pecuniae pecus fundamentum: cattle are the basis of all wealth.


-Some interesting veterinarian treatments were: leek, garlic,
wine, cytisus, oil, letting blood, fish sauce, vinegar, frankincense, pitch,
litharge of silver, tender tree growth, honey, sulphur, amurca (olive oil lees),
consiligo (lungwort), and urine!

-To protect Sheep from wolves: hang squill from the neck of the lead animal.

-To protect them from snakes: place in the stall: women’s hair, galbanum, stag’s
horn, goats’ hooves, bitumen, castor, stinkwort, calamint, santolina, or
anything with acrid odor. (Apparently women’s hair has an acrid odor, this probably tells us a bit about personal body odors of the time :)).

But it is the beekeeping which I particularly enjoyed as my husband keeps hives himself.


-Pliny calls them chief among insects and wonders at their organization, comparing it both to a Republican government and a military camp.

-Bees were linked in a variety of ways to Jupiter in mythology and
considered omens, according to Vergil, a swarm of bees is a bad portent; and
to Pliny a good omen.

-Bees were also used as prognosticators of weather, since they stay inside if it
is going to rain.

-The queen bee was considered a king.

-Romans took feeding bees as seriously as feeding any other farm animal,
planting pastures for the sole purpose of providing flowers for honey production.

-Columella was uncertain whether bees arose from intercourse or flowers.

-Pliny thought that bees are formed from reed and olive blossoms.

-Hives were moved at night on shoulders rather than carts to avoid bumps.

General remedies for bee illnesses included:
-A blend of pounded gallnut and dried rose leaves or boiled down fat and
grapes with thyme and centaury.
-Boiled roots of Italian starwort in wine.


What a wonderful glimpse we are given into their lives. Fabulous work, thanks Holt! I’ll keep you all informed on the book.

7 thoughts on “Urine, Squill & Women’s Acrid Odours.

  1. The ancients sure were interesting. When I read what their lives were like or I gaze at museum pieces, I’m always reminded and also amazed at how much alike we are. You have quite a big project ahead of you, and I understand your challenge. My Calabria book and the one I’m working on now about Basilicata are filled with facts, which I try to make as interesting and light as possible. So I do tons of research only to use a smidgeon of what I’ve found. And then there are those times when I don’t find what I’m looking for and the day has passed. Forza! Avanti!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Karen, how long did it take you to write the Calabria book? My biggest dream is simply to finish it and feel satisfied I did it as well as I could but that may require a long term commitment!


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