Page 152. " as Marie Antoinette could play at being a milkmaid "

Marie Antoinette was married to Louis XVI of France, reigning as queen between 1774 and 1792. Initially liked by the French people, her popularity went into swift decline in the 1780s against a background of economic difficulty and an increase in revolutionary discontent. After the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of her husband, she was tried by a revolutionary tribunal and sent to the scaffold.

One of the factors that may have contributed to her unpopularity was the rustic retreat she had built in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in 1785. In the Hameau de la reine (the Queen's hamlet), she created the illusion of a country idyll away from the pressures of courtly life. Everything was set up like a real farm, and she would often dress in peasant clothing and carry out the duties of a milkmaid. As the country veered towards revolution, the Queen's pretence of peasantry did not go down well with the public, who saw the whole affair as patronising and frivolous. 

Page 153. " It is in the yard at the New Brighton station. "

New Brighton is a township in Port Elizabeth. One of the oldest townships in South Africa, it was formed in 1903 and, during the apartheid years, was well known for its political activism. The first cell of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, was set-up in New Brighton.

Like many townships, New Brighton can now be visited as part of organised tours aimed at tourists. Part of the reason for these tours is to generate income into the local economy. The video below shows children at the local school singing. It is perhaps the sort of performance tourists might be treated to on a visit.


Page 160. " In an art book in the library there was a painting called The Rape of the Sabine Women "

The Rape of the Sabine Women is a name given to an event, said to have happened in the 8th century B.C., shortly after Romulus had founded Rome. So the story goes, the Romans, desperate for wives to re-populate their line, had asked the neighbouring Sabine people for permission to ally themselves with their women in marriage. When their requests were turned down, Romulus arranged for the Romans to seize the woman by force. 

Historians have debated the myth of the Sabine women for centuries, with many arguing that 'rape' within a Roman context meant kidnap rather then the act of sexual violence we associate it with today. There have been many artistic depictions of the event and although it's not made explicit which one David refers to in the novel, from the description it's likely to be the work of Nicholas Poisson, shown below.  







Page 162. " Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt "
Scenes from the Trojan War, Antalya Archaeological Museum, 2 AD
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeScenes from the Trojan War, Antalya Archaeological Museum, 2 AD - Credit: Wofgang Sauber
This was translated from the Latin by Robert Fagles as: The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.

The line David is certain Byron will say, as he sets off for his death in Greece, is a quote from the poem The Aeneid, by Virgil. The words are spoken by the protaganist, Aeneas, as he looks at a mural at Carthage depicting the suffering of the Trojan Wars.

The words are a poignant reminder of the sorrow and futility of war.