Carmel Author Sandra Hurt Unearths A Spirit From Pompeii In Her First Novel
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Carmel resident Sandra Hurt and her husband, Stan, are well-known and highly regarded stewards of historical collections and champions for arts organizations. In 2020, Hurt added published author to her resume upon the release of her first novel, “Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey.”
Destined to Write “Her” Story
Hurt’s new novel was a 20-plus year journey that began in the early ’90s at a women’s conference on women in art throughout the centuries, where Hurt came face-to-face with an ancient portrait of a woman housed in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. Hurt said, “This event put me on a journey to tell her story. I was destined to write her story.”
Not much is known about the real life of the priestess, only her name, Rufilla Istacidia, and that she was a priestess in Pompeii who likely owned the Villa of the Mysteries.
The Priestess of Pompeii is the result of Hurt’s extensive research on Greek and Roman culture, myths and legends, as well as on-site research on the lifestyles and untimely end of Pompeii’s people. Pompeii was decimated by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
Hurt, a registered nurse by trade, is a self-professed “perennial” student. Hurt enrolled in courses at Indiana University in Bloomington and at IUPUI in Indianapolis as well as writers workshops to become knowledgeable about the classics and about the art of writing.
She immersed herself in the studies of classical Roman and Greek history and mythology, archeology and architecture. She also took classes on mythology and psychological interpretations of the Pompeiian fresco cycle in Jungian psychoanalysts’ writings. Hurt traveled to Italy and Greece and has completed numerous hours of on- and off-site exploration of the Dionysian frescoes that represent a women’s ritual to the Greek god Dionysus in the Villa of the Mysteries.
“The rituals for women in ancient times were created to help them develop their inner lives, wisdom and independence,” Hurt explained. “The journey of these women who lived in antiquity is the same for women today. It is my hope that women readers will recognize themselves in these pages and appreciate the role ritual can play in our lives today.”
Hurt paid special attention to the priestess in the portrait that became the source of Hurt’s passion to write her fictional novel that expertly weaved in historical figures and facts from ancient Rome and Greece.
Throughout Hurt’s journey to writing her book, the priestess from the fresco with the pensive expression was in Hurt’s head as though she, the priestess, was rising from the literal and figurative ashes to be seen and heard again through Hurt’s novelist’s point of view.
As Hurt stared up at a replica of the priestess’ portrait brilliantly displayed in her office, she expressed, “She’s very pensive and thoughtful. She just kind of took me in and hasn’t let me go since.”
Themes From Both the Ancient and Modern Worlds
Hurt shared the story’s premise: “The story begins as a baby girl is born to a servant class in the first century BCE Rome, is abandoned and miraculously rescued by a family that recognizes, as she grows, her unique gifts of prophetic dreams complicated by her epileptic seizures. She goes on a long journey to ancient Greek healing sites after a dream foretells the death of her betrothed. As her true calling becomes apparent, conflict results between the expected traditional marital role for women and her desire for freedom, independence and a spiritual vocation, not unlike dilemmas today’s woman faces.”
Experiencing Pompeii in Person
Hurt’s exceptional knowledge and descriptions of the ancient worlds bring them back to life and make them relatable to modern-day issues and discussions. Hurt first visited Pompeii in 1994 along with her husband. With each visit to Pompeii and other archeological sites in Italy and Greece, Hurt shared that she brings back precious “nuggets” that helped build her novel. When asked what it was like experiencing the ruins of Pompeii for the first time in person, she replied, “The first thing you see is all of the devastation. I just had to be silent and listen to the silence. To be there and be present was all that I could do. It is an eerie yet familiar place. I always feel very comfortable when I go there. I feel like I am home.”
Hurt has taken multiple subsequent trips back to Pompeii and various excavation sites and stated that Pompeii just keeps calling her and bringing her back. She plans on returning to Pompeii this October as many more items have been unearthed from and surrounding the Villa of the Mysteries, including a magnificent chariot thought to have been used in bridal or other formal ceremonies. Hurt is currently working on the second novel of the series and is excited to return to the sites and collect more “nuggets” for this next book.
“The trip was canceled three times due to COVID-19, and now it’s back on,” Hurt said. “I’m going for a week and am just so excited because of things that they’re finding now. The chariot fits so well into my second book. I’m hoping that I get to see it.”
When asked if she feels that that the long and daunting journey has been worth it, Hurt replied, “Yes—it only took me 20 years to write the book, but the perfectionist in me is satisfied, so that now I can go on with the second book.”
For more information about the “Priestess of Pompeii” and to order online visit, priestessofpompeii.com. The book can also be purchased on Amazon.com. The author, Sandra Hurt, is available for interviews, book talks and book club appearances—visit priestessofpompeii.com for contact information.