The skeleton of a Roman woman and the bones of the mouse and shrew that gnawed her ankle in her coffin, inspiring one of Sylvia Plath’s most haunting poems, have gone on display.
Plath saw the massive stone sarcophagus and its contents soon after it was excavated in the 1950s, when she was a student at Cambridge.
Staff at the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology mounted the rodent bones on a piece of card – also on display again – and showed them in the coffin alongside the remains of the middle-aged woman, which is grimacing as if in pain.
The viewing prompted Plath’s 1957 poem All the Dead Dears, in which she describes “this antique museum-cased lady” and the “gimcrack” bones of the rodents “that battened for a day on her ankle-bone”, and fears that the “barnacle dead”, strangers or members of her family will drag her down and suck her life away. Six years later, the poet killed herself. Read more.