by Christie Kelley
Please help me welcome a wonderful writer and friend of mine, Stephanie Dray. She has a new young adult historical fiction book, Lily of the Nile out this month.
Cleopatra VII of Egypt is the most famous woman in the history of the world and if you’ve never seen Cleopatra, starring Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowell, do yourself a favor and rent this big splashy Hollywood drama. Though it’s overwrought and there are a few howlers, the dialog is sharp and the cinematography created some of the most iconic imagery we have of this intriguing queen. Though the movie makes no mention of Cleopatra’s daughter, the protagonist of my forthcoming debut novel, Lily of the Nile, the ending of the movie left me with some powerful emotions.
The movie adopts the traditional view of the queen’s suicide, which is that having conquered her, Octavian wished to drag Cleopatra behind his chariot as a chained prisoner, so she cheated him by killing herself. This scenario has come under fire by modern scholars who protest that Rome’s first emperor probably killed Cleopatra or forced her to kill herself. But what if it happened just the way the ancients said it did?
What impact would that have upon the psyche of Augustus, who was denied his war prize? What mark would Cleopatra’s suicide leave upon the ten year old daughter that she left behind? These are the questions I asked myself when writing Lily of the Nile, the first of a planned trilogy about the as-yet-uncelebrated life of Cleopatra Selene. She was taken prisoner by the Romans and dragged through the streets in her mother’s stead, but Augustus spared her. He even went on to make her the most powerful client queen in his empire.
And yet, Cleopatra’s daughter is virtually unknown unknown to us, her life obscured by her mother’s shadow. I imagine it must have been this way for her even while she was alive. Raised in the emperor’s household, she would have been subjected to all the propaganda against her parents--the legends upon which Augustus built his empire. She was the daughter of the Egyptian harlot, the daughter of drunk and licentious Antony. She would have had to live with that stigma.
What is remarkable is that the evidence of her life archaeologists have uncovered shows that she was one of Augustus’ favorites. He not only made her a queen, but apparently indulged behavior he would have condemned in any other ruler. Though Augustus opposed women in power, Selene was an effective co-ruler with her husband and could mint her own money; she did so, glorifying her mother and Egypt and Isis, all without reproach. So why did the emperor indulge this ambitious young girl, making her the wealthiest woman in the world? Why would Augustus spoil, coddle, and elevate this child of his bitterest enemies?
That’s the question I attempt to answer in this series of novels, which is as much about Augustus as it is about Selene. Historical accounts tell us that he was shocked to find Cleopatra dead--so much so that he sent for snake-healers to revive her. Historian Diane E. E. Kleiner has described Augustus’ obsession with Cleopatra after her death in a way that seems to go beyond the political. I simply imagined that he transferred this obsession to Cleopatra’s daughter and all the other pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
The theory not only solved several mysteries but created a compelling drama in which a clever young girl is pitted against a ruthless and cunning ruler, historical giants battling for the future of the ancient world and our own. This is the kind of larger-than-life epic that I love most and I hope readers will love it too.
In addition to the new book, Stephanie is sponsoring a literary contest for aspiring young female writers (www.cleopatracontest.com).
Do you love reading about antiquity? If so, what's your favorite book or movie set in antiquity? And what time period do you just love to read about?
Stephanie is giving away a copy of Lily of the Nile to one lucky poster today.