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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Lamentable Embassy of Royal Orphans

The Lamentable Embassy of Royal Orphans
a guest post by Stephanie Dray,

Lily of the NileThanks for having me here today and indulging my nerdiest impulses. The heroine of my debut novel, Lily of the Nile, is Cleopatra’s daughter, the young Princess of Egypt who would be marched as a chained prisoner through the streets of Rome. At the end of a Roman triumph--that military parade during which generals celebrated their victories--their captives were often strangled or killed. There were, however, notable exceptions.

The children of royal families were sometimes spared from execution and kept as hostages to secure the submission of any remaining allies and ensure the good behavior of their conquered homelands. Such was the case with Cleopatra Selene, her twin Alexander Helios, and their younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphus. These three young children, the last survivors of the Ptolemaic dynasty, were not only spared, but taken into the household of Augustus to be reared by his sister.

My novel came about because I imagined the inner turmoil of a girl like Selene, the ward of the same man who forced her parents to suicide and killed her older brothers. My novel focuses on her struggle for survival in a hostile and foreign city. But my appreciation of her tragic circumstances comes with an awareness that Selene and her brothers weren’t the only children struggling with this fate.

Though hostage-taking was common enough in Rome even before Augustus came to power, it was this first emperor of Rome[1] who made a political art form of collecting the children of his enemies. Selene grew up amongst a houseful of children in what the French historian Auguste Bouche-Leclercq would call “the lamentable embassy of royal orphans.”

Some of these orphans were her own brothers and sisters, her father’s children by other wives. Iullus Antonius, the only one of Antony’s Roman sons to survive, probably last saw his father when he was seven years old and was formally brought into Augustus’ household when he was eleven. His mother died while he was still a toddler, so he likely had few memories of her. Augustus’ family may have been the only family that Iullus ever knew and he was granted extraordinary favors by the emperor--who gave his own niece Marcella to Iullus in marriage. (Still, a full-blooded heir of Antony was a dangerous man to leave alive, and this may have been Iullus’ undoing later in life.)

Another of the children Augustus collected for his political stratagems was Juba, son of a fierce Numidian king of the same name who chose the wrong side in a war against Rome and paid the price for it with his life. Juba was quite possibly an infant when his father was forced to suicide and no older than five years old when he was displayed in Caesar’s triumph. Unlike Selene, he would have no memories of his homeland nor siblings with whom to recount the tragedies of his young life. He was raised as a Roman boy and the family of Augustus was the only family he knew. Juba was a prodigy, recognized for his scholarship before the age of twenty. He served Augustus in a military capacity in Spain, and possibly before then in the war against Selene’s parents, and went on to become Selene’s husband and Rome’s most trusted client king.

Selene came to Rome in chains but left as a Queen and both she and her husband proved to be such fine examples of what could be accomplished by this policy of benign hostage-taking, that it would become a central hallmark of the Augustan Regime. Augustus would transform a boy named Hyginos who had been taken from Spain into his chief librarian. He would host the sons of King Herod so as to determine which of them might make a better heir for the troubled Judean kingdom. He would return a hostage prince to the Parthians in exchange for a peace treaty only to later host Parthian princes as guests, to indoctrinate them in the Roman way.

From our modern vantage point, there’s something decidedly sinister about using children in this way, and my novel examines the personal toll it might take on a little girl. But I must also point out that the policy was wildly successful and helped cement nearly a hundred years of relative peace that would come to be known as the Pax Romana.


Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.

[1]There are some who dispute that Augustus was Rome’s first emperor and stress that his reign differed from those of his successors because it was a slow accumulation of powers with consent of the governed. Because I think the consent of the governed is suspect under the circumstances it seems more realistic to view the reign of Augustus from the perspective of its outcome, in which case, he was the founder of a dynasty.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

random updates

On Being Unemployed

I'm still getting used to this being at home without a job thing.  When I was working I was in front of my computer all day long and often had time to check my Google Reader to see what all of you were up to.  But being at home, I often don't check my Reader until late in the day, at which time there are hundreds of posts and I am too overwhelmed to read them.  To be honest, I've been clicking "Mark All As Read" more often than not. Sorry!

On Reading & Blogging

I am getting some reading in, but not a ton. I finished Towers of Midnight and Prisoners in the Palace. I'm still working on The Prince, and I've started The Last Town on Earth (which I promptly misplaced).  I'm also still listening to The Count of Monte Cristo.  I have absolutely NO motivation to review any of these books though, so I'll probably only do a quick paragraph for each ... eventually.

I may not be posting as much for the next few weeks, at least until I get myself onto a schedule. That goes for commenting as well.  I'm still here, I'm just trying to reorganize my life ... which is MUCH more complicated than I'd expected.

On Kiddo

Kiddo flew on a plane by himself for the first time on Tuesday.  His aunt and uncle wanted him to visit them in Boston for a few days then drive back to Maryland with them on Thanksgiving.  I gave him the choice - did he want to do it, or did he want to wait until next year?  (We fly all the time but he's never done it on his own.) He panicked a big at first but then decided he really wanted to go.  For the next few days he'd walk around singing "Shipping Up To Boston" at random times. The morning he left we had to be up at 4:30am to get to the airport by 5:30am.  He got nervous again just before he got on the plane and he almost started to cry, but we hugged and he took a deep breath and headed down the ramp.  The flight is only 1 hour 20 minutes and he told me later that everything went just fine.  He played his Nintendo DS almost the whole way there.  And get this - when the flight attendant said to turn off all electronic devices, he figured he'd better switch off his feeding tube as well (it's got an electric pump).  Hubby and I got a kick out of that one!  At the moment he's having fun with his aunt and uncle in Boston, getting to do pretty much whatever he wants to do.  What fun!

On Thanksgiving Food

I used to love Thanksgiving because of all the wonderful food but now it frustrates me because there is so little that Kiddo can eat. I mean, there's only so much you can do with eggs, rice, white potato, corn, carrots, broccoli, apples, grapes, peaches, mangoes, tapioca, and a little bit of shellfish.  For the longest time even the smell of the holiday food would make him sad.  I'm excited for this year though. At his last doctor's appointment the allergy and GI docs agreed that he could add in a few foods that he really wanted.  They have him trying bison meat (at least for now - the next test will probably prove it's bad for him, but he'll enjoy it until then) so he can have steaks, burgers, ribs, tacos, etc.- all of which he's really enjoying.  He also asked for cucumbers so he can eat dill pickles again.  We're going through a jar of pickles every few days now, and I LOVE it.  Another thing he wanted was lentils.  He used to like them years ago and I guess he figures he'll still like them now (who likes lentils?! certainly not me!).  And in a few weeks they'll let him try berries again, though he's not excited about that AT ALL - he never was a fan of berries. 

All that to say that THIS Thanksgiving I'm excited because Kiddo will get a real meal of things he actually wants to eat. AND he told me that he's looking forward to all the smells because they remind him of the foods he used to eat and love, and they bring back good memories.  Can I just tell you how much I love my Kiddo?! HE TOTALLY ROCKS.

I hope all of you are doing well. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week enjoy your day! If not, enjoy your day anyway! Hopefully I'll be back and involved in the blogging world really soon. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remembering Summer (#2)

September 2010
Ocean City, Maryland
This was the first time Kiddo drove a go-cart on his own.  He did a great job ... after almost crashing into a wall while looking over his shoulder to see if Daddy was gaining on him!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

photos from Towers of Midnight signing

I recently had the chance to attend the book signing for the latest Wheel of Time book, Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Although I didn't get to help out the way I did last year I did have a wonderful time being a part of the audience! Here's quick look at this most fabulous evening.

Cassy (one of the volunteer Tower Guards selected by Tor) announces that Brandon and Harriet's plane is running a bit late

Stephen (aka Perrin), Cassy, me, and Justin

a bit of the crowd waiting for Brandon & Harriet to speak

Brandon during the Q&A, with Harriet behind him

Tom & Monica (from Bibliophilic Book Blog)

Tom getting his book signed

Stephen getting his book signed

me reading after my book was signed

the Tower Guards made an amazing poster for Brandon & Harriet

Brandon, Harriet, the Tower Guards, and Stephen doing a wolf howl in honor of Perrin

A longer recap of the event was posted at - definitely check it out, if only to see pictures of two kids who were named after characters in the books!

And this quick video is for my friends at the WotCast, Amit and Marco:

As you can see from the pictures, I started reading the book that very night.  I still haven't finished it.  Why? Because I'm savoring EVERY.SINGLE.PAGE.  I refuse to read more than 2-3 chapters each day because I want to drag this out as long as possible.   The next book comes out about a year from now and it will be the last book ... oh the horror!  I can't believe after all the years I've been reading these books (since the early 1990s) the series will finally come to an end.  I'm so happy to have found other Wheel of Time fans to attend events like this with me - it has made the last two books even more fun to anticipate and read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

update ...

I'm currently reading and listening to chunksters so it will be a bit sparse on the review front around here for a while. 

I'm ALMOST finished with Towers of Midnight but I'm trying to read very slowly because I don't want it to end. It will be horrible to have to wait another year for the next book, and even more horrible that the next book is also the LAST book. *sniff*

In addition, I'm listening to The Count of Monte Cristo and that sucker is more than 40 hours long! I'm enjoying it for the most part but there was a rather tedious section a while ago that really dragged for me.  There are other parts that are really good though, so it all works out.


I went to work today only to find out that I'd been laid off. ?!?! Gotta love that corporate timing - getting rid of 450 employees just before the holidays.  Lovely.

This will either mean that I have no time for blogging or lots of time for blogging, depending on how the job search goes.  Finding something part time that matches the schedule I had previously (which allowed me to get Kiddo to and from school every day) is going to be tough.  But on the bright side I will get lots of housework done in all this extra time I now have! (hmm, not sure that's exactly the bright side but it will be useful ...)

Anyway, I'm sure things will work out in the end but of course I'm a bit frazzled today (so much so that I can't even TRY to read).  I'll keep you all posted on how things go!

Monday, November 15, 2010

anyone up for Dune?

I plan to make 2011 the year of the re-read and take time to revisit books I've loved in the past.  The first one I want to pick up is Frank Herbert's Dune.  I've read it at least twice before but it has to be more than 10 years since I last picked it up.  Would anyone like to join me for either a first time read or a re-read of this science fiction classic?  If you are interested, let me know if January or February is better for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Get Caught Reading - on the bookstore floor

November 5, 2010
Books-A-Million in Hanover, MD

reading my brand new copy of Towers of Midnight
(by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson)

sitting on the floor, surrounded by 250+ fans of the series, waiting 
in line to get our books signed by Brandon Sanderson
and Harriet Rigney (Jordan's widow and editor)

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time)

Get Caught Reading is a Sunday meme hosted by Miss Remmers' Review

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Favorite Books From Age 32

As I mentioned yesterday, I track my reading from birthday to birthday. To figure out the "best" books from this past year I looked over the list of everything I read during my 32nd year and pulled out the titles that still make me "feel something" even months after reading them. Those books that really stay with me, those are the ones I'd say were my best reads/listens of the year.

To make it easier to find something you might like I've grouped them by genre. But I'd recommend ALL of these books so do check them all out! (The links take you to my original reviews.)

  • Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean - this story of a young girl who is the only survivor of a tragedy at sea is not the best-written book ever but the story is very compelling and one I will not forget
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - this book turned upside-down everything I thought I knew about the native peoples of the American West
  • Once A Warrior King - gave me a different look at the Vietnam War and a glimpse of what my Dad's experiences there were like
  • The Hot Zone - I will never, EVER think of plague-like diseases (or travel in the rainforests) in the same way EVER again
  • Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller - learning the real story of the woman whose life was portrayed in the book/movie Out of Africa make me appreciate that beloved movie even more
  • Kon Tiki - journeying across the Pacific in a raft just to prove that it could have been done by ancient people?! very, VERY cool

  • The Old Man and the Sea - this one stuck with me for its beauty and simplicity, and also because I never thought I'd like anything by Hemingway yet I loved this one
  • Remarkable Creatures - this story opened up an entirely new area of historical fiction to me and I loved it

  • The Gathering Storm - this book was the first in the Wheel of Time series to be written since the death of the original author, Robert Jordan - the amazingness of this book gave me hope that Jordan's notes really will be enough to provide Brandon Sanderson what he needs to finish this series as it deserves

- (sort of) SCI-FI -

These two books are technically science fiction but really defy the genre. If you are not a SciFi fan, these books would probably be ones you'd really enjoy.
  • The Sparrow - I've read this book twice now and plan to read it again. It's really about what it means to be human and what it means to believe in a higher power.
  • Kindred - I added this one because I've found myself recommending it to so many people, and always with good results. It's almost historical fiction.

So tell me ... did I convince any of you to read these books this past year?  Or if you missed my original reviews, did I convince you to read one of them now? 

ALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean
Isak Dinesen: The Life of a StorytellerThe Old Man and The SeaRemarkable Creatures: A NovelThe Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, Book 12)The SparrowKindredThe Hot Zone: A Terrifying True StoryKon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by RaftBury My Heart at Wounded Knee: The Illustrated Edition: An Indian History of the American West

So tell me ... did I convince any of you to read these books this past year?  Or if you missed my original reviews, did I convince you to read one of them now? 
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