Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cleopatra's Daughter

I finished Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, and again I loved another of her books. It is her third book and very entertaining. The book takes us from Alexandria in 30 BC to Rome, the scenes and places breathtaking and also terrifying. Many if not everyone has heard of Kleopatra, spelled with a C in the book for modernization. She was married to Julius Ceasar and they had Ceasarion; then she was married to Marc Antony, the great love story. They had twins Alexander and Selene, then Ptolemy. The people did not recognize this marriage because Marc Antony was a roman general and consul, and left Rome for Alexandria. As usual, the books I read are so fascinating and rich with detail, that I devour them so quickly I usually forget a few details. Forgive anything I missed, and just read it for yourself!

We begin in Alexandria where the navy of Queen Cleopatra has turned, because of the great force of numbers Octavian has (Emperor of Rome). When asked what they should do, Cleopatra orders them to tell her husband Marc Antony that they are all dead so he won't return. Her hope is that by staying away, he will live. She immediately takes her three children and two ladies, and they enter the mausoleum that they had designed. They take as much treasure as possible inside, and lock themselves in. Soon there are guards at the entrance asking to speak with the Queen, and suddenly they hear Antony crying out. With alarm, Cleopatra realizes that he did come back, and when finding out they were 'dead', he stabbed himself with a sword. She is able to bring him up through the windows, to discover he is pretty much dead. She does not get long to mourn him, because the soldiers and guards have entered the mausoleum through the window.

She is told her son Ceasarion is dead, as well as his half brother Antyllus. They are led back into the palace, where she meets Octavian for the first time. He is short and non descript in appearance, and the brother to Ceasarion, the boy he killed and Julius Ceasar's son. Octavian says that he desires to take them to the tombs of Alexander the Great, then to the Gymnasium to talk to the people. Cleopatra decides to stay back, and bids her children to behave. What the children don't know is that Octavian has given her a choice-to stay back and commit suicide, or to later be murdered in secret. While Octavian takes them, they have no idea what is about to happen. While in the tombs of Alexander the Great, Octavian tries to pry off his ring and in so doing, crushes the nose of the corpse. His soldiers tell him it is a good sign, but the children are not so sure. While at the Gymnasium, the people seem to welcome Octavian without rebelling. Suddenly there are guards telling the children that their mother is dying.

They rush back into the palace where Cleopatra lays peacefully dead, along with Iras and Charmion her ladies. They find the snake bites, and call for a snake charmer to suck out the poison, but it is too late. They are suddenly without parents, and an uncertain future. Seven months later they set sail for Rome. While on the ship, their brother Ptolemy dies from a fever. Selene seems mature beyond her years, at not yet 12 years of age, and is soon known for her drawings. Octavian pays them little attention, and spends most his time writing. Upon landing, they meet Marcellus, the son of Octavia, Octavian's sister. They also get to know Juba and Agrippa, who serve Octavian faithfully. On the way to Rome, they pass different sights that they aren't used to. They see many slaves being whipped, and trying to break away. As they enter farther into the city, the architecture and city is nowhere near as beautiful as Alexandria. They pretend to be interested, but the city is quite different.

They live in Octavian's villa on the hills, and Alexander and Selene share a bedroom. They also meet Julia, who is betrothed to Marcellus and is the daughter of Octavian and his first wife. Livia is Octavian's wife, and very rigid and cruel. As life goes on, they go to school (the ludus) and eventually Selene begins training with Vitruvius, an architect. They visit the markets, plays and the games. Octavian chains them and features them in his parade after the victory of taking Alexandria. They are surprised when they are not killed, because they hadn't expected to live. They go to school with Marcellus and Julia, and also Tiberius, the son of Livia and her first husband. You will learn the characters better if you read the book. But these are the main ones you will need to know.

The interesting parts in the book is how different Rome is to Alexandria, and how cruel. There is a pillar called the foundling house, where unwanted babies are left. Some are fed by wet nurses that are paid, but most die or enter slave homes if they live. There are many trials that end unfairly and in many deaths, because the plebians are paid. Octavian becomes known as Augustus by the people, and lives to reign a very long time. About 1/3 of the population is slaves, and most aren't paid or treated well. Selene and Alexander always secretly desire to return to their home, but know they probably never will. After Marcellus and Julia get married, the twins know their time is coming soon. The coming of age is 15 where they celebrate entering adulthood. The average age was 30 during this time so they married young.

On their 15th birthday, Alexander is murdered and they don't know who did it, because Augustus (Octavian) was away at war. Selene mourns him by building him a mausoleum, and helping build in the city. Another thing to point out is how educated the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony were. They knew several languages before age 12, and Selene did very well in school above the others. Perhaps she lived not just because she was a woman and beautiful, but because she found a way to be useful to Octavian. The dynamics and characters and personalities in this book are interesting, because a lot if similar to our day today. They had heated baths, poetry that sounded quite modern, many were collectors of antiquities, they had theatres, used handshakes to greet each other, etc. Some of the greatest buildings still standing can be attributed to Agrippa and Augustus.

Well, Selene eventually married Juba and became the Queen of Mauretania. She found out through living with Augustus that Juba was secretly sympathetic to the slaves cause, as he himself was captured as a young age in Numidia. Theirs was a happy marriage and they had 2 to 3 children. She tried to rebuild their city to look like Alexandria. Their court became known as a center of learning. Augustus went on to reign 39 more years, and left his throne to Agrippa, the son of Livia his wife from her first marriage. Octavia, the sister of Octavian, was known for her charitable works and was kind to those who served her. Her children later produced the future emperor Claudius.

If you are interested in ancient Egypt or Rome, you will be glad to read this book. They don't really worship like in Nefertiti's time, but there is still much to learn. The cruelty of people always amazes me when I read books like this, and can't believe how people ever had a happy life. There are other books that focus more on Cleopatra's life, but she really did die of a snake. There is no swearing, some sexual parts that are brief (the author is tasteful about those), and some brutality.

No comments:

Post a Comment