Welcome to the eighth article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Stephanie Dray for offering the eighth article in this series. Article nine will post later today as well. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.
Would Cleopatra Selene Have Considered Herself to be Egyptian?
by historical and fantasy author Stephanie Dray
One of the criticisms most often leveled at my Nile series is that because the Ptolemaic Dynasty considered itself Macedonian Greek, the emphasis I place on Egyptian culture–and Cleopatra Selene’s awareness of it–is somehow historically inaccurate or anachronistic.
I believe this criticism is made primarily by people who correctly understand that Cleopatra the Great, Selene’s mother, was not a black African queen in the tradition of the Kandake of Meroe. And by people who also correctly surmise that Cleopatra the Great is unlikely to have appeared to her subjects wearing exotic Old Kingdom garb in the fashion of Elizabeth Taylor in the Hollywood movie.
How Cleopatra Selene would have NOT probably dressed….
But to attempt to disassociate Cleopatra VII and her children from the Egyptian kingdom they ruled is to overlook a great deal of historical evidence. First of all, to characterize a woman whose family had not only lived in Egypt for nearly three hundred years, but ruled over it all that time, as somehow not Egyptian strikes me as absurd. (Pity poor Americans who identify as such with so much less history.) But even if one were to grant the argument that the Ptolemaic Dynasty held themselves apart from the subjects over which they ruled (because they did), that trend took an abrupt turn with Cleopatra the Great, who took affirmative steps to identify as Egyptian.
Cleopatra Selene’s mother was the first in her line to learn the native language. She identified herself not simply as philopater (lover of her father) but as philopatris (lover of her nation). She participated in native Egyptian religious rituals and had herself carved in relief in the old Egyptian style at Dendera. There is a chance, as explored in Professor Duane Roller’s excellent biography, that Cleopatra the Great herself may have had some small admixture of native Egyptian blood in her heritage. And even if she did not, evidence exists that Cleopatra Selene herself had a dearly loved cousin, Petubastes, who was half Ptolemaic and half of the native Egyptian priestly caste. (Roller, Cleopatra: A Biography, p. 166).
Cleopatra Selene is more likely to have dressed like this…
The fact was, times were changing, and Selene spent her childhood in a war-torn court where a national identity as Egyptians was important as it had never been important before. Her mother called upon Egypt to help her in her fight against Octavian’s Roman forces, and sought out Eastern allies even over more obvious Macedonian-Greek ones. While Cleopatra the Great certainly portrayed herself on coins as a Hellenistic queen, she was not averse to costuming, whether it was to portray herself as Venus, or Isis, or a pharaoh…an Egyptian title that she wanted, and took, for herself. Selene’s mother was, in short, a woman who always remembered her audience, and appeared as would most benefit her under the circumstances.
All this means that Selene did not grow up in a Macedonian bubble. The influences that show themselves in the city Selene built and coins she minted are a carefully cultivated mix of Macedonian-Greek and Egyptian.
There can be no question that Cleopatra Selene identified strongly with her Macedonian heritage. That she would have considered herself a champion of Hellenism. That she was desperate to maintain her tie to a dynasty that went back to the days of Alexander the Great and claimed kinship to him. All of that is in the books.
But so too did Cleopatra Selene see herself as the Queen of Egypt in exile.
Reasonable people can debate the extent to which Cleopatra Selene may have personally identified with the Egyptians, their religion, and their motifs. But there is no question that she did.
Author Stephanie Dray, Biography~
Stephanie graduated with a degree in Government from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where—to the consternation of her devoted professors—she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.
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.
To read more about Stephanie, or her novels, www.stephaniedray.com.
- Series: Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter
- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: Berkley Trade (December 3, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 042525836X
- ISBN-13: 978-0425258361
Based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter…
After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty.
With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind.
Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?
GoodReads Link and Reviews:
Check out the first two in the series also, Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile!