Tag Archives: hook of a book women in history series

Celebrating Women Series: Stephanie Dray on Cleopatra Selene

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-Dray-Headshot-smallerStephanie 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.

dotnDaughters of the Nile, Synopsis~

  • 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!


Leave a comment

Filed under Feature Articles, Guest Posts

Celebrating Women Series: Eva Stachniak on Catherine the Great as a Grandmother

Welcome to the seventh article in the “Celebrating Women” 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 Eva Stachniak for offering the seventh article in this series. 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.


Catherine the Great:  Doting Grandmother in Her Later Years
by Eva Stachniak, Internationally Best Selling Historical Author

Old-Catherine-the-Great-PortraitCatherine the Great was not a happy mother. Her children were taken away from her as soon as they were born and she was not allowed to spend much time with them or to make any decisions about their upbringing. Her first-born, Paul, eight when Catherine became empress, and by then spoilt by his aunt, Elizabeth Petrovna, was always estranged from his mother. Catherine’s daughter, Anna, died in infancy, and her love child with Orlov, Alexei Bobrinsky, whom Catherine brought to the palace after the 19762 coup, did not live up to his mother’s expectations.

It was with her grandchildren that Catherine discovered the joys of parenthood. Her first grandson, Alexander, was always her most beloved, although she spent as much effort in bringing up his brother, Constantine. Accounts from the Russian court paint touching pictures: the Empress of Russia getting herself down on the floor to play with her grandsons, the empress designing her grandson’s play clothes, and—the most important—supervising their education.

How did she want her grandchildren educated? Children—Catherine believed—should be brought up according to the principles of reason. They should be able to ask questions freely and not to be ridiculed or punished when they made mistakes. Their natural curiosity should be fostered daily, their playtime should be both useful and fun. The education of princes could not neglect Russia’s political plans, either. Alexander had to be taught politics and economics. He had to be trained how to be a leader and an orator, a man able to talk with peoples from all walks of life.  Constantine, meant to rule the future Russian Eastern Empire from Constantinople, had to speak Greek, and thus had a Greek nanny.

Did it work? Not quite. Constantine did learn Greek but his own volatile nature made him unsuitable for leading Russia when an opportunity presented itself. With Alexandre, so carefully groomed to take over the throne of Russia, this liberal and progressive education also had an unforeseen effect. To Catherine’s bemusement, in 1795, the year when she was hoping Alexander would agree to be named her successor instead of his father, her beloved grandson replied that he wished to denounce his rights to the Russian throne altogether. He wished to withdraw to the country and cultivate his garden. Catherine, to her credit, listened to these youthful dreams with patience. She was convinced that her arguments and the reality of Alexander’s obligations will win over youthful idealism.

She was right, though not in the way she had planned it.

Author Eva Stachniak, Biography (in her words)~

EStachniakLQI was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland. English is my second language although, thanks to my wonderful and far-sighted mother, I began learning it in early childhood.

In Poland I was an academic, teaching in the English Department of the University of Wrocław. In the summer of 1981, on the eve of Solidarity crisis I received a scholarship to McGill University where I began working on my PhD dissertation, Positive Philosophy of Exile in Stefan Themerson’s Fiction (defended in 1988.)

In 1984-86 I worked for Radio Canada International, the Polish Section, in Montreal, writing and producing radio programs about Canada. In 1988 I joined the faculty of Sheridan College(Oakville, Ontario) where I taught English and humanities courses until 2007.

It is in Canada that I became a writer. My first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by the Antigonish Review in 1994, and my debut novel, Necessary Lies , won the Amazon.com/Books in CanadaFirst Novel Award in 2000.

The Winter Palace, based on the early life of Catherine the Great, has been a bestseller in Canada, Poland and Germany and was included in The Washington Post’s 2011 list of most notable fiction and Oprah Magazine’s “10 Titles to Pick Up Now” in 2102.

I live in Toronto. My second historical novel about Catherine the Great, Empress of the Night, will be published in March 25, 2014 in the United States.

To learn more about Eva,  her books, contact her for your book club meeting (she does Skype!!), then go to:  www.EvaStachniak.com.

Empress of the Night, Synopsis~

HR-Empress-CA-coverThe Winter Palace brilliantly reimagined the rise of Catherine the Great through the watchful eyes of her clever servant, Varvara. Now, in Eva Stachniak’s enthralling new novel, Empress of the Night, Catherine takes center stage as she relives her astonishing ascension to the throne, her rule over an empire, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.

“We quarrel about power, not about love,” Catherine would write to the great love of her life, Grigory Potemkin, but her days were balanced on the razor’s edge of choosing her head over her heart. Power, she will learn, is about resolve, strategy, and direction; love must sometimes be secondary as she marshals all her strengths to steer her volatile country into a new century and beyond—to grow the Romanov Empire, to amass a vast fortune, and to control a scheming court in order to become one of history’s greatest rulers.

Gorgeously written with vivid detail and lyrical prose, Empress of the Night is an intensely intimate novel of a woman in charge of her fortunes, who must navigate the sorrows, triumphs, and hopes of both her soul and a nation.

Praise for Empress of the Night~

…ambitious…structurally complex and psychologically intense Empress of the Night aims for Hilary Mantel. Stachniak’s writing is distinct, however, especially in vivid description of sensory details: perfume, sweat and the click of heels on polished floorboards.

Quill & Quire (Canada)

Empress of the Night … casts light on Catherine’s life with unflinching honesty and intimacy. This fun novel of lovers, intrigue and malicious and manipulative nobility keeps readers enthralled with every page…

Virtuoso Life Magazine (US)

Stachniak’s absorbing novel opens readers’ hearts to an extraordinary and misunderstood woman …wonderfully written, Stachniak’s story vibrates with passion, drama, and intrigue. This is a feast for fans.

Romantic Times Magazine (US)

…historical fiction fans will appreciate this personal account of a formidable and, indeed, infamous ruler.

Library Journal (US)

Empress of the Night will be published by Doubleday in Canada and Bantam in the U.S. on March 25th 2015. In the UK, Australia, and New Zealand Empress of the Night will be available as an e-book, published by Traverse Press.

And if you are interested in the first book……

The Winter Palace, Synopsis~

US_winterpalaceBehind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak’s novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia’s greatest monarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.

Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara, the narrator, is a servant who will become one of Russia’s most cunning royal spies. Sophie is a naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

The Winter Palace came out Fall of 2012 (Bantam US) and is available everywhere.

To read previous articles in this series and to follow-along, click here:



Filed under Feature Articles, Guest Posts, Uncategorized

Celebrating Women Series: JoAnn Shade on 12th C. Hildegard von Bingen

Welcome to the fourth article in the “Celebrating Women” for Women’s History Month! It’s my first author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to JoAnn Shade for offering the fourth article in this series. 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.

Hildegard von Bingen: “Feather on the Breath of God”
–12th Century Visionary, Abbess, Musician, Writer, Saint
by author JoAnn Shade

In the novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë could have been describing the life of Hildegard of Bingen when she wrote: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Born in 1098, this visionary Benedictine nun was a theologian, prophet, poet, musician, healer, and influential abbess, and stands out as the most prolific female writer of her age, a Renaissance woman long before the Renaissance took place. Stubborn and resourceful, imaginative and devout, Hildegard holds a unique place in history, for as Charlotte Allen suggests, “this nun was one tough sister.”

From a contemporary point of view, life could not have appeared to be promising for the young girl, as her father and mother separated her from their other offspring; abandoning her to hope in God’s mercy alone. Born as a tenth child to Hildebert and Mechthilde, Hildegard of Bingen apparently was “tithed” to the Church, given over to the care of Jutta at age eight, either as an anchorite (permanently enclosed in a small cell attached to a church) or at Jutta’s family estate in Sponheim. By age fifteen, Hildegard made her own profession of vows, becoming a Benedictine nun, and it appears as though the fame of Jutta and Hildegard began to attract other women to the community of nuns, so that over time, their anchorite cell became a Benedictine nunnery.

What must it have been like as an eight-year-old being given to the church as a tithe, or to be confined in such a way for so many years? She seemed to have accepted her life as providential, and while as a young girl she could not have known the cultural factors at play, it would appear as though Hildegard reached such a sense of her full potential because she was enclosed.

Hildegard’s story was shaped by the visions she began to have as early as age three. Unsure what to do with these sensations, she asked her nurse if she had seen anything, as Hildegard was fearful of revealing her visions to anyone. It would appear that her unwillingness to act on her visions brought her ill health, although it is possible that the ill health brought the visions, with their visual impact being derived from migraines.

Ildegarda_Von_BingenHildegard of Bingen

Subsequently, Hildegard wrote (or had transcribed) three major works of a visionary nature, as well as two medical and scientific works, The Physica (Natural History) and Causae et curae (Causes and Cures). This writing included chapters on plants, the elements, trees, jewels and precious stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles, and metals, as well as general medical questions such as the signs of life and death, uroscopy, and herbal remedies for a variety of ills. She also addresses the differences between the sexes and adds some discussion of sexuality and conception. In his classic work from the 1950’s, From Magic to Science, Charles Singer suggests that Hildegard really does not have specific categories of her work, such as science, ethics, theology, etc., but rather that “her ideas not only are interdependent, but also closely interwoven . . . for in her mind the material and spiritual are really interfused.”

We glimpse much of the person and the perceived power of Hildegard in her letter-writing. The breadth of her correspondents is amazing, for in terms of today’s culture, she would have written to (and received replies from) the US president, the Pope, Billy Graham, the parish priest, and the woman down the street. And yes, she would have been active on Facebook!

Listen to what she dared write to Pope Anastasius:

You, O man, who are too tired, in the eye of your knowledge, to rein in the pomposity of arrogance among those placed in your bosom, why do you not call back the shipwrecked who cannot rise from the depth without help? And why do you not cut off the root of evil which is choking out the good and beneficial plants of sweet taste and delightful aroma? You are neglecting the King’s daughter who was entrusted to you, that is, heavenly Justice herself.

Here’s her challenge to Conrad, King of the Romans “Again, O king, He Who knows all says to you: having heard these things, O man, restrain your pleasures, and correct yourself, so that you may come purified to those times when you need no longer blush for your deeds.” And one more quote, written to a Certain Person: “Get a grip on yourself until you see better times, and you will live.”

Among her many teachings, Hildegard believed that laughing, crying, singing and dancing were intimately linked with the health of the body. In that light, Hildegard was also an accomplished composer, writing many religious lyrics and composing the music for at least some of those works, which are considered both monastic and liturgical. Not surprising to the student of Hildegard, she was a maverick in her music writing, and she “preferred the archaic nonmetrical sequences,” and often wrote in what we would now call free verse.

Completing her biographical information, in 1136, Hildegard took over the leadership of the nuns following the death of Jutta. After receiving a command from God, she moved her nuns to Rupertsberg in 1150, removing them from the protection and authority of the monks at Disibodenberg (a move the monks fought against). In the years to follow, she began to gain prominence outside of the convent, and took part in a number of preaching tours. After a long and active life, Hildegard died in September 1179.

Hildegard stands out in history as a prophet and reformer within the church, and. her correspondence made at least some impact on the decisions of world leaders and church fathers. Her work as an artist, poet and composer was brought to new light in the late twentieth century, as her music was recorded and her literary works published again. Her medical writings have led her to being called one of the first woman doctors and scientists, yet she would have seen this work to be a part of her total life as a nun and as a woman of God. Long before the term was coined, Hildegard wrote and spoke extensively about social justice, desiring to seek freedom for the downtrodden, and believing that every human being, made in the image of God, should have the opportunity to cultivate the talents that God has given him or her.

Self-described as a “feather on the breath of God,” Hildegard’s cultivation of her own gifts enabled her feather-flight to be powerful and long-lasting. Yet as Hildegard’s words would remind us, “Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along.”

For an engaging treatment of her life story, see Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen.

 JoAnn Streeter Shade, Biography~

856c1c3bJoAnnShadeJoAnn Streeter Shade has walked alongside many women in a variety of ministry settings for more than thirty-five years. She has served in Salvation Army congregations and social service programs, has ministered at North Coast Family Foundation, a Christian counseling center in Northeast Ohio, and has also written extensively about the issues facing women in today’s culture. She writes a weekly column in the Ashland Times-Gazette, and is the author of more than a dozen books on topics such as spiritual growth (The Heartwork of Hope, The God Gallery), sexual abuse (Rapha’s Touch), marriage (The Guerilla and the Green Beret), biblical narrative (The Other Woman, WomenVoices), and the joy of living in Ashland (Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant).

She is married to Larry, is the mother of three adult sons, Greg, Drew and Dan, and Lauren, a beloved daughter-in-law, and is Nana to the lovely Madelyn Simone. With an M.A. in pastoral counseling and a D.Min. in the Women in Prophetic Leadership track from Ashland Theological Seminary, she combines her academic training with a writer’s eye, a pastor’s heart and a grandmother’s joy.

Keep up with JoAnn’s writing at www.gracednotesministries.blogspot.com.

JoAnn has written many inspirational books; however, we choose to highlight the one below:

The Other Woman:  Exploring the Story of Hagar, Synopsis~

the other woman 3The reader is taken on a memorable and meaningful journey, drawing helpful lessons from Hagar’s story.

The author touches on a vast range of subjects, from abuse and pregnancy and revenge to single parenting, abandonment, grief and more.

Any seeking soul, any student of the Bible, anyone who is craving hope and encouragement, will profit from it.


 Click on the icon to view the complete schedule:



Filed under Feature Articles, Guest Posts