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Cleopatras daughter, p.39
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.39

           Michelle Moran

  But when I awoke, the sun was still high. No one had come to murder me in my sleep. There was noise in the atrium, and when I opened the door, Octavia and Vitruvius were whispering. They stopped when I appeared, and both of them looked at me.

  Octavia approached. Her face was full of concern. “Augustus would like to see you,” she said.

  “Really?” I asked indifferently. “Is he angry?”

  “I don’t know. He is very ill, Selene. And preparations are being made….”

  I could see she was on the verge of tears, and I softened my voice. “He has always recovered.”

  “But this time it’s fever. He’s asked us to bring you.”

  When I nodded, she released her breath. She had expected a fight, but I no longer cared what happened to me. I followed her into Augustus’s villa, where dignitaries crowded together in the atrium, and even Julia and Marcellus were there.

  “He’s asked to see you,” Julia said nervously. “Do you know why?”

  I shook my head.

  “I think you’re going to be married.” When I didn’t react, she went on fretfully, “No one knows who it is. I don’t think even Livia knows. But he’s making all his plans. He’s even given Agrippa his signet ring.”

  “The one belonging to Alexander the Great?”

  She nodded.

  “So Agrippa’s his heir?”

  “Until Marcellus is twenty.” I could see the fear in her eyes. “Oh, Selene.” She took my hands, but I didn’t move. “Whatever happens, I am here. It will be all right.”

  Octavia guided me to the stairs and pointed upward. “The first door on the right.”

  I mounted the steps, and as I approached the door, I was aware of a rushing sound in my ears. But why was I afraid? It didn’t matter what future Augustus decided for me now.

  I opened the door and realized that I wasn’t entering a chamber, but Augustus’s office, Little Syracuse. The walls were adorned with maps and scrolls, and where there weren’t books, there were statues. A pale-looking Augustus was seated behind his table, hunched over like an old man trying to fend off the cold. With his hand, he offered me a seat.

  “Kleopatra Selene,” he said.

  “Emperor Augustus.”

  He smiled at the title, but didn’t disagree. “Do you know why I’ve called you here?”

  I didn’t lie. “Julia says it has something to do with my marriage.”

  “Yes.” He studied me. “You’ve grown very beautiful in my absence.”

  “Many things have happened in your absence,” I said shortly.

  He raised his brows, but instead of growing angry with me, his voice became strangely regretful. “Yes, they have. And once we die, what we leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”


  He nodded. “And I have not woven much happiness into your life, have I?”

  I dug my nails into my palms to keep myself from weeping.

  “Before I die, I wish to change that, Selene.”

  “Are you going to bring Alexander back from the dead?”

  He hesitated. “You understand, I hope, that a grown son of Marc Antony and Kleopatra would always be a risk to the stability of Rome so long as he was alive.”

  “The stability of Rome, or the stability of your rule?”

  “Is there a difference?”

  “He never wanted to be Caesar!”

  “Many men have no intention of being Caesar. But when offered the opportunity by discontented senators, how many would turn it down?”

  I bit my lower lip.

  “I did not bring you here to discuss death,” he said quietly. “I brought you here to give you a new life. You had a very fine education in Egypt, and in Rome you have proven yourself capable of rule. If you will accept a dowry of five thousand denarii,” he began, “I wish to make you Queen of Mauretania.”

  The study began to spin so quickly that I gripped the sides of my chair. “I don’t understand,” I whispered. “I thought that Juba—”

  “Is ill? Yes, but he’s young and very strong. Men like him recover quickly, and he’s waiting for you in the other room.”

  I stood so quickly that my seat nearly toppled over.

  Augustus smiled. “At the end of the hall.”

  I don’t remember whether I ran. I must have, because when I opened the door and Juba took me in his arms, I was breathless. Immediately, I inspected him for signs that he’d been wounded again. “I don’t understand,” was all I could say. “I don’t—”

  He put his finger to my lips. “The men at the temple were mine. There was no attack.”

  “But the mess—” I whispered.

  “It was bull’s blood. I think I’m going to survive.”

  “And your shoulder?”

  He pushed his tunic away so I could see where Magister Verrius had neatly stitched him closed, and in the bright light of the chamber, I knew there’d never been a more beautiful man. From the time I’d been taken from Alexandria, he must have known that Augustus had intended me for him. Then I thought of the times he’d seen me weeping for Marcellus, and the many times I’d goaded him for being nasty when all of it had simply been an act to keep away suspicion, and my eyes began to burn.

  “I hope you’re crying with happiness,” he said, “and not with disappointment.”

  “How could I be disappointed?” I cried.

  “Perhaps you wanted someone else.”

  I ran my fingers through his hair. “No.” I searched his eyes, which were filled with kindness, and I drew my fingers over the handsome contours of his face. “I want you.”

  “Me, or the Red Eagle?” he asked cautiously.

  “Perhaps both.”

  “But you know that the Red Eagle is gone,” he said. “I’ve done what I can in Rome. Someone else must continue the fight.”

  “Like Gallia?”

  “And Verrius, and many other good people. But Augustus would have suspected it was me eventually. So I’m afraid your Red Eagle is dead,” he said with regret.

  “Dead?” I asked him. “Or just flown away to Mauretania?” When he didn’t say anything, I added, “I suspect it’s the latter.”

  “There will be no more rebellion. No more daring acts of kindness,” he warned.

  “You mean we won’t get to run through burning buildings?” I could see he wanted to laugh, but instead he watched me intently. “What? Why are you staring at me?”

  “I’m not staring. I’m observing.”

  I smiled through my tears. “And what do you observe?”

  He brushed his lips against my ear. “A brave young woman who has always fought for what was right, even when it was unpopular. A woman who can’t return to the land of her birth, but is welcome to cross the seas and rebuild Alexandria in mine. And a woman who has suffered enough in Rome and deserves happiness for a change. Will you come to Mauretania and be my queen?”

  He drew back to look at me, but I held him closer. “Yes.”

  “Just yes?”

  I nodded and pressed my lips against his.



  Selene and Juba were married in 25 BC, and, true to his word, Augustus gave Selene a magnificent dowry. The union of Kleopatra Selene and Juba II became one of the greatest love stories ever to come out of imperial Rome, and for twenty years they reigned side by side in an extraordinary partnership that began on the voyage to Mauretania. When they reached their new kingdom, they settled in Iol, renaming it Caesarea in deference to the man who had made them king and queen. Once this public declaration of loyalty was made, however, Selene began rebuilding their capital in the image of the greatest city on earth: Alexandria. Before long, their court became known as a center for learning, and the images that archaeologists have discovered at Caesarea (such as a basalt statue of the Egyptian priest Petubastes IV, a bronze bust of Dionysus, and a statue of Tuthmosis I), speak loudest about Selene
s true loyalties.

  While Selene erected monuments in honor of her Ptolemaic heritage, Juba charted the lands around his new kingdom. In the process he was credited as being the first person to “discover” the Canary Islands, naming them Insularia Canaria, or Islands of the Dogs, after the fierce canines that inhabited them. He also penned the treatise Libyka and discovered an important type of medicinal spurge, which even today is called Euphorbia regis-jubae. Pliny wrote that Juba was “more remembered for the quality of his scholarship even than for his reign,” while Plutarch considered him one of the “most gifted rulers of his time.” Two, or possibly three, children were born to Juba and Selene during their marriage. Their son Ptolemy inherited the throne.


  Despite his grave sickness, Augustus recovered and ruled for another thirty-nine years. Nearly everyone he loved passed on before him, including Terentilla, Agrippa, Maecenas, Octavia, and even Marcellus. At seventy-five, when it was clear that the end was approaching, he asked Livia to take his life by surprise. He wished to orchestrate his death just as he had orchestrated everything else. When Livia poisoned his food, Augustus died in AD 14. He left behind explicit instructions on how to govern Rome, even going so far as to describe the tax system in minute detail. His heir was Livia’s son, Tiberius.


  Julia and Marcellus enjoyed their wedded bliss for only another two years. In 23 BC, Marcellus died suddenly, ending a brief life that would likely have seen him as emperor had he survived. He was buried in Augustus’s mausoleum, which can still be seen today in Rome. With no clear heir, Augustus ordered Agrippa’s immediate divorce from Octavia’s daughter Claudia, and the eighteen-year-old Julia was given to her father’s forty-two-year-old general and closest friend. Five children resulted from their marriage, but when Agrippa died in 12 BC, Julia became a widow again. This time, with fewer heirs to choose from, Augustus married Julia to her stepbrother Tiberius. But Julia rebelled, taking as her lover Selene’s half brother Antonius, the son of Marc Antony and Fulvia. When Augustus discovered this, he arrested his own daughter for adultery and treason. Antonius, like his father, was forced to commit suicide, and Julia was banished to the island of Pandataria. Only her mother accompanied her into exile, where they were forbidden from having visitors other than those specifically sent by her father. After five years, Julia was allowed to return to the mainland, though she was forbidden from entering Rome. Upon Augustus’s death, one of Tiberius’s first acts was to confine Julia to a single room in her house. She died of starvation.


  Before becoming heir to the Roman Empire, Tiberius was ordered to marry Agrippa’s daughter Vipsania. Their marriage proved to be an actual love match, and for seven years they remained loyal partners, producing a son whom Tiberius named Drusus, after his own younger brother. But when Agrippa died in 12 BC, Augustus ordered Tiberius to divorce his pregnant wife and marry Julia. The shock caused the loss of Vipsania’s second child, but the divorce proceeded, and Tiberius never forgave Augustus. In the years to come, Tiberius haunted Vipsania’s doorstep, threatening her new husband, Gallus, with death. After several more encounters, Augustus forbade Tiberius from ever seeing Vipsania again. Upon becoming emperor, Tiberius declared Vipsania’s husband a public enemy, imprisoning him and killing him by starvation. After Julia’s death, he never remarried. Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been crucified during the reign of Tiberius, which lasted twenty-three years.


  After the sudden and devastating death of Marcellus, Octavia retired from public life, spending her time quietly doing charity work and raising her grandchildren. Her daughter Antonia married the renowned charioteer Lucius Domitius. Although the marriage was a deeply unhappy one, it produced three children, one of whom, Antonia, would become the grandmother of Emperor Nero. Octavia’s youngest daughter, Tonia, married Livia’s son Drusus, and the two of them enjoyed a happy marriage for nearly seven years until Drusus died in a riding accident. Their children were the famous general Germanicus, the beautiful Livilla, and the future emperor Claudius.


  LIKE OTHER historical novelists before me, I am deeply indebted to those who have spent countless years interpreting, researching, and writing on the world of ancient Rome. Those scholars have allowed me to depict, to the best of my abilities, what life was like more than two thousand years ago when the children of Marc Antony and Kleopatra were taken from Egypt and raised for several years on the Palatine. If Selene and Alexander seem incredibly precocious for their ages, that is because they were the extremely well-educated children of a queen considered to be one of the most learned women of her time. Like today’s child actors, they would have been raised in an adult world with adult expectations, and clearly Selene’s education was sufficient to see her made Queen of Mauretania.

  Nearly all of the characters in the book represent real people whom Alexander and Selene actually met, and I based their personalities on what was written about them and preserved in the historical record. From Augustus’s love of the theater to Agrippa’s building of the Pantheon—where you can still see his name etched into the pediment today—I tried to ensure that the characters remained true to their historical selves. The major exception to this would be my invention of the Red Eagle. While the Red Eagle did not exist, there is evidence to suggest that Juba was deeply disgusted by the culture of slavery in Rome. After his arrival in Mauretania, slavery there slowly disappeared, and it’s not surprising that he would identify with those who had been enslaved, given the fate he might have suffered had it not been for his illustrious ancestry. Both of the slave trials in the novel were based on events that supposedly took place in ancient Rome, and I believe they help to illustrate just a few of the moral issues that arose from human bondage. Such trials also serve as a reminder of how frequently fact is stranger than fiction. Take, for example, Pollio’s attempt to feed a slave to his eels, the escaped bull in the Forum Boarium that plummeted to its death from a second-story balcony, and Augustus’s obsessive note-taking: all are based on the historical record. Even Magister Verrius’s use of games in the ludus, the tribe of Telegenii who fought leopards in the arena; and Octavian’s carelessness in Alexander the Great’s mausoleum, which resulted in the corpse’s broken nose: all come from contemporary accounts. And even though we might think of some of the amenities in the novel as exclusively modern, the heated pools, elegantly shuttered windows, tourist guide books, and much else were present in Imperial Rome.

  It is astounding to think of what the Romans accomplished more than two millennia ago when the average life expectancy was less than thirty years. Some of the most enduring buildings can be traced back to both Agrippa and Augustus: the famous Pantheon, the Basilica of Neptune, the Saepta Julia, the Forum Augusti, and many of the baths. Augustus and Agrippa furnished these places with their favorite statues, and just like many other Romans, they were avid collectors of antiquities, particularly anything that came from Greece. Contrary to what we see today in museums, nearly all of their marble statues were painted, many of them in garish colors such as bright red, turquoise, yellow, and orange. Though it’s strange to imagine people who lived two millennia ago collecting antiques, in many ways Roman society was startlingly similar to our own. The Romans were fond of the theater; they used handshakes for introductions; and many of the leading thinkers, such as Cicero, mocked prevalent superstitions and even belief in the gods. Children played with dice and puppets, while adults went to the races to place bets and meet friends. Everyday humor was notoriously crass. All across the city of Pompeii, graffiti preserve ancient Roman sarcasm. And when the emperor Vespasian knew he was dying, he told his sons wryly, “I think I’m becoming divine.”

  There is a reason so many of us are drawn to ancient Rome, and I believe it’s because we recognize ourselves in these people who lived more than two thousand years ago. Consider the following quotes, some of which you might think were excerpts from modern-
day writings:

  A human body was washing ashore, tossing lightly up and down on the waves. I stood sadly waiting, gazing with wet eyes on the work of the faithless element, and soliloquized, “Somewhere or another, perhaps, a wife is looking forward to this poor fellow’s return, or a son, perhaps, or a father, all unsuspecting of storm and wreck; be sure, he has left someone behind, whom he kissed fondly at parting. This then is the end of human projects, this the accomplishment of men’s mighty schemes. Look how he now rides the waves!”

  Petronius, Satyricon 115

  I was happy to learn from people who had just visited you that you live on friendly terms with your slaves…. Some people say, “They’re just slaves.” But they are our fellow human beings! “They’re just slaves.” But they live with us! “They’re just slaves.” In fact, they are our fellow slaves, if you stop to consider that fate has as much control over us as it has over them…. I don’t want to engage in a lengthy discussion of the treatment of slaves, toward whom we are very arrogant, very cruel, and very abusive. However, this is my advice: “Treat those of lower social rank as you would wish to be treated by those of higher social rank.”

  Seneca the Younger, in a letter to a friend

  She who first began the practice of tearing out her tender progeny deserved to die in her own warfare. Can it be that, to be free of the flaw of stretchmarks, you have to scatter the tragic sands of carnage? … Why will you subject your womb to the weapons of abortion and give poisons to the unborn? … The tigress lurking in Armenia does no such thing, nor does the lioness dare to destroy her young. Yet tender girls do so—but not with impunity; often she who kills what is in her womb dies herself.

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