On the Story

  1. Is Helios alive or is he a manifestation of the part of Selene’s soul that helps her survive the worst moments of her life?
  2. After Selene was violated, Livia to offer her a cup of poison to wash away the dishonor. Did Selene have anything to be ashamed of? 
  3. Selene’s mother chose death over dishonor, but Selene chose not to drink the poison. What does that say about her?
  4. What does Isis mean when she tells Selene: Child of Isis, you are more than flesh?
  5. Why does Livia do the wicked things she does? Is she motivated by fear, ambition, or something else?
  6. Selene holds grudges and can be vengeful. Do you think she was wrong to instigate the death of Cornelius Gallus, Praefect of Egypt? Should she have forgiven Euphronius sooner?  Should she forgive Juba at all?
  7. Were Marcellus and Philadelphus poisoned? If so, by who and for what reason?
  8. What does it say about Selene’s character that she kept the tattered blood-stained dress that she wore as a child in the emperor’s triumph? Why did she give it back to the King of Emesa?
  9. Is Maysar right when he says Selene punishes herself for being alive when all her family is dead? How does Selene’s survivor’s guilt influence her choices in the novel?
  10. What are Selene’s strengths and weaknesses? How is she like Augustus and how does she differ from him?
  11. What lessons did Selene learn from her mother and father? 
  12. What did Selene learn from Circe and Livia? What did she learn from the emperor? Can we all learn things from our enemies?
  13. Is Augustus truly Selene’s enemy? She says that she hates him, but her feelings towards him are always evolving. Why do you think her feelings towards the emperor are so complicated?
  14. How does Juba change over the course of the novel? What about Octavia? Helios? Chryssa?
  15. What is behind the emperor’s obsession with Selene and why does Augustus allow her so much power and influence over him?
  16. How is the myth of Persephone and Hades reflected in Selene’s life?
  17. Should Selene have sacrificed her happiness in Mauretania in order to regain her mother’s throne? Did she owe it to her dead family to dedicate her life to Egypt? What about her Alexandrian courtiers and all the other people who want her to become the Queen of Egypt?
  18. What would Selene’s mother, Cleopatra the Great, have to say about her daughter’s choice to return to Mauretania?
  19. Why does Augustus eventually send Selene away?
  20. If Selene has Juba’s son, how will it impact her relationship with Augustus? Do you think he’ll ever summon Selene again?


On the History, Culture & Religion

  1. Historically speaking, Philadelphus and Helios disappear from the record. Some historians have theorized that the two boys went to Mauretania to live in obscurity with Selene. Others believe they died or that Augustus had them killed. Song of the Nile embraces the ambiguity about their fates but what do you think happened to the boys?
  2. One of the few things we know about the historical King Juba is that he rode past a woman at the side of the road, who berated him for having spattered her with mud with his hooves. He replied, “Madam, do you take me for a centaur?” What does this tell us about the character of Juba?
  3. Instead of invading Parthia, Augustus settled upon a negotiation for the lost battle standards of Rome. Why did he make peace with them instead of fighting for treasure and conquest?
  4. Augustus took a serious interest in the prophesies of the Sibyl, going so far as to hunt down “unauthorized” prophesies and burning them. He eventually stored his own “official” version of the Sibylline Books in the Temple of Apollo. Why did he do this?
  5. In the ancient world, to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries was a hallmark of a civilized person. The faithful claim to have seen visions of the dead and terrors of the night. A modern theory is that the sacred kykeon brew contained hallucinogenics. Do you think these visions were true spiritual ones or drug-induced illusions or both?
  6. While Rome was generally tolerant towards other religions and Isis would go on to dominate the ancient world until the rise of Christianity, Isiac worship was out of favor during Selene’s lifetime. What does it say about Cleopatra Selene that she never renounced Isis as her patron deity and continued to be a proponent of her faith in spite of the emperor’s enmity for the cult?
  7. After Cleopatra’s death, her daughter Selene was the most prominent client queen in the Roman empire. Selene had the power to mint her own coins and her children were named after her side of the family. Do you think this is because of her prestige as a Ptolemaic queen, the fact that she had an extraordinary relationship with Augustus, or that Juba couldn’t control her?
  8. Though Selene and Juba are thought to have been married in 25 BC she would not appear on the coinage of the realm as a co-ruler of Mauretania until 20 BC. Juba’s coins are in Latin and deferential to Rome. Selene’s coins are always in Greek, often flouting the emperor’s official narrative by celebrating her dead mother–an enemy of Rome, elevating the goddess Isis, and hinting that either Egypt would soon break free of its bonds or that she represented the throne of Egypt in exile. Does this represent a political split between the two monarchs or could it have been a calculated strategy between Selene and Juba to appeal to different political elements in their kingdom?
  9. Juba claimed to have discovered the source of the Nile in Mauretania. It would take hundreds of years before he was proved wrong. Do you think Juba stretched the truth for political reasons–perhaps to flatter Cleopatra Selene and make her feel more at home? Or do you believe that he simply made a mistake?
  10. The end of the Republic and the founding of the Julio-Claudian dynasty looks inevitable in retrospect, but what stumbling blocks and dangers did Augustus face on his path to absolute power?