The Story Behind the Nile Trilogy

July 8, 2010


The historical record of Cleopatra Selene’s remarkable life is scant. Plutarch, Suetonius and Dio Cassius give us only brief but tantalizing clues. It was for this reason that I imagined the truth of Selene’s story in terms of magic.

What we do know about Cleopatra’s daughter is that she was born on the cusp of a religious awakening and came of age in a dangerous political world. Like her more famous mother, she forged important alliances with the Romans and charmed her way into power. It may even be argued that she did so more successfully, and with less bloodshed.

But my vision for these books stems from the idea that Selene’s importance may have to do more with her religious influence than with her statecraft. Today, we take for granted the concept of personal spirituality or a relationship with god. In much of the ancient world, however, religion was a covenant between the state and the divine realm. Insofar as personal or household gods existed for the Romans, worship was more orthopraxy than orthodoxy. That is to say, the emphasis was on correct ritual than on faith or intimate prayer. For the Romans especially, religion was more a matter for men than women.

All of this started to change with the rise of henotheistic mystery cults, and as a forerunner of Christianity, the Isiac religion was one of the few in the ancient world to concern itself with social justice. In challenging temporal authority, the spread of Isiac worship nurtured a nascent concept of personal spirituality without which our world might be very different today. And were it not for the influence of Cleopatra Selene who actively spread the Isiac cult, such a transition may never have taken hold.

Cast of Characters

Cleopatra’s Court

Cleopatra, the Pharaoh of Egypt, Queen of Kings

Mark Antony, her husband, the Roman Triumvir

Cleopatra Selene, their daughter, the Princess of Egypt

Alexander Helios, their son, Selene’s twin, a Prince of Egypt

Ptolemy Philadelphus, their youngest son, a Prince of Egypt

Caesarion, the queen’s seventeen year-old son by the Roman dictator, Julius Caesar

Euphronius, the children’s tutor and court mage

Petubastes, the queen’s sixteen year-old cousin, a priest of Ptah

Antyllus, Antony’s eighteen year-old son by his deceased wife, Fulvia

Mardian, the queen’s eunuch and chief advisor

Olympos, the court physician

Iras & Charmion, the queen’s handmaidens

The Court of Augustus

Octavian, or Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, the imperator and victor of Actium

Julia, his daughter by his former wife Scribonia and his only child

Livia Drusilla, his wife

Tiberius, her oldest son by her former husband

Drusus, her youngest son but her former husband

Octavia, his sister

Marcellus, her son by her first husband

Marcella, her daughter by her first husband

Antonia Major, her eldest daughter by Marc Antony

Antonia Minor, her youngest daughter by Marc Antony

Iullus Antonius, her ward, son of Marc Antony by his deceased wife, Fulvia

Agrippa, the Roman admiral and Octavian’s most trusted warrior

Maecenas, Octavian’s secretary

Juba, the children’s tutor, deposed Prince of Numidia

Virgil, the revered poet

Chryssa, one of the numerous slaves in the imperial household

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