I Discuss Cleopatra Selene with Chick History

June 21, 2011

This isn’t your typical promo interview. This is an NPR-style in-depth discussion of the life of Cleopatra Selene and Juba. Other than my hideous mispronunciations and my niggling fear that I wasn’t quite precise enough in some of my answers, I think it went extremely well and that even people who have read the novels will learn new things in this interview. Also, there’s a slide-show that accompanies the talk. Please let me know what you think!

5 Responses to I Discuss Cleopatra Selene with Chick History

  • I still have around 35 minutes left in the podcast so I will weigh in with my full thoughts when I’m done (:-D), but I wanted to ask this before I forget: I just listened to the part where you said some historians have tried to use the astronomical evidence of eclipses to try to pinpoint when Selene died, have there been any conclusions drawn from that? I.E. was there one in 5 BC and/or 17 AD, since those seem to be the years that have been floating around as most likely times?

    (Although I suppose this might get answered later in the podcast… I am impatient, lol)

    • First, wow, I’m totally honored that you’re giving this much of your time to my interview!

      To answer your question, if the poem dedicated to her death by Crinagoras of Mytilene isn’t just literary license, but literal truth, then the astronomical data suggests that Cleopatra Selene died in 5BC or, a little less perfectly, 3AD. The problem is that there were coins she apparently issued that seem to have been dated at 17AD and this has thrown everything into question, and led some to believe that perhaps she was still alive when Juba took a second wife.

      I’m torn between using 5BC or 3AD as the date of death for her. It’s going to have to depend on the arc of the story. Only historical fiction authors pester historians with comments like, “Professor, I’m sure you’re right that she died in 5BC but that’s very inconvenient for my plot. Can we justify a few years later or not?”

  • Finished! I have to say, this sort of thing is exactly why I love your blog SO much! As background, I was a history major as an undergrad and I’m working to get my masters in Classics with the hope of becoming a professor of ancient Egyptian studies… so I basically read scholarly articles for fun, lol. And what I love about this podcast and your blog is that you’ve done your research so thoroughly, and it shows in the “articles” you write and in your discussion here. The whole time I was listening to the podcast, I just had this huge grin on my face and I was like, “This is sooooo interesting!” Nerdular nerdence, I know, lol.

    Anyway, after listening to this, I’m really excited about Song of the Nile. VERY excited. What I love about historical fiction is that it allows us (well, me at least) to understand a period of time better than we would just by studying scholarly research. Even if it’s not “true,” it helps us fill in gaps and imagine possibilities that we wouldn’t be able to reach just by considering the few “facts” we have, and think about who these names we read about were as people. So I can’t wait to visit Mauretania in your book and see your take on it 😀

    • Oh, I’m so delighted to learn this about you, Lisa. I hope you won’t mind if I bend your ear with questions some time. How badly did I butcher the pronunciations? And did you hear any egregious errors? I have a blooper file that I intend to keep current when I discover mistakes. (And I found a doozy in my latest manuscript!)

      (I usually get the most gripes from classics majors, but I feel as if they don’t read all the way to the end where the authors notes explain what I changed and why.)

      • Of course! I confess the period of Egyptian history I know most about is the 18th dynasty, so I’m not a super-expert on this period, but if I know an answer or have a thought, I’ll gladly give it! 😀

        I didn’t notice any pronunciation errors while I was listening, so no worries there. One of my professors once said that it also doesn’t matter if you pronounce something “correctly” as long as you “say it with authority,” since a lot of times, no one really knows how you’re SUPPOSED to pronounce it, haha. But it seemed like everything you said was how I’ve heard others say it, so… you’re good!

        I also haven’t noticed any real errors, egregious or otherwise, in this or on any of your blog posts I’ve read. The thing about this period of history is that a lot of it is so wide-open for interpretation, so there’s not really any “right” or “wrong.” For example, interpretations on things like Augustus’s character, or on Caligula (everything about Caligula, really) vary depending on what scholar you’re talking to. I got into a bit of a debate with someone one time because I was talking about the possible connection between Caligula’s ships at Nemi and Isiacism… I have always heard that Caligula was a big patron of the temple of Diana at Lake Nemi, and that his floating palace there was tied to that in some way. I’d also heard of the connection between Diana and Isis, and that in building these ships Caligula was trying to emulate Cleopatra, but I never had followed that train of thought all the way to connect Caligula to Isis worship. When I commented on this, the friend I was talking to was like, “NO. There is NO connection between Diana and Isis, and Caligula was only interested in promoting the cult of his own self-worship. The only people who think Caligula was a proponent of Diana, let alone Isis, are crackpots with no real history behind them,” or something like that. And I was like, “…are we reading the same books? Because EVERYthing I’ve ever read about the Nemi ships has at least made the Diana connection, if nothing else. This isn’t a crackpot theory, it’s pretty mainstream.”

        So, loooong story short, there are no clear-cut answers even among scholars, and it’s really easy to distort what we do know to shape things in completely different ways, to create the picture we most want to believe. So basically, nothing you said is anything I haven’t heard from some scholar or another.

        I feel like people who are complaining are missing the point of historical FICTION. Who cares if it’s “accurate” or not, it’s just supposed to be fun! (That’s my philosophy, anyway.) They probably haven’t read your author’s notes or the info section on your website, either. I admit the first time I read Lily of the Nile, I was kind of like, “Wah?” about a few things, and then I read your authors notes and especially your website, and it was like, “Aha!” The “liberties” you take make sense in the context of the story, and you explain that really well.

        Also… just because *I* think Augustus or Juba or whoever might have acted one way, that doesn’t mean they actually would have. There’s no way we can know unless we find some way to bring them back from the dead and ask them ourselves. It’s all speculative. Scholars do just as much speculating as novelists do, it’s just that academics tend to take themselves too seriously (hating on my own kind, lol).

        One of my favorite historical authors, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, wrote about 18th dynasty Egypt in the 1950s and 60s, and she wrote a “disclaimer” at the beginning of one of her novels that is my favorite quote about historical fiction ever: “History. . .has served only as a springboard for a work of fiction. I cannot claim to have written truth; in fact, I wish to make very clear that I do not claim it. But within the limits of this novel and these characters, I hope I have written truly.” I think that’s the most important thing about historical fiction, and I think that you’ve definitely accomplished that 🙂