I'm thrilled to have Michelle Moran, author of the bestselling historical novels, Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, guest post on my blog today. It's my first guest post, so I'm super excited. Michelle's new book, Cleopatra's Daughter, is releasing on September 15. She has something exciting for the readers of this blog, so I suggest you check back in tomorrow to know the full details. You can visit her website to learn more about her and her writing.
LIFE AND LIBRARIES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD- Michelle Moran
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by readers is what life was like two thousand years ago when Julius Caesar walked the corridors of the Senate house and Cleopatra visited Rome. Surprisingly, life for the ancient Romans was not unbelievably different from today. The Romans had many of the little luxuries that we often associate exclusively with the modern world. For example, baths were to be found in every city, and public toilets were viewed as a necessity. The toilets depicted in HBO’s Rome Series are copies of those discovered in Pompeii, where those caught short could find a long stretch of latrines (much like a long bench with different sized holes) and relieve themselves next to their neighbor. Shops sold a variety of wigs, and women could buy irons to put curls their hair. For the rain, there were umbrellas, and for the sun, parasols. Houses for the wealthy were equipped with running water and were often decorated quite lavishly, with elaborate mosaics, painted ceilings, and plush carpets.
In the markets, the eager shopper could find a rich array of silks, along with linen and wool. You could also find slaves, and in this, Roman times certainly differ from our own. While some men spoke out against it, one in three people were enslaved. Most of these slaves came from Greece, or Gaul (an area roughly comprising modern France). Abuse was rampant, and the misery caused by this led desperate men like Spartacus to risk death for freedom.
For those few who were free and wealthy, however, life in Rome provided nearly endless entertainments. As a child, there were dolls and board games to be played with, and as an adult, there was every kind of amusement to be had, from the theatre to the chariot races. Even the poor could afford “bread and circuses,” which, according to Juvenal, was all the Romans were really interested in.
For those more academic minded, however, there were libraries. Although I don’t portray this in Cleopatra’s Daughter, libraries were incredibly noisy places. The male scholars and patrons read aloud to themselves and each other, for nothing was ever read silently (the Romans believed it was impossible!). Other cities were renowned for their learning, too: Pergamum (or Pergamon) was the largest and grandest library in the world. Built by the Greeks, Pergamum became Roman property when Greece was captured and many of its people enslaved. The library was said to be home to more than 200,000 volumes, and it is was in Pergamum that the history of writing was forever changed.
Built by Eumenes II, Pergamum inspired great jealousy in the Egyptian Ptolemies, who believed that their Library of Alexandria was superior. In order to cripple this Greek rival (and also because of crop shortages), Egypt ceased exporting papyrus, on which all manuscripts were written. Looking for an alternative solution, the Library of Pergamum began using parchment, or charta pergamena. For the first time, manuscripts were now being written on thin sheets of calf, sheep or goat’s skin. The result of this change from papyrus to parchment was significant. Now, knowledge could be saved by anyone with access to animal hide. Manuscripts (although still quite rare) were now available to more people. Alas, so impressive was this vast Pergamese library of parchment that Cleopatra asked Marc Antony to ship its entire contents to her as a wedding gift. This transfer marked the end of Pergamum’s scholarly dominance, and is the reason why, today, we remember Alexandria as possessing the ancient world’s greatest library.
Summary of Cleopatra's Daughter:
The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome, but only two—the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander—survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.
The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters:
Octavia: the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra
Livia: Octavian’s bitter and jealous wife
Marcellus: Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir-apparent
Tiberius: Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power
Juba: Octavian’s ever-watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals
Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place —the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the time. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.
Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fascinating portrait of Imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of history, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.