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Please welcome Stephanie Dray, author of a new historical novel, Lily of the Nile!

by Stephanie Dray

Cleopatra’s daughter was born at the cusp of a religious awakening and came of age in a dangerous political world. She was orphaned at the age of ten, taken prisoner, marched through the streets in chains, and held as a royal captive within the household of Augustus Caesar. All this tragedy certainly touched my heart, but what motivated me to write a novel about Selene was that her story is ultimately one of bittersweet triumph.

The little evidence we have of her life tells us that she was a girl who never forgot her grief for her dead family. It also tells us that she feared she might be the last survivor of a glorious dynasty. But ultimately, Selene looked forward. She was a survivor and the things she had to do to survive weren’t always pretty.

Like her more famous mother, this young girl also 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. Though she never returned to her mother’s Egypt, she did go on to become the most powerful client queen in the Roman empire. As co-ruler of grain-rich and culturally diverse Mauretania, she played a central role in helping to secure the century of relative peace and prosperity that would be known as the Pax Romana.

[amazonify]0425238555[/amazonify]But 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 rather than on faith or intimate prayer. For the early 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 (or Isian) 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 as the foremost proponent of Isis during the Augustan Age, such a transition may never have taken hold.

In spite of her role in fostering a religion that paved the way for modern day spirituality, 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 with touches of magic realism, and so far, it’s been well-received!

What did luxury mean to Selene and what does it mean to Stephanie?

As for luxuries, Selene had a few. We know that she and her husband Juba made a fortune by selling outrageously expensive purple dye. But my luxury is even less practical: I love shoes. I have at least thirty. Now, if I actually wore all those shoes, perhaps I could justify them. But since I have weak ankles, high heels are totally out. Yet, I love to look at them. Occasionally, I like to wear them from the car, into a restaurant, and back. And some of them are too painful to wear even that long. They’re just for show. But for some reason, I can’t seem to get rid of them!

About Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray is the author of a projected trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Stephanie is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance at sneak previews and other prizes.

Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Lily of the Nile AND a little ankh charm to remind them of Cleopatra Selene!

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This giveaway is open to US and Canada residents only. Deadline to enter is midnight on February 28, 2011.

Giveaway copy is provided free of any obligation by Stephanie Dray. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.