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From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins
Sex and Category in Roman Religion
Ariadne Staples
Routledge, London, 1998.  ISBN: 0415132339

     Women are most often presented as being responsible for hearth and home. This was most certainly the case for the women of ancient Rome. Their lives tended to be primarily confined to the very private sphere of home.  Roman houses even had small shrines so families could perform religious rites and worship in privacy.
     However, the author also points out Roman women were encouraged to play a significant formal role in public religious rituals.  Women's participation in public religion was sanctioned by the male establishment.  They felt women played a vital role in the well-being of the entire city of Rome and its Empire.
     Men were generally excluded from the cult of Bona Dea except perhaps as priests.  The most important festival of Bona Dea, celebrated yearly in December, was conducted by well-born matrons.  It was usually held in the house of a magistrate and the rituals were overseen by the women of the household.  Women of all classes participated in rites which go back to the early history of Rome.
     The cults of Ceres and Flores were also female oriented.  These cults, the author believes, sexually categorized women.  The cult of Ceres was concerned with wives, rituals were forbidden, and social activities created a distance between men and their wives.  In the cult of Flores prostitutes played a leading role, the festivals were lively, and men participated on equal terms with women.
     Venus cults were abundant in Rome.  There was Venus Verticordia, Venus Obsequens, and Venus Erycina.  They focused on the romantic tie between men and women.  Each cult had different historical backgrounds, rituals, and festivals.
     The most famous Roman cult is the Vestal Virgins.  Their title of virgin clearly defines the sexual status of its priestesses.  Vestals were revered by women and men.  They were believed to be the embodiment of Rome and partly responsible for its well-being.
     Among their sacred duties were keeping the Vestal fire burning and maintaining their virginity.  Punishment was severe if the fire went out or a virgin had sexual relations.  If proven either one could result in death.
     The author examines all these cults tracing their belief systems, ritual practices, and worshipers through the early history of Rome.  She discusses the role of women in public religion.  She maintains women played a significant formal part in its development and practices.
Readers     Adults 
Genre        Non-fiction/History
Period        Ancient Rome
Extras        Notes
Great Women of Imperial Rome
Mothers and Wives of the Caesars
Jasper Burns
Routledge, London, 2007.  ISBN: 9780408981

     Jasper Burns' presentation of Roman empresses is visually and verbally extraordinary.  He has succeeded in bringing the empresses to the forefront of Roman history by emphasizing their social and spiritual contributions.  No longer are they overshadowed by the accomplishments and achievements of their fathers, husbands, and sons.
     His artistic abilities and interest in coins are combined to create unique portraits of the empresses.  Burns' black and white hand-drawn illustrations of each of the empresses allow us to see them as vital members of Roman society.   His photographs of coins definitely validate their historical importance.
     Burns' research is extensive using both ancient, medieval, and modern sources. Information is well organized and interesting.  The list of empresses is impressive, including both familiar and lesser known women. Among the later Roman empresses are Salonia, Zenobia, and Helena.
     Roman women were expected to be obedient and subservient.  Their locus of control was within the home.  As married women they owed allegiance to their husband's family.  They were responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of their family members.
     Among their duties was the early education of their children.  Sons received schooling in the art of politics while daughters were taught the domestic arts.  Patrician children, both male and female, were generally taught to read and write.  They were also expected to know Roman history and religion.
     It was within this paternalistic society empresses made their mark. They managed the household accepting responsibility for their own family plus agents, functionaries, and slaves.  Empresses patronized the arts, participated in private and public religious activities, sponsored charities and building projects, and encouraged peaceful family and political relationships.
     Burns gives us a new view of Roman empresses.  He treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve.  He focuses our attention on their abilities and talents.  He creates a Roman world where empresses are both kind and conniving, generous and mean, obsequious and ambitious.
Readers     Adults 
Genre        Non-fiction/History
Period       Ancient Rome
Extras        Maps
                  Geneological Tables
Evelyn Waugh
Loyola Classics, Chicago, 1950.  ISBN: 082942122X

     Helena is Evelyn Waugh's last work.  It was among his most beloved works.  He frequently read it aloud to his family.  It also reflects his deep conviction that every Christian could become saintly.  It seems, of all the canonized saints, Helena appeals to him because she fulfilled God's divine purpose by finding the cross on which Christ was crucified.      
     Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930.  He uses the character of Helena as a means to portray a woman searching for her vocation.   The author believed one of the hardest tasks in life was for people to find God's unique design for their lives.
     Helena is characterized as a courageous woman, struggling daily with her disappointments and challenges.   She is always searching for meaning and truth. Life, in itself, becomes her vocation.  She dislikes deception and is not easily intimidated.
    Waugh's heroine lives in the city of Colchester in Roman Britain.  She is the daughter of King Coel of the house of Boadicea.  We know of Helena's father from the Old King Cole children's rhyme and Boadicea as the infamous warrior queen who rebelled against the Roman Empire.
     By the time the impoverished soldier Constantius Chlorus, great nephew of the emperor Claudius, meets Helena her family has become almost completely Romanized.  While Helena is fluent in Latin and reading Latin poetry she also enjoys speaking her native Celt language and listening to Celtic tales.  However, not typical of a Roman woman, she is an experienced horse and chariot rider and accomplished hunter with a bow and arrow.
     Love develops between the Constantius and Helena, marriage ensues, and the couple leaves Britain for his posting in Gaul.  In the city of Nish she gives birth to a son, Constantine, while Constantius is off campaigning and fighting wars.  When Constantine was three years old Constantius is appointed governor of Dalmatia and the family moves.
     It is in Dalmatia that Constantius takes a mistress and becomes involved in the Mithras religion.  He is also finally summoned to Rome.  In Rome his uncle the caesar Diocletian adopts him.  Constantius is to be emperor of the west after Diocletian's death.
     Constantius returns to Dalmatia wearing the royal purple toga and a new wedding ring.   Helena has been divorced.  Constanius married Theodora, the caesar of the east Maximian's daughter, to ensure family loyalty and imperial succession.
     Constantius sends their fourteen year old son Constantine to Nicomedia for further education.  Helena is left alone unable to return to Britain because of a violent uprising in the country.  Instead Helena purchases an estate in Dalmatia.  She becomes a wealthy land-owner planting grapes for wine and olives for oil.
     A political crisis forces Helena to move to the small Frankish town of Igal, two hours  away from Treves.  There she is joined by Constantine's divorced wife Minervina and son Crispus.  During this time she is introduced to the Christian religion by her grandson's tutor Lactantius. 
     At seventy years of age her son the Emperor Constantine invited her to his jubilee celebration in Rome.  While living there, in the Sessorian Palace, she experiences the murder of her innocent grandson Crispus by the treacherous Empress Fausta.
     Disenchanted with Rome and disheartened by her son's despicable behavior she set out on a pilgrimage to visit the Christian sites in the near east.  Along the way she endowed convents, freed prisoners, dowered orphans, and directed the building of shrines and basilicas.
     Finally reaching Jerusalem she found Christ's tomb and the beams from the True Cross on which he was crucified.  Helena bequeathed the relics she had collected to Emperor Constantine, churches in Treves, Cologne, and her new church in the Sessorian Palace.  She died on August 18th, 328 A. D.
     Emperor Constantine had her buried in a mausoleum just three miles outside of Rome near the road to Palestrina.  He designed the sarcophagus in which her body was laid.  Centuries later Pope Urban VIII moved her bones to the church of Ara Coeli. The sarcophagus is now on display in the Vatican Museum.
     I felt the presence of  the author in the story reliving his conversion by telling the story of Helena.  He treats this sainted women reverently and presents her as a genuine person dealing honestly with life's trials and tribulations.  Waugh shows her conversion to Christianity is thoughtful and sincere which ultimately leads her to finding the most important relics of the Catholic church.
Readers     Adults 
Genre        Fiction/History
Period        Ancient Gaul/Rome
Extras        Introduction
                   Questions Guide
                   About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin
Harcourt, Inc., New York, 2008.  ISBN: 978015101248

     Lavinia, the woman whose voice goes unheard in Virgil's poem Aeneid, comes to life in this novel about early Rome.  Ursula K. Le Guin has risen to the challenge of fleshing out the life and times of Lavinia, her royal family, and the conflict which ensues when she refuses to marry another local king and chooses the foreign Aeneas instead.
     Living in a luxurious city villa in Laurentum, with her kingly father, Latinus, and her mad queen mother, Amata, Lavinia escapes to the countryside for peace and quiet. She has reached the age to be married and is being pursued by local nobles as an especially desirable bride. 
     Her mother has chosen the handsome, ambitious King Turnus to be Lavinia's husband.  Her father wants Lavinia to decide who she will wed. Wandering the hills and valleys of Latium she rests in a cave and is visited by the specter of the poet Virgil.  He informs Lavinia she will marry a foreigner.
    Only five days later Aeneas, his son Ascanius, and warriors and their fleet of ships arrive on the shore of Latium.  Finally reaching their sacred destination they settle down to making themselves a new home far away from the strife of war torn Troy. Unfortunately the marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia starts another war among her fellow countrymen.
     Many of her kindred and friends are killed in battle before Aeneas emerges as the victor and peace is declared.  Lavinia and Aeneas start a town, Regia, and have a son, Silvius, and within three years Aeneas is dead.  Lavinia's father, now a tired old man wanting only peace, appoints Ascanius to rule with him until Silvius comes of age.
     King Ascanius wanted to take charge of raising his step-brother Silvius. Fearing for her own son's life Lavinia escapes with Silvius to the countryside.  She depends on the goodness of her country people to watch over both of them. 
     Her loyal subjects build Lavinia and her son a suitable home and provide them with food.  By the time Silvius reaches seventeen the troops are weary of Ascanius' rule and appoint Silvius their new king and Lavinia becomes a queen once again.
   The telling of this story is difficult and complicated.  Reading it a second time I better appreciate the author's attention to detail.  Descriptions of towns and the surrounding countryside, daily living and religious rituals enhance the story with a distinct sense of place and time.  Le Guin has also succeeded in giving each of her female characters a voice that is both remarkable and memorable.  
     The author carefully weaves fiction and fact making Lavinia an interesting and entertaining story.  I personally believe Virgil would have been impressed with Le Guin's modern day prose addition to his ancient classical poem the Aeneid.
Readers      Adults 
Genre         Fiction/History
Period        Ancient Roman
Extras         Maps
One Virgin Too Many
Lindsey Davis
Warner Books, Inc., New York, 1999.  ISBN: 089296711

     Upon his return to Rome from a special assignment in North Africa, Emperor Vespasian honors the private detective Marcus Didius with a new appointment.  He is to be the Procurator of Poultry for the Senate and People of Rome.  At the Temple of Juno Moneta a pair of hatched goslings need his tending otherwise it is the stew pot for them.
    Arriving home with his new sacred charges Falco overhears his girlfriend, Helena, and a young girl, Gaia, talking.  Gaia, a candidate for the recently opened position of Vestal virgin, believes someone in her family is trying to kill her.  She wants Falco to find out who that someone is and protect her. Falco suggests she return home dismissing her claim as a child's fantasy.
     Meanwhile Helena's brother stumbles onto a horrific murder at the festival of the Arval Brothers.  Having just been denied membership in the cult Aelianus leaves the crime scene in search of Falco.  Falco and Aelianus join forces to figure out the mystery of the man's identity and reason for his death.
      It seems apparent to both of them that the murder is related to some cult ritual other than the Arval Brothers.  Their investigation ultimately leads them to the home of Gaia Laeli, who has gone missing.
     No one seems to know when, where, why or how it happened.   Questioning family members and searching the home Falco comes up with nothing.  No one seems to know what happened to the girl.
    Unfortunately her disappearance means her name is withdrawn from the Vestal virgin lottery.  The Emperor wants Falco to find her immediately to avoid any bad omens for the city. 
     In the quest to locate the little girl Falco encounters family problems of his own, including the messy business of caring for the goslings.  Of course, the mystery is finally solved.  You can read it yourself to find out how the story ends.
     The author is masterful at using humor to make characters seem real. Davis walks her readers through locations in ancient Rome as if she had actually lived there centuries ago. Although the investigator is male the author gives her female characters considerable intelligence and influence.
Readers     Adults 
Genre         Fiction/Mystery
Period        Ancient Roman
Extras        Maps
                   Family Tree
Rome's Vestal Virgins
A Study of Rome's Vestal Priestesses
 in the Late Republic and Early Empire
Robin Lorsch Wildfang 
Routledge, London, 2006.  ISBN: 045397960

     An overview of the qualifications, rites, and roles of Vestal virgins in the city of Rome.  The author focuses considerable attention on the Vestal virgin's purity and their performance of purification rites.  He believes that both of these aspects, purity and purification, were connected to the well-being of Rome and the city's residents.
     The goddess Vesta is Rome and Rome therefore is the goddess Vesta. The fire tended by the Vestals is far more than symbolic.  It is the guardian spirit of the city of Rome.  A Vestal who lets the fire go out is severely punished with a flogging.
     Vestal virgins have a very rigorous ceremonial schedule.  They must attend to the daily rites in their own temple and participate in those of other cults.  A Vestal virgin sacrifices everything for the good of the city including their life if they take a lover before their thirty year term is completed.
     However, quite a few benefits and perks go along with the job.  They do not have to deal with the spectra of dying in childbirth.  As a "daughter of the city" Vestals get a living stipend, can own property and make wills, are able to speak as a witness in court.  They also get great seats at the races, theater, and coliseum for free.
     Dr. Wildfang points out there are some hazards to the job.  It seems there is a correlation between strife in the city and a Vestal being accused of being unchaste. Often times this occurs when the city experiences famine, pestilence, or the plague.
     Only six women in the entire city were chosen to be Vestal priestesses. The hopeful girls had to be between the ages of six and ten, have no physical disabilities, be born of Roman parents who were of the upper classes, alive and married.  Of the twenty candidates only one was chosen by lottery.
     The author is thorough in his approach to the cult of Vestal virgins.  He includes a list of known Vestal virgins, the original texts of translated quotes, and extensive bibliography.  While a great deal of the book is about the Vestal's purification role an equal amount of time is devoted to their influence and history.
Readers    Adults 
Genre        Non-fiction/History
Period       Ancient Rome
Extras       Photographs
                  Translated Texts
                  List of Known Vestals
The Role of the Vestal Virgins in Roman Civic Religion
A Structuralist Study of the crimen incesti
Lindsay J. Thompson
The Edwin Mellon Press, Lewiston, New York, 2010.  ISBN: 9780773447653

     To establish the role of Vestals within Roman civic religion Dr. Thompson uses the technique of structural analysis.  She is particularly interested in the the Vestal cult as part of the civic identity and the Vestal's consecrated virginity as a political symbol.  The focus throughout the entire book is on the role of the human body and the development of religion. The body actually becomes a political paradigm in which female gender plays an active role in creating social behavior. 
     The author's knowledge of ancient primary sources is impressive.  She refers to the original writings of many highly-esteemed ancient men.  Among the writers are the poet Virgil, the dramatist Seneca, the rhetorician Cicero, the philosopher Plato, and the emperor Julius Caesar.
     Using structural analysis she divides culture into four subsystems (ethos, mythos, praxis, and identity) which interact and influence individual identity and actions.  Ethos represents the authoritarian realities that shape human behavior and social norms (rules, values, ideals, and truths).  Mythos is the images and models humans create to interpret nature, experiences, and events.  Praxis refers to the socially prescribed routes to entitlement and power.  Ritual performance symbolically promotes the integration of an individual into a specific group and provides a religious identity for its members.
Readers      Adults 
Genre         Non-fiction/History
Period         Ancient Rome
Extras         Bibliography
Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons
Women in Roman Religion
Sarolta A. Takacs
University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 2008.  ISBN: 9780292716940

     Dr. Takacs provides us with a comprehensive history of Roman religion and the role women played in its development.  Unfortunately much of the research is based on the writings of ancient emperors, politicians, philosophers, and poets.  In spite of the fact her sources for information are all male the author succeeds in presenting the important contributions women made to the spiritual well-being of Rome.
     Starting at the very beginning of Roman history, Tackas takes us on an enlightening journey through time ending with the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. She transports the reader to Greece, Egypt, and Gaul searching for the origins of womanly religions.  She finds the goddess Isis of Egypt, Mater Magna of Greece, and the Sibyls of Persia.  Closer to home Tackas tells us of the history of the indigenous cults of Bona Dea and Vesta.
    Of particular interest is the chapter on life cycles and structures.  Takacs elaborates on the religious celebrations, ceremonies, and rituals for every month and day in the Roman calendar.  Her descriptions are detailed and enlightening.  Some of the monthly women's celebrations were held in:

      January -  festival celebrating the goddess of childbirth, Carmentis.  
      February - Parentalia ceremonies commemorated dead family members.
      March - beginning of the agricultural year and the Vestal Virgins rekindled a
                  new fire to mark the start of a new cycle.
      April -  set aside for Venus, the goddess of Love.
      May - Vestals threw full-size human effigies, made of reeds, into the Tiber
              River, reason unknown.
      June -  Matralia honored Mater Matuta, a mother and birth deity.
      July - festival of Nonae Caprotinae celebrated fertility.
      August - Consualia and Opiconsivia festivals marked the end of the harvest season.

     The author devotes a considerable amount of time to the women-only cult of Bona Dea, virgins of the goddess Vesta, and the Sibylline books.  Takacs includes useful brief biographies of ancient authors, a history timeline, and maps of ancient  Rome in her appendices.
Readers      Adults 
Genre         Non-fiction/History
Period        Ancient Rome
Extras         Photographs
                   Ancient Authors
                   List of Abbreviations
Genre         Fiction/History
Period         Ancient Rome
Extras         Readers Guide
Song of the Nile
A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter
Stephanie Dray
The Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, 2011.  ISBN: 978025243046

     Cleopatra Selene is marrying King Juba.  Octavian plans a lavish wedding to celebrate the occasion before sending the newlywed couple to oversee the opening of a new seaport in Mauretania.  Before they leave Octavian privately crowns Selene as Juba's queen exacting her virginity as payment for the honor.  Reeling with anger she curses him in the name of Isis.
     Landing in Mauretania Cleopatra and Juba try to establish Roman rule among the many barbarian tribes.  Still emotionally suffering from Octavian's depraved rape Selene seeks solace in the ruins of the temple of Isis.  It is here that Helios finds her and they make love.
     In due time Selene gives birth to a daughter and names her Cleopatra Isadora.  Its not clear who is the father, Octavian or Helios.  Cleopatra Selene has yet to consummate her legal marriage.  Juba, in spite of his belief that Isadora is the emperor's child, treats her as his own daughter.  
     Working together the couple try to meld the country into a productive land. Queen Selene tends to the needs of the people while King Juba negotiates for peaceful relations among the tribes.  Cleopatra Selene is recalled to Rome.
     Octavian is at death's door and wants to see his 'Cleopatra' and her daughter before he dies.  Under her care he recovers his strength only to find the people of Rome starving.   Luckily for him, grain from Mauretania gets to the city just in time to feed the rebellious crowds.
     Returning to Mauretania with her daughter, she assumes rule while Juba explores his country.  Her trusted priest, Euphronius, helps her learn to use her heka to protect herself.  Once more Octavian summons Selene, this time to the Isle of Samos in Greece.  He  wants to use her influence to avoid war in Egypt and provide him with a male heir.  While here she passionately reunites with Helios as Horus, the avenger.  Foiling Octavian's seduction she returns to Mauretania ready to begin a true marriage with Juba. 
     I liked this book as much as Lily of the Nile.  Another one, Daughter's of the Nile, is almost ready for publication.
Genre          Fiction/History
Period          Ancient Rome
Extras          Map
                     Authors Notes
                     Readers Guide
Religions of Rome
Volume 1: A History
Volume 2: A Sourcebook
Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price
Cambridge University Press, New York, 1998.  ISBN:  0-521-31682-0

     Mary Beard, a well-known Classics lecturer at Cambridge University in England, has compiled a history of ancient Roman religion from its earliest days to the fifth century.  She has covered the influence of Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, and Gaulish religion on Rome, its emperors, people, politics, and daily lives.  Pagan female and male deities, Jewish beliefs, and the development of Christianity are included in her overview.
     For me the extensive maps that show the location of Roman, Jewish, and Christian temples and shrines is most intriguing.  It helps explain why there are so many Christian churches in Rome.  I've been told that every site of a pagan temple was made into a Christian church.  A generous amount of relevant photographs keep this book from feeling like a tome.  It is well organized, easily read, and insightful.
     Among the goddesses covered are Magna Mater, Cybele, Bona Dea, Ceres, Demeter, Isis, Minerva, Prosperina, Roma, Sibyl, Venus, and Vesta.
     The Sourcebook is a mine of information.  The book is packed with detailed information about the Roman calendar, religious holidays, diagrams of religious buildings, photographs of sites, and descriptions of ritual practices. 
I found reading it a fascinating and enlightening experience.  I strongly recommend reading both of these books at the same time.
Readers        Adults
Genre           Non-Fiction/History
Period           Ancient Roman
Extras           Maps
Lily of the Nile
A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter
Stephanie Dray
The Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, 2010.  ISBN: 9780425238554

     Octavian has finally defeated Queen Cleopatra and occupied the city of Alexandria.  While he anticipates the glory of parading her in his victory march through Rome Cleopatra plans her death.  She retreats to her sepulcher and waits for her children to visit.  
     Cleopatra's young daughter Selene arrives, with her twin brother Helios and younger brother Philadelphus, bringing with her the infamous poisonous asp hidden in a basket of food.  As a departing gift Cleopatra gives each child a gift. Selene receives a frog amulet made of stone inscribed with the saying I am the Resurrection
     The queen's suicide leaves behind only these three royal Egyptian children, fathered by Mark Anthony, with no mother to protect them.  It's Mark Anthony's deserted wife, Octavian's sister, who offers to take them into her home and care for them.  Under the guardianship of Octavian they are exposed to Roman values and shaped into proper Roman citizens.
     However, Cleopatra's son Helios is a challenge for Octavian.  He rebels and runs away.  Helios is a skilled soldier and charismatic leader.  Supported by the ever persecuted followers of Isis he wreaks havoc throughout the Roman Empire.    
    Selene tries to be more pliant hoping Octavian will restore her to the throne of Egypt.  She is expected to do household chores and becomes a capable weaver but she also spends her time taking classes with her cousins.  Juba, another royal captive, is their tutor.  Selene is adept at languages and provides interpreting services for Octavian.
     Feeling guilty about her role in her mother's death Selene stops worshiping Isis.  The goddess refuses to be ignored.  She etches hieroglyphic messages into Selene's skin leaving her bloody and bewildered.  Euphronius, Selene's childhood tutor and a priest of Isis, helps her understand their meanings and hone her heka.  
     Octavian, exercising his power as paterfamilias, marries off his relative's children strictly for political reasons.  No thought is given to love or suitability. Selene is betrothed to her tutor Juba.  Octavian makes them king and queen of Mauretania.  They are to build a new lucrative seaport for transporting goods to Rome.
     The excitement of this story comes from the many levels of conflict (interpersonal, political, and religious) between all the characters.  Situations feel impending.  Sites feel real.  Descriptions are vibrant and lively.  Rarely do I look forward to a sequel but I'm already reading Song of the Nile.
Isis in the Ancient World
R. E. Witt
The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1997.
ISBN: 0801856426

     A fascinating look at the goddess Isis and Isis religion as an ancient world phenomenon.  This book covers the dissemination and assimilation of Isis beliefs and practices via trade routes and migration pathways.  From its original source on the Nile River in Egypt to the Danube River in Germany we learn about her followers and priests, shrines and temples.
     Isis is the goddess of many names in the Graeco-Roman World.  In Athens she is known as Minerva, Cypriots call her Venus, Cretans fashion her as Diana, Sicilians revere her as Properina, Elusians claim her as Ceres, and in Rome Isis becomes Bellona.  Moreover Isis is a goddess for all the people from royalty to slaves.
     As a goddess she is both human and divine.  She destructively controls the elements and, at the very same time, protects human beings from evil.  Isis heals the sick, guides the lost, and heralds a new future, but perhaps her greatest appeal is her offer of salvation and life after death.
     Traveling through history from 2500 B.C. to 400 A.D. the author shares with us her trials and tribulations.  Isis is embraced and disowned by Roman emperors.  The Christians denounce her as wicked and destroy her temples building their own churches on top of them. 
     R. E. Witt taught at Queen Mary's College at the University of London.  His writing shows a genuine respect and admiration for the importance of the goddess Isis in the ancient world.  He reflects on her as the all-loving mother and devoted wife.  He also investigates the greatness of her role as Artemis.
     Witt postulates that Isis, as Artemis, is the inspiration for Xenophon's  Ephesiaca.   Ephesiaca is believed to be the first romantic novel ever written. (The story is published in Three Greek Romances by Moses Hades, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1953.  I found many copies of it for sale on the internet but I was able to get it from the library.) 
     Witt recounts the story of the heroine Anthia and her lover, Habrokomes, who have adventures similar to Isis and Osiris.  They embark on a perilous journey to Egypt.   After many trials and tribulations both of them are faced with death and dying.  Fortunately, when they finally reach the temple of Isis in Rhodes the merciful goddess grants the debased couple rebirth and a new life together.
     The Notes in the back of the book are particularly informative and insightful. Witt is apparently well read.  His bibliography includes books in Greek, French, German, and Egyptian hieroglyphic.  The black and white photos portray images of Isis from ancient to medieval times.
     I think this is a truly remarkable book that is excellently written.  A scholarly book for women about women by a man who appreciates our cultural influence and understands our vital role in history.
Readers      Adults
Genre         Non-fiction/History
Period        Roman Empire
Extras        Photographs
Karen Essex
Warner Books, New York, 2001.  ISBN: 0446527408

     Before reading this book it is important to know Kleopatra was not a pharaoh.  She ruled as queen of Egypt with either a brother-husband or son as pharaoh.  However, as queen she had considerable power because she was always considerably older than any of the pharaohs.
     Ceasar is in Egypt.  Kleopatra, desparate to meet him, rolls herself up into a rug and is smuggled into the palace.  Surprised by her dramatic entrance Caesar is charmed by her tenacity, intelligence, and acumen.  Her Pharaoh brother-husband Ptolemy XII is considerably upset by her return.
     He and his sister Arsinoe wage war on Caesar.  Caesar is victorious, Ptolemy XII drowns, and Arsinoe is his captive.  Kleopatra is married to her other younger brother Ptolemy XIV, who then becomes Pharaoh, and she is reinstated as queen.
     During his time in Alexandria Caesar and Kleopatra form a political alliance and become intimate companions.  Kleopatra becomes pregnant.  She gives birth to Caesarion after Caesar returns to Rome.
     Two years later Kleopatra follows Caesar to Rome with their two-year old son, her brother-husband Pharaoh, and a retinue of servants and slaves. Caesar houses her in his country villa but continues to live with his wife, Calpurnia, in the city.
     While it is illegal for Caesar to divorce Calpurnia and marry the non-Roman Kleopatra he does recognize Caesarion as his son.  Roman law, however, does not allow him to adopt Caesarion so he makes his nephew heir.
     The assasination of Caesar places Kleopatra in a difficult position.  Her main supporter is dead.  Many influential Roman patricians and citizens disapprove of Caesar and Kleopatra's relationship. They believe the two of them plan to join forces and rule the Roman Empire together.
     She stays long enough in Rome to see Caesar's funeral and then she leaves for Egypt.  Life in the Roman Empire is unpredictable and chaotic.  A sense of stability is seemingly established when Octavian and Anthony agree to jointly rule the empire.  Octavian rules in the west and Anthony rules in the east.  
     As sole dictator in the east Anthony summons Kleopatra to Athens.  He expects Kleopatra to defer to him but quickly learns she has no intention of being subservient to Rome or him.  She cleverly seduces Anthony and they become lovers.  Within a year she gives birth to twins, Kleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios.
     Octavian is enraged by this relationship.  To ease tensions Anthony agrees to marry Octavian's sister, Octavia.  They live together in Athens and have two daughters.  However, for some reason or another three years later Anthony goes back to Kleopatra.
     Outraged by Anthony's behavior Octavian declares war on Egypt.  Battles are fought and Rome reigns supreme.  Anthony and Kleopatra commit suicide leaving behind another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.  Octavian has Caesarion killed.
     Most of us are familiar with the story of Kleopatra, Caesar, and Anthony. How then is this Kleopatra different from other Cleopatras.  Perhaps it is because Essex has created a Kleopatra who is strong, intelligent, and cultured.  The author portrays her as a woman with a mission.
     Even though Kleopatra's family was originally from Greece we see a Queen who loves her country and people.  It seems her sole purpose in life is to keep Egypt an autonomous country.
     The author helps us understand that Kleopatra's tragic death is also the end of her dream.  She knows Octavian will annex Egypt and take her children to Rome to become loyal citizens.  Yet she embraces her death believing that she will live again as the goddess Isis.
     Although Octavian killed both of her sons Kleopatra and Anthony's daughter, another Isis, Kleopatra Selene lived to be the ancestress of several Roman rulers.  So Kleopatra's vision of a Graeco-Roman Empire did finally come to fruition.
Readers      Adults 
Genre         Fiction/History
Period         Ancient Egypt
Extras         Maps