Since reading Michelle Moran‘s ‘Cleopatra’s Daughter‘ I have been addicted to the book & keep on thinking about it. While I am waiting for the rest of her books to be delivered to me I went to her site which is very informative & full of pictures of her travels across the world. From the ‘book clubs’ tab on her site I got the following questions:
Q: What, if any, elements of the ancient Roman world seem similar to life today?
A: Romans show a great deal of interest in theatre & betting which is quite similar to real life. Also, relationships between two men or two women are common & acceptable in their society, a thing which we have yet to achieve even today.
Q: In the beginning of the novel, Octavian comes across as a ruthless man willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power. Does anything change as the story progresses? How do you feel about him in the end? Did your feelings change at all? Why do you think he treats Selene the way he does as the novel closes?
A: In my opinion Octavian was a shrewd man. He ruled Rome for such a long duration for a reason; he knew exactly what his people wanted. Octavian must have decided Alexander’s faith the day he captured the twins. But like a true king & politician he raised the twins, treated them like royalty initially so that the citizens of Rome would love their King for his kindness even towards the children of his enemy. But no sooner did Alexander turn fifteen, even from a great distance, Octavian had him murdered. Selene was always the prize Octavian wanted Juba to have for his loyalties & hence she was treated like a princess, for she would one day be queen. This is quite apparent from the way Juba treats Selene throughout the book, he always knew she was his. 🙂
Q: Selene has a complex relationship with Julia. Do her feelings about Julia change during the course of the novel? If so, why?
A: Selene might have been initially jealous of Julia as both the girls were interested in Marcellus. Also, Julia was the daughter of Octavian & a princess. Selene was natural to feel antipathy towards the daughter of the man who killed her parents & the daughter who was so beautiful & who still had what Selene once possessed: royalty! Selene’s feelings towards Julia surely change as the novel progresses. This is quite obvious from their many shopping trips together, Selene’s participation in Julia’s marriage, etc. Towards the end I think they might have turned good friends.
Q: Octavian/Augustus governed Rome for decades; sometimes with guile, often with ruthless force. In the novel we see his use of assassinations (of rivals, real and imagined), as well as collective punishment following the attempt on his life. Can this leadership style be justified by his focus on order and stability? In their quest for these, what boundaries should leaders never cross?
A: Octavian was a King & hence as a ruler he would sometimes have had to make decisions which would seem cruel to the common man. The trial in which he allowed the execution of 200 slaves was unfair. There was no way the old & the children could have participated in the murder of their master. If he had to make an example out of the slaves (which was necessary to stop further such revolts), he should have spared the children & elderly & executed the rest of them.
Q: Selene has two romantic interests in the novel. How does her attitude and character change as she matures and passes from one romance to the other?
A: While Selene finds Marcellus attractive physically, she is deeply attracted to Juba’s valour & intelligence even when she is denying it. Her constant fights with him indicate a grudging interest & respect which she feels for him in spite of herself.
Q: Octavia shows tremendous compassion for the adopted children placed in her care. How would you have responded to a betrayal like that of Antony?
A: I do not think I would have a heart as big as Octavia did. While I wouldn’t be cruel or anything to my husband’s children from his other wife neither would I be able to love them as much as Octavia did the twins.
Q: The slave trials described in the novel were real examples of Roman collective punishment. How does the administration of justice in classical times differ from the modern ones we know today?
A: It differs dramatically! Today we have justice other than death. In ancient times death seemed like the only sort of justice available. You either lived or died. 😦
Q: Was the Roman system of law, administration, learning and empire a net gain or net loss for those that it conquered?
A: Losing freedom to no matter how great & progressed an empire is always a net loss. Better systems of law, administration, etc can never compensate for the loss of freedom can never. When a nation is conquered the first thing it loses is its culture which it turns leads to its decay & downfall.
Q: Egypt has always fascinated outsiders, including in this novel, Julia. Why?
A: Today we are fascinated by Egypt because archaelogical excavations have shown that Egypt was a rich, flourishing kingdom. It had its own culture, language, Gods, coins, administrative system. It is a world similar to ours, but very very ancient at the same time. Julia’s fascination may have stemmed from a need to be away from the constant schemings in the palace. It could also be due to the wonderful tales she must have heard from Selene & Alexander.
Q: Omen, superstitions, and protection by family spirits play a significant part in the novel and in Roman life. What is the source of these widespread human traditions, and how do such emotions and habits express themselves today?
A: Omens, superstitions all stem from years of coincidences. They are also ways to ensure that the royalty doesn’t become so powerful that they forget God & some power is maintained by the priests too. A king who has to consult no one, who doesn’t have to bother about anybody’s opinions can turn dangerous & selfish. Such beliefs are as prevalent today as they were then. The forms may have changed but superstitions remain.
Q:How does the Roman attitude to marriage, sex, and promiscuity compare to our own?
A: Although I consider myself fairly liberal I was shocked to see the promiscuity prevalent in the old Roman times. It was shocking to learn that Kings could command men to leave their pregnant wife to marry another woman for the sake of political gain. I was disgusted to know that women were nothing more than things to be enjoyed & discarded at will.
Other than the 11 questions above I have a question of my own.
Juba & Alexander both were children of Kings whose kingdoms Octavian/ Augustus had conquered. He had killed Juba’s father & Alexander’s parents. While Egypt was a more powerful kingdom than Juba’s, Juba was trained in military combat. He was useful to Octavian but didn’t his knowledge make him more dangerous to Octavian & the Roman Empire? Octavian perceived a 15 year old Alexander as a threat to Rome & himself & had him murdered. Then why wasn’t Juba killed for the same reasons? Alexander had never shown any interest in military work, politics or any thing which could make him dangerous in the future. On the other hand Juba was well trained soldier, mapped the world’s lands & seas as a hobby & yet was a close confidante of Octavian. So my question is why did Octavian not kill Juba too?