By Vicky Alvear Shecter
That was one of the first questions I asked myself when I began thinking about writing my debut novel from the point of view of the queen’s only surviving child, her daughter, Selene. Plutarch gives us the most telling clue.
Unlike most Hollywood versions of her story, Plutarch says the queen did not kill herself right after Antony died. Instead, she negotiated with her conqueror – Octavian – for weeks before she reached for the asp. Weeks! And what did she negotiate for? The lives of her children.
In doing so, she had revealed her Achilles heel. Octavian took advantage of her desire to keep them safe and alive. Plutarch says he battered her “with threats and fears regarding her children…as by engines of war.” (Life of Antony, 82.4).
So then, why did she kill herself when she did? What happened to make her lose hope? Plutarch says that her first-born, Caesarion was murdered right after she killed herself. What if, I asked myself, he got the timing a bit off? (Plutarch wrote about the queen 90 or so years after her death.) What if, she’d learned that her eldest had been hunted down and murdered, despite her desperate efforts to save him? The grief of losing a child would make any mother inconsolable, queen or no queen.
She probably also realized that the only possible hope of saving her other children was to take herself out of the picture. Suddenly, the timing of her suicide made sense. I wondered, then, what life must have been like for the daughter of such a strong and passionate woman. Cleopatra’s Moon grew from there.
About the author: Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of two biographies for children, Alexander the Great Rocks the World and Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen. Cleopatra’s Moon is her first young adult historical fiction novel. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta.
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