Good day everyone! Yesterday I posted a book spotlight on Stephanie’s newest novel Song of the Nile and today we are lucky enough to have a guest post from her. As I said yesterday this novel is just as good as the first one, Lily of the Nile, so check back for my review on Friday. Stephanie has a post for us today entitled Music in Antiquity (Songs in the world of Cleopatra Selene). Enjoy…
My forthcoming novel is entitled SONG OF THE NILE and when I was writing it, I spent some time wondering just what that song might sound like. Today we take it for granted that our favorite song can be recorded. We don’t have to hire the band to come to our house; we can just play it on our mp3 players. But while ancient poetry and sculptures have survived the ages, the music of antiquity is lost to us.
Allegedly, a form of musical notation did exist for the Greeks and Romans but generally went unused, because the art and mystery of music was supposed to be passed down from master to pupil. Even so, we know that music was an important part of ancient life because we see musicians depicted in frescoes and other art work that has survived. We even know the kinds of instruments they played.
Among the string instruments were the lyre and the cithara, the former being a smaller instrument for personal use, and the latter being an instrument for the stage. I wanted my heroine, Cleopatra Selene, to use music to charm the emperor, as if to soothe the savage beast. Consequently, I chose the cithara for her because it was closely associated with Apollo, the emperor’s patron deity.
Like a cross between a guitar and a harp, the cithara was played by singers or used in conjunction with a choir. A very close modern day relative of the instrument is the Ethiopian krar. (Here is a video of a woman playing the krar.) Just like modern harpists and guitar players can use a pick to strum on their instruments, so too did the ancients.
As for wind instruments, there were pipes aplenty in antiquity. Flutes, trumpets and horns figure prominently in ancient literature and artwork. Then, as now, they were useful not only for music but as a signal for battle or a warning of some imminent event. The one wind instrument I suspect Cleopatra Selene wanted nothing to do with was the flute. This is because her grandfather, Ptolemy XII, was mocked by the Romans as being a flouncing music-loving king. They called him Auletes, the Flute Player, a taunt that stuck with him throughout his reign.
The most important percussion instrument in the life of Cleopatra Selene would have been the sistrum, which was sacred to her goddess, Isis. Though technically a rattle, it sounds like many cymbals clanking together, somehow mysterious and otherworldly. (At the end of this video around 1:17, you can hear the shake of a sistrum and you’ll hear why it was used often by the priests and priestesses of Isis in their temples.)
How all these instruments came together in song, however, is a mystery. Because we have no recorded music, and only rudimentary notations, reproducing ancient music is an exercise in forensic archaeology. Nonetheless, there are several enterprising musicians who have tried, including Synaulia, whose music has been used on scores for movies like Gladiator.
I often listen to this music when I’m writing, to help me imagine the sounds that Selene would have heard during her lifetime. But the Song of the Nile? That is a call of her homeland, deep inside.
Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing this great guest post with us. It was really interesting to read about the type of music and instruments that would have been played so long ago.
About Song of the Nile
Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…
Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.
Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.
But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?
About Stephanie Dray
Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.
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.
Be sure to check out the great giveaway that Stephanie has going on to win a Nook for reviewing any of her books! As well be sure to check out my giveaway of Song of the Nile that I posted yesterday!