Monthly Archives: April 2014

Dee L. Clayman, Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt

(2014-01-17 002)

Title: Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt

Author: Dee L. Clayman

Series: Women in Antiquity

Publication Information: Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, c2014

ISBN: 978-0-19-537089-8

Library of Congress Classification: DT92

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Berenice, Queen, consort of Ptolemy III, King of Egypt, approximately 270 B.C.-221 B.C.
Queens—Egypt—Biography
Egypt—History—332-30 B.C.
Berenice, Queen, consort of Ptolemy III, King of Egypt, approximately 270 B.C.-221 B.C.—In literature

First, I want to say that I know Dee Clayman. I am the library liaison to the Classics Program at the Graduate and University Center, City University of New York, and Clayman is the executive officer of the program.

That said, this is an interesting piece of detective work. It’s easy when writing biographies of modern people; there’s a plethora of information out there in print and on the Internet, documents, newspaper articles, photographs, you name it and you can probably find it. However, the further back into history the person existed, the harder and harder it is to do a biography.

Bernice II, the wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (“benefactor”), was the princess of Cyrene, which ruled the Cyrenaica, an area that is now in Libya but at that time was, up until the time of the Alexander the Great, for the most part independent. A delegation from the city met Alexander in the Siwan oasis and surrendered the city to him. Since Ptolemy I Soter (“savior’”) saw himself as Alexander’s successor in Egypt, Cyrenaica was naturally viewed as being under Ptolemaic control even though in actuality the area regained its independence.

Bernice is portrayed as a very strong woman, operating within and without the traditional, limited roles assigned by women in the Greek world. Her father, King Magas, had planned on her marrying her cousin Ptolemy, thereby bringing Cyrenaica back under Egyptian control. Upon his death, however, Bernice’s mother, Apama, had other ideas. She repudiated the arranged marriage and instead had Bernice marry Demetrius the Fair, a prince from Macedonia. Demetrius was arrogant and scandalized the Cyrenean court by having an affair with his mother-in-law. (This was probably considered incest by the Greeks.) Taking advantage of the situation, Berenice rallied support behind her, and had Demetrius killed in his mother’s bed chamber; she spared her mother’s life. After this, Berenice sailed to Alexandria and married Ptolemy just as her father had planned.

And what do we know about Berenice? All that is known comes from the literature of the time. Callimachus, appointed head of the Alexandrian library, was one who would write poetry in praise of Berenice. This type of hagiography is typical for the time, but not all hagiographers were successful in their works. Apollonius Rhodius, the author of Argonautica which was about Ptolemaic times veiled in mythology, was driven from Alexandria and ended up in exile on the island of Rhodes. Callimachus, also from Cyrene, had a common background with Berenice that he exploited until he became close to her—as close as a servant could come to a queen.

Berenice, like her husband, was a highly cultured individual. Heads of sculpture identified as Berenice have been found in Alexandria and all over the Near East including the Athenian agora, thus serving as an example of the influence of Ptolemy III over the region. It was at this time that Ptolemaic Greek culture flourished; the Alexandrian library was well-funded, and Ptolemy and Berenice built temples all over Egypt. The Serapeum in Egypt was enlarged, with a library being added which was known as the “daughter” of the original Alexandrian library. The Ptolemaion, a gymnasium that also contained a library, was probably built by Ptolemy III and given as a gift to the people of Athens. There is even some evidence that Bernice may have played a role in foreign affairs.

How the Ptolemies portrayed themselves to their subjects and the world deserves mention. It was ancient Egyptian custom for the kings of Egypt to marry their sisters and daughters. These incestuous unions were common. Ptolemy I portrayed himself and his wife as brother and sister even though they were not. Ptolemy II actually married his full sister and had Ptolemy III and other children with her. Ptolemy III and Bernice’s marriage was cast in terms of a brother-sister union. Outside of Egypt, however, unions of this type (Ptolemy I and III’s marriages; Ptolemy II’s certainly) would considered incestuous; the Greeks would not have accepted them. Therefore, all three Ptolemies and their wives were referred to in traditional terms of king and queen. Only in Egypt was the brother-sister unions promoted and seen as a continuation of the dynasties that came before.

Clayman compares Berenice to Cleopatra VII—the Cleopatra known from her love affairs with Caesar and Antony. Both were daring, intelligent women. Unlike Berenice, Cleopatra ruled in her own right; like Berenice, Cleopatra’s end was tragic. Berenice was murdered by her son, Ptolemy IV who killed not only her but his younger brother Magas and his uncle to make sure there was no one to challenge his rule. And from here, Ptolemaic Egypt declined as Ptolemy IV, debauched and irresponsible, started the state on its way to ruin. Ironically, Cleopatra was not only the last of the Ptolemies but also a very intelligent, cultured and capable individual that, in better times, could have continued the expansion and influence of Ptolemy III and Bernice II. Unfortunately, she inherited an Egypt that already hampered by Roman interests, its greatness long gone.

This book actually supplements my research focus on ancient libraries. It was interesting to get a flavor of who was ruling Egypt at the time when the Alexandrian library and Museion (the scholarly building of which the library was a part) were at their height.

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Scott Lobdell, Teen Titans: Volume 3: Death of the Family

(2014-03-23 006)Title: Teen Titans: Volume 3, Death of the Family

Author: Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Brett Booth, writers; Greg Capullo, Brett Booth, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Tyler Kirkham, Batt, Norm Rapmund, Jon Sibal, Timothy Green II, Wayne Faucher, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, artists

Series: New 52

Publication Information: New York, NY: DC Comics, 2013

ISBN: 978-14-0124321-0

Library of Congress Classification: PN6728.T34

Dewey Decimal Classification: 741.5/973

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Teen Titans (Fictitious characters)—Comic books, strips, etc.
Joker (Fictitious character)—Comic books, strips, etc.
Superheroes—Comic books, strips, etc.
Teenagers—Comic books, strips, etc.
Science fiction comic books, strips, etc.
Graphic novels—United States

“Death of the Family will go down as one of the best Joker stories in history”–Craveonline

This quote is from the cover. Is it one of the best Joker stories? More on that in a minute.

 The Death of the Family is part of DC’s “New 52” which has recreated the DC Universe yet again. I followed the first re-imaging, The Crisis on Infinite Earths. This means that all the stories that have come before on all the DC characters no longer exist; the slate is wiped clean. It’s a new universe where the characters are re-introduced, and everything starts over again but with different twists.

One of my favorite Batman stories of all time is The Killing Joke, which was one of the first graphic novels. In it, the Joker destroys the crimefighting career of Barbara Gordon who, as Batgirl, fought alongside Batman. Her back is broken, thereby changing her entire life. That was a very disturbing story. The Death in the Family may be even more upsetting.

The Joker, more horribly scarred than he was in his last incarnation, kidnaps Batgirl, Red Robin and Red Hood–Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake and Jason Todd. In the last universe, Jason Todd was the new Robin after Dick Grayson left to become Nightwing. In yet another disturbing story, the Joker kills Todd after it was left up to the readers to decide his fate. This is when Drake joined Batman as his sidekick. In this current incarnation, Todd never died and had a falling out with Batman; Drake became Red Robin and took his place.

I became a fan of the Teen Titans when they were introduced as the New Teen Titans, drawn originally by George Pérez. Drake also is the leader of the Teen Titans even though they really don’t know his true identity although he knows theirs. We get Drake’s origin story that parallels Grayson’s. However, it’s hard to swallow Drake’s reasons for wanting to join Batman. I found it absurd.

The story quickly turns into a Batman story as the Titans fail to find their leader or Batgirl. The Joker has set this up to bring Batman to him, which works. The argument between Batman and the Joker is quite intense, as is what the Joker shows Batman he did to his young protégées.

Is this one of the best Joker stories ever? Definitely. It’s quite disturbing.

Thomas A. Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: the American Quest for a Relatable Past

(2014-03-09 023)Title: Sex Lives and the Founding Fathers: the American Quest for a Relatable Past [NETGALLERY DOWNLOAD]

Author: Thomas A. Foster

Series: Sexuality Studies

Publication Information: Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014

ISBN: 1439911029 (978-1439911020)

Library of Congress Classification: E302.5

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Founding Fathers of the United States—Sexual behavior—United States—History
Presidents—Sexual behavior—United States—History
United States—History, 1783-1815—Biography

This is an interesting book.

Anything that has sex in the title usually sells, and Foster goes through the sex lives of the Founding Fathers: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris, the least remembered. Foster traces how the sex lives (what we know about them, which in most cases is not much) have changed in biographies over time from right after the Revolutionary War to now. It is a fascinating look at how society has perceived the Founders, and the importance of their sex lives is to the public.

Most of the Founders left very little about their personal lives, with the exception of Franklin and Morris. With George’s death, Martha Washington burned most of their correspondence so little of it remains. Adams was fearful of putting anything private in letters because a popular past-time was the reading of letters to friends and relatives. Private parts of letters were marked but Adams took no chances. What is known about Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the slave who is now believed was his lover, is circumstantial. Such stories circulated about Jefferson while he lived, but such stories were put out by political opponents to smear their rivals. There is no doubt that Hemings’ descendants are related to the third president, but was he or another Jefferson  her lover?

Hamilton’s affair with another woman was made public by his enemies because he was being blackmailed by the woman and her husband; he enemies wanted to cast Hamilton as an embezzler of public funds to pay off the blackmailers. This proved to be untrue and Hamilton, who was illegitimate, went public with what happened to him. Washington stood by him.

Franklin wrote is autobiography, which allowed him to shape his legacy, the only Founder to do so. His oldest son was born out of wedlock, and Franklin and his wife raised the boy. Franklin has always been seen as a ladies man, and he was sexually active before he married. He also had plenty of opportunities when he was in France. Franklin made the rounds of the salons that were run by women, but these groups were more than just social get-togethers. Politics, dealing and spying were rolled into the gatherings presided over by the French aristocratic women. Did Franklin cheat on his wife, or was it all just show? He is not considered a good husband; even after receiving a letter from his wife imploring him to return home to see her before she died, he did not come back until after her death.

Was Adams a good husband? Like the relationship between George and Martha Washington, the marriage of John and Abigail Adams has been portrayed as loving and warm. Adams was not at home much, traveling around the colonies and eventually going to France with Franklin to represent the United States at the French court during the Revolution. Again, there is not much evidence to base a judgment. Hamilton is seen by many as the “gay” Founder because of an intense relationship he had with another soldier in the Revolutionary Army. There are letters where their affection for one another is evident, but Foster points out that letters of the time were written in a certain style. Was Hamilton close friends with this young man, who died in the Revolution, or were they lovers? Again, the evidence is circumstantial.

Morris’ legacy was mixed right after he died; he was a known libertine, at least before he got married (in his 50s); he liked sex, and he liked women. Unlike the rest, including Franklin, Morris kept extensive diaries that not only discussed what he was doing but with whom he was having affairs. It was not unusual for Morris to record his activities in the salon, doing some political dealing, then slipping off to have a tryst with his favorite aristocrat, whose cuckold husband was clueless and, at least in one case, was in the next room. What is most shocking is that many of Morris’ entries have been vandalized; lines and pieces of entries have been scratched out, making much of it unreadable. An earlier biography by a relative cited some of these now-destroyed entries, so who vandalized the diaries?

A very interesting book.