03 January 2010


Zenobia's blog, that is -- three years old today. Back in 2007, when Zenobia went on-line for the first time, we began with a poem by Anne Stevenson.

Today, as befits the darker vision of this New Decade, I turn to Frank Manley. Here is his Zenobia

Zenobia rose like the star of the East,
Cleopatra redivivus, Queen of Egypt
and Palmyra, relict of Septimius Odaenathus,
rival of Rome.

Taken in battle,
she was led in triumph and forced
to wear her entire wardrobe -- silk-
on-silk-on-cloth-of-gold-on-fur --
layer on layer. She looked like a thief.

And all her jewels, rope after rope
of pearls, kilos of diamonds, carbuncles.
Her feet were bound with shackles of gold.
Around her neck, a gold and onyx
chain, the weight of which was borne by
a passing dervish from Persia, who surmised
she was being punished for prostitution. She fell
three times before attaining the Capitol,
where, stripped of her jewels and garments,
she was made to endure a mock execution,
during which she flung herself from the parapet.

The crowd below snatched at her scalp and pubes
for hair, seeking souvenirs of her greatness.

Frank Manley, American poet, playwright, and Renaissance drama specialist, was professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia until he retired in 2000. According to the New Georgia Encyclopaedia/Companion to Georgia Literature, his fiction "typically features characters who are imprisoned in some way and for whom chance encounters offer the possibility of liberation."

Manley's Zenobia* certainly liberates herself in a most gruesome, direct way. Her plunge from the execution grounds on the Capitoline Hill is not exactly in line with history, but that ending went through me like a sword.

Happy MMX to all readers.

* © 1983. Frank Manley. (From
The Sewanee Review, Vol. 91, No. 1).


  1. Anonymous3/1/10 21:54

    Congratulations! Blog-wise we are almost of an age. May yours go to yet greater strengths in the future. (And that Manley poem, the scansion I find awkward but the splendour and the squalor and the humanity and dignity all worked up next to each other like that, it is very well done.)

  2. oh my...what an end, poetic license or not.

  3. Not really pertinent to the post, but in Thomas Harlan's Oath of Empire Zenobia is the name given to the queen of Palmyra in an alternate Earth; one where western Rome has survived to the 7th century AD thanks to the oath in question, powered by working magic.

    This Zenobia is an ally of Rome and Byzantium in their war against the Persians, and ends up getting betrayed by them. She also meets the future prophet Mohammed and becomes his lover. It being Mohammed who takes up command of Palmyra's forces during the Persian siege.

    Zenobia is killed at the end of the siege, her body hidden by Mohammed and his men. The body is later recovered from the grave by Zenobia's younger sister, now queen of Palmyra. Who in turn is suborned by the Persian prince and vampire Dahak, who aids Zenobia in possessing the younger woman.

    In the end Zenobia is fully restored to life by the new Roman Emperor/Sauron analog Maxian. Mohammed, her one time lover has in the meantime become a prophet of God, a bhodisvatta, and an analog of Gandalf the White.

    Thomas Harlan has freely admitted to the parallels with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

  4. Good heavens, mythusmage, that's quite a story line. And I thought my Zenobia novel was bold!

    Thanks for letting me know about her manifestation in alternate earth.


  5. Judith,

    You can't really call Harlan's Zenobia a lead character, she's more a supporting character. Later to become a henchwoman to another supporting character. Still, the romance of Mohammed and Zenobia could be a story of its own. Search for "Thomas Harlan", he has a web presence. He might be interested in the possibilities.

  6. Charles Freeman.27/1/10 15:32

    Judith/ Zenobia - congratulations on your third birthday. Palmyra is one the sites in my Blue Guide to the Sites of Antiquity so I was pleased to see your enthusiasm.
    Also I understand that you have been supporting me against a somewhat arrogant Australian blogger. I am just coming up to forty years earning (often precariously!) my living from teaching, writing, lecturing in history so it has been a source of great hilarity to me and my friends to be called an amateur by a twenty-something year old. Perhaps with age he will realise that a successful blog needs to be responsive to all views and that the joy of history is that there is no one interpretation. We live in hope.
    Good luck with your work, Charles Freeman.


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