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Agrippa's Daughter by Howard Fast

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annis
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Agrippa's Daughter by Howard Fast

Post by annis » Fri February 20th, 2009, 11:34 pm

Image

Not the bodice-ripping historical pot-boiler suggested by its appearance, this is a vivid picture of first century Israel in the years preceding the Great Jewish Revolt of 66AD. In telling the story of the last Jewish Queen, Berenice, Fast tells the story of Judæa, a country in melt-down, and of the political and philosophical forces in play which led to the catastrophic siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, its fall, and the destruction of the heart of Judaism, the magnificentTemple built by Berenice’s great-grandfather, Herod the Great.

Berenice was a striking figure, beautiful and intelligent. She and her brother Agrippa were the youngest children of Agrippa I, client King of Israel under Roman rule. A cosmopolitan man, he grew up in Rome and was a great friend of the emperor Claudius; both his younger children lived there for a time and as well as Aramaic and Hebrew, were fluent speakers of Latin, and also of Greek, Hellenic culture and philosophy being a strong influence throughout the near East at that time. When he died quite suddenly, his teenaged son was thrown unprepared into the maelstrom of Roman and Jewish politics, and turned to his forceful and astute sister for support and advice.

An extraordinarily independent and powerful woman, Berenice co-ruled Judæa with her brother Agrippa II for much of her life. She married three times between the ages of 14 and her early 20s; all these marriages were short-lived. During the Jewish Revolt she and her brother, angered by the seizure of Jerusalem by Zealot rebels and the destruction of personal holdings, supported Roman general Vespasian and his son and captain,Titus. Berenice, who was immensely wealthy, helped fund Vespasian's campaign to become emperor, and began a passionate lengthy affair with Titus, despite the fact that she was quite some years his senior. After the fall of Jerusalem she accompanied Titus to Rome, and lived with him as his consort. They intended to marry, but virulent opposition led Titus to send Berenice away. When Titus became Emperor some years later they tried again, but once more the Roman senate and people reacted violently towards the idea of an Eastern Queen as empress. Putting duty first, Titus parted from Berenice “which was painful for both of them”, sending her to Gaul, maybe hoping things would cool off, but two years later he died and at this point Berenice mysteriously vanishes from historical record, though some sources claim that she lived on in Gaul until the age of 72.

Berenice was both reviled as a harlot and revered at various stages of her life. Much of what we know of her was recorded by those who had no love for her; Jewish historian and relative Flavius Josephus, who was not a fan, and who perpetuated the rumour that Berenice and her brother shared an incestuous relationship, and by Roman historians who reflected popular Roman opinion. Fast creates an irresistible, sometimes unlikeable, but charismatic woman, in her youth prone to wild mood swings, and the violent temper and bouts of depression which were a family inheritance, but later strongly influenced by the philosophy of the House of Hillel, which advocated peace and brotherly love. The story of the rival religious schools of philosophy, the Houses of Hillel and Shammai, and their roles in the subsequent Revolt is particularly interesting.
Berenice was the last queen of a royal line descended from King David, and before him, Aaron, the brother of Moses; the last queen of the Herodiandynasty and the last Hasmoneanprincess. With the death of her brother, the Jewish royal house of Israel came to an end. She was involved in some of the pivotal events in Christianity (she was present at the trial of Paul by the Roman governor Festus), Judaism and the Roman Empire and her story is a compelling one.

I wish that Howard Fast had provided a bibliography with his book; I would like to know, for example, the historical source of the relationship which he builds between Berenice and Shimeon ben Gamliel of the House of Hillel, as I haven't found a connection anywhere. It could be of course that he was using creative licence.

I read “Agrippa’s Daughter” ( first published 1964) shortly after reading Lion Feuchtwanger’s “Josephus”, about the Jewish historian who recorded the events of the First Jewish-Roman War.The two novels cover the same timeframe and make perfect complementary reading for anyone interested in this dramatic, eventful period.

“Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World” (pg 28)

*Edit- unfortunately I can't find a picture of the hilariously tacky cover image of my 1964 edition, which shows a Boudica type figure in an improbable breast plate furiously racing a chariot and four frantic white horses through the desert :) Maybe the artist was inspired by "Ben Hur"?
* Found a cover image!
Last edited by annis on Sat December 18th, 2010, 6:41 pm, edited 22 times in total.

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Sat February 21st, 2009, 2:09 am

I second your recommendations, annis. Great reads.
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

http://www.donaldmichaelplatt.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6 ... annel_page

annis
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Post by annis » Sat February 21st, 2009, 3:17 am

Thanks, Donroc. I see that Howard Fast also wrote a book about the Spanish Inquisition, called "Torquemada". On reading the description of the story, I wondered if it was inspired by his unfortunate experience with the McCarthy administration. In the late 1940s Fast fell foul of the U.S. government’s growing intolerance of the Left and of Communists in particular, which resulted in the House Un-American Activities Committee and the McCarthy Senate hearings.
http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/s ... d_fast.htm

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Telynor
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Post by Telynor » Sat February 21st, 2009, 5:04 am

I think I need to find this one... It sounds fascinating, especially as I watched a recent Met Opera production of Salome.

annis
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Post by annis » Sat February 21st, 2009, 5:48 am

I noticed that it has been reissued in the past few years with a much more tasteful cover

The story of Titus and Berenice has been the subject of numerous Italian and the odd French operas, and also a well-known French play by Racine. There's a formidable list at the bottom of the Wiki article.

I believe that Salome was responsible for telling tales about Mariamne, Herod the Great's second wife. Herod (Berenice's great-grandfather) was insanely jealous of Mariamne, and had her executed. He also had his brother-in-law and two of his sons put to death- talk about disfunctional families!
Actually, i think that Mariamne is also the subject of an opera!
Last edited by annis on Sat February 21st, 2009, 5:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Sat February 21st, 2009, 12:34 pm

Do not forget to read, if you have not, Fast's My Glorious Brothers, which is about the Maccabean Revolt. I read the novel at age 14 when it was released in 1946.
Image

Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

http://www.donaldmichaelplatt.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6 ... annel_page

annis
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Post by annis » Sat February 21st, 2009, 6:34 pm

Thanks, Donroc, I'll see if I can track it down. Howard Fast is a new (old) discovery for me. I picked up "Agrippa's Daughter" from an online auction site - it caught my interest because I'd just read Feuchtwanger's "Josephus" and it covered the same period, and it was a very pleasant surprise. From the cover and blurb ( along the lines of "Goddess or Whore?" :) ) I was expecting something fairly sensational. Although there's plenty of action in the story, the characterization is good and Fast also seamlessly fits in a lot of historical detail and information which is very interesting, so I think he's definitely an author worth pursuing.

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Volgadon
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Post by Volgadon » Sat February 21st, 2009, 7:42 pm

Were I to look out of my window right now, I would see the site of Berenice's palace in Tiberias. Her brother chose an excelent spot, on a hill steep enough to be defended easily, but with one side offering easy access and while the rest of the city suffered in the summer, the palace enjoyed refreshing breezes. Berenice is fascinating, will add the book to my TBR pile.


Herod's relationship with Mariame was the subject of a fairly recent Israeli play which I rather enjoyed.

annis
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Post by annis » Mon February 23rd, 2009, 2:18 am

How fascinating it must be to live in an area so rich in history, Volgadon.

I checked out Howard "Fast's "Glorious Brothers", Donroc, but looks as if it has become a "rare" book, with a corresponding price. I'll add it to my list of books to be ordered by library inter-loan, I think!

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