Today we will meet Helena, a 1st century biracial character from Regarding Tiberius
by Bartholomew Boge.
Novel Pastimes: Thank you for taking time to be with us today, Helena. First off, what language would you prefer we conduct this interview in?
Helena: I am perfectly fluent in Greek, Latin, and Persian and have a basic conversational fluency in Aramaic and Armenian. I know a few basics in a handful of others. Will Greek work for you?
Novel Pastimes: Certainly. (the rest of the interview is translated from Koine Greek). Let’s begin with your name: Helena Mithridates Kleopatra.
Helena: My first name is, of course, an homage to the great character of Greek legend and history, Helena of Sparta. It is said that she was so beautiful that hers was “the face that launched a thousand ships,” which, of course, refers to the siege of Troy by the forces of Menelaus when Helena was stolen from him. Now I do not claim to have such beauty, as scarred and lean as I am, but I do share Helena’s experience with the arts of war, as it is supposed that she trained with the men as a Spartan warrior in her youth.
Novel Pastimes: And the middle name, “Mithridates”?
Helena: That is my family name. I am from the line of Mithradates VI, the last great Pontic king to defy Roman rule in Asia Minor. After his demise, all of his descendants were to have been executed by Roman law. An exception was made in my case, obviously. In fact, rather than rebel against Roman rule as my ancestors have, I have logged years of service in Rome’s Third Gallic Legion as a translator and transcriptionist of Persian documents, mostly receipts for goods purchased by the legion.
Novel Pastimes: “Kleopatra”?
Helena: That was just a pet name given me by my father, Nikophoros, King of Eupatoria, which means “Glory of Her Father.” I am of Ethiopian and Persian descent, and have no relation to the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra who ruled Egypt.
Novel Pastimes: So you are of royal descent? That explains your high level of education.
Helena: Indeed. My parents bore no male heirs, so I was thoroughly trained in law, rhetoric, history, geography, and the arts of war—all critical fields of study for a would-be monarch.
Novel Pastimes: And languages?
Helena: That was more a family tradition than preparation for rule, although being a polyglot holds many advantages for a queen. In fact, my ancestor, Mithradates VI, was said to have been fluent in all 26 languages of his realm.
Novel Pastimes: Where were you born?
Helena: A small principality called Eupatoria, a city-state under Roman jurisdiction in the province of Pontus (editor’s note: modern north central Turkey). The Romans sacked it in 20 AD, smashing every structure to rubble and killing the entire population. Today only ruins remain.
Novel Pastimes: The Romans destroyed your homeland, yet you served in their legions?
Helena: Not by choice, initially. I was the only member of the royal family spared, and one of only a handful of citizens left alive after the slaughter. A centurion, Tiberius, orchestrated my clemency and took me as his slave.
Novel Pastimes: This is the same Tiberius you wrote your account about?
Helena: Yes. We had met once, prior to the sacking of Eupatoria, when I was a princess and heir-apparent to the crown. He took me as a war captive, but generally treated me more like a colleague than a slave. He was a brilliant tactician, Tiberius. He made a way for the governor of Bithynia, Pontus Pilate, to negate my slave status and restore my Roman citizenship.
Novel Pastimes: Wait—THE Pontus Pilate? The one who had Christ crucified?
Helena: The same. Before he became governor of Judaea, he was first given command of a lesser province in Asia Minor, Bithynia, just west of Pontus. I’ve had several run-ins with him over the years.
Novel Pastimes: Did you ever meet Jesus of Nazareth?
Helena: Twice. Once before his crucifixion, once after.
Novel Pastimes: What were your impressions?
Helena: I was never more terrified of another human being in all my life.
Novel Pastimes: Terrified? Why?
Helena: I’m a strategist at heart. Being a woman, I am usually underestimated as such, and I typically benefit from mistakes made by adversaries who don’t take me seriously. Jesus of Nazareth was different: he knew me to the core of my being, even my every thought and feeling. How can one ever hope to best a foe who knows your every whim?
Novel Pastimes: You were adversaries?
Helena: Not in a military sense, but in an emotional and spiritual one. He cut through my every defense and exposed my deepest, darkest longings for vengeance. It was unsettling. I avoided him after our first meeting as best I could, but was confronted by him once again, after his resurrection.
Novel Pastimes: And how did that go?
Helena: Better. (smiles)
Novel Pastimes: You are from a royal family in Asia Minor, yet you have a very dark complexion.
Helena: My family line comes from Ethiopia and Persia. I bear more a resemblance to my African ancestors.
Novel Pastimes: You mentioned scars earlier. What from?
Helena: Some are from minor hand-to-hand combat wounds, simple scratches. The worst are on my stomach, where I bear disfiguring scars from being mauled by a Caspian tiger in my youth.
Novel Pastimes: You survived a tiger attack?
Helena: I was wearing leather armor at the time, which is the only reason I’m still here to engage in this interview. My private security detail managed to dispatch it before it could finish me off, but I am fortunate to be alive. As are my men—my father was quite displeased that none of them got so much as a scratch while his only daughter was bloody and torn open like a sack of grain!
Novel Pastimes: Well, Helena, thank you very much for your time. One final question; what would you say is your best quality, aptitude, or gift?
Helena: The ability to think rationally under pressure. That may sound like an incredible gift, to think with perfect logic and clarity under stress, but rest assured that it’s often as much a curse as a blessing. On more than one occasion it has been a horrible quality to possess—particularly when the stakes are life and death.
Thank you, Helena, for this fascinating look at the life of a woman in Biblical times.
Originally known for applying his creative vision to the composition of Christian art-rock epics, Bartholomew Boge has found a new niche writing historical fiction. Whether it be through music or literature, Bartholomew challenges his audience to examine the depravity of man and the redeeming grace of God, bought with the shed blood of Christ.
In his debut novel, Regarding Tiberius, Bartholomew explores questions of justice, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness. Set during the time of Christ, this fast-paced story moves through several locations within the Roman Empire, including Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Judea. Confronted with the brutal death of her parents and the destruction of her kingdom, Bartholomew’s female protagonist, Helena Mithridates Kleopatra, undertakes a clandestine mission to avenge the slaughter of her people by assassinating the Roman commander who ordered their pitiless liquidation. Success would mean death for herself, her lover, Tiberius, and her only son, Marcellus. Will she do it? Should she? Which is more righteous–justice or mercy? How can one forgive an unforgivable crime, or receive forgiveness for one? Helena must answer these timeless questions along the way to fulfilling her bloody destiny.
Bartholomew Boge lives with his family in northcentral Wisconsin.
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