Cries from the Lost Island - Kathleen O'Neal Gear Page 0,1

told about plucking the lyre of Orpheus with her own hands or traveling to Sparta to smooth her fingers over the egg from which Helen of Troy had hatched. Since I was a voracious reader of historical tomes and considered myself to be the future world expert on ancient Rome and Egypt, being around Cleo was as exotic as seeing an alien spaceship land on the football field at Georgetown High. I plagued her to tell me stories about her life, which she did in a quiet dignified voice, only slightly accented. Such stunning wonders filled her long-gone world that I felt this modern age was but a pale reflection, tepid and boring beyond endurance. Which is probably why I play so many ancient world video games.

How she’d gotten to Georgetown was mostly a mystery, though I knew she’d come to live with her aunt and uncle. Apparently, her aunt was the only family she had left in the world. On the fateful day that Aunt Sophia had learned Cleo survived the riots, and her parents were dead, she’d immediately flown to Egypt to pick Cleo up and bring her back to America. Cleo’s uncle, Dr. James Moriarity, taught Egyptian archaeology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins during the school year, but in the summers he excavated sites abroad. That’s where he’d met Cleo’s Aunt Sophia, a woman twenty years his junior, digging in Egypt.

By the time I was sixteen, I was five-nine, weighed two-ten, and was desperately in love with Cleo. We were inseparable. Often, we would lie together on the floor of my bedroom—as we were on this sunny May afternoon—studying maps of Ptolemaic Egypt and role-playing. She was my Cleopatra, and I was her Marcus Antonius.

The most famous lovers in history, their doomed romance was brilliant and passionate, and far more tragic than Romeo and Juliet, because Cleopatra and Antonius were not theatrical inventions. They had lived. And each had died by his or her own hand in 30 BC. Their rulership of ancient Egypt and their battle against Octavian was also one of the most glorious war stories of all time. The fact that Cleopatra and Antonius had suffered a spectacular defeat made them even more interesting to me. Especially Cleopatra. A queen at eighteen, for twenty-two years she ruled the last great Egyptian empire, lost it once, regained it, and—finally—heartbroken and alone, she lost everything.

“Who’s that?” I tapped the image. The map was ringed with artistic sketches of notable people, most of whom I recognized, but not this one.

Cleo tilted her head to study the figure. “That’s Cicero. He was a member of the Roman Senate and a detestable man.” She added, “Antonius despised him as much as I did. He called Cicero the greatest boaster alive.”

In the process of becoming scrupulous intellectuals, we insisted upon historical accuracy, so we refused to say things like Marc Antony or Beirut. It was Marcus Antonius and Berytus. We read aloud the works of Lucan, Plutarch, Appian, Josephus, and Dio, and discovered that none of those ancient authors could be trusted. In fact, when it came to the truth about the lives of Cleopatra and Antonius, there was obviously a secret historical conspiracy to destroy the evidence. Not one authoritative painting or sculpture of Cleopatra existed. Even Cicero’s letters from 44 BC when Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had been together in Rome, were mysteriously missing. Dellius, who’d betrayed Antonius and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, had also written a chronicle. But it, too, had vanished. And though Appian had promised to tell more about Cleopatra and Caesar in his vast four-volume history of Egypt, none of those books existed today.

While Cleo could not say why (because she’d died before those things had happened), I concluded that Octavian had purposely purged the archives of all references to his dead enemies. He would later become known as the legendary Augustus Caesar, first Emperor of Rome. In fact, Octavian’s own account of the Battle of Actium, where he’d defeated Antonius and Cleopatra, left out all references to them. To make matters worse, after their deaths, Octavian convinced the Roman Senate to issue a decree that the names “Marcus” and “Antonius” could never again be conjoined. It made perfect sense that the new Roman Emperor would leave no stone unturned when it came to conquering his enemies, including erasing their very existences.

Therefore—in the absence of facts—I turned to Cleo for information and sat rapt, listening to her