There is a little constellation called Coma Berenices, the
hair of Berenice. It looks like a delicate plume of dim stars,
and about it a famous story is told. Berenice, queen of Egypt, vowed
to sacrifice her beautiful hair if her husband returned safely from
a war. He did, so her hair was cut off and hung up in the temple
of the Goddess of Love. It vanished the king was furious
a quick-witted courtier pointed upward Behold,
the sacred tress has been set in the sky!
That's the story! Do we believe it? What really happened to her
This novel springs from what is known about the real Berenice.
She was born a princess of Cyrenaica, now part of Libya. (I lived
there for a year, and have derived plot suggestions from experiences
such as knowing a dextrocardiac and swimming over a drowned city.)
We first meet her at the age of seventeen, being taken down to the
port to greet a prince called Demetrius the Fair. This handsome
fellow had been brought to marry her; instead he let himself be
seduced by her mother, and in a palace coup Berenice killed him,
possibly with her own hands. She may then have allowed a republic
to be installed in her little garden-like country.
She was persuaded to marry the king of Egypt, but no sooner had
she done so than he marched off into Asia in an attempt to save
the life of his sister leaving his young wife to the task
of governing the teeming, treacherous world that was Egypt. As you
might imagine, there are villains in the story and some rough stuff.
But at the last moment she is saved by a wonderful natural phenomenon.
6x9in., 255 pages. 2009. ISBN 978-0-934546-55-3.