Shakespearean actor Peter Faulkner stepped into Rufius’ toga for the Lewes Waterstones Launch of Rufius in March. Before I launch into the detail, watch the talented Peter as Rufius in this clip – Video of Peter Faulkner as Rufius
The front room of Lewes Waterstones was packed with people squashed and standing behind the seats for the Lewes Launch of RUFIUS. A big thank you to the Waterstones team for the PR. I was honoured to see the poets John Agard and Grace Nichols in the crowd. It had been John’s idea that I approach Waterstones. If you want to see John perform his brilliant Columbus Monologue, he’ll be at Brighton Festival in May.
Rufius and I were honoured that the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Susan Murray and her consort, Cllr Robert Murray attended in ceremonial chain. Lewes is blessed with a mayor who supports the arts – as well as being a strong advocate for the environment. Robert asked the question I am often asked – is that a real statue on the front cover? It certainly is – imported from Israel. Here’s a blog about the creation of the cover. I handed it over to the audience to see if anyone recognised the statue. A lady in the front row shouted out, ‘Hercules!’ She wasn’t a classicist as I had suspected. Even though it’s Hercules’ posterior on show instead of his front, it is a famous statue.
After an introduction to the inspiration of the novel, and my vision in the British Library in 2004 sparked by the Askew Codex (commonly known as the Pistis Sophia), I moved on to the facts (or what we can deduce from what survives) of history. Eunapius’ Lives of the Philosophers and Rufinus’ Ecclesiastical History are the two surviving accounts of the riots leading up to the destruction of the Temple of Serapis (which housed a vast chunk of the Great Library of Alexandria) in 391 AD. Both the Christian and Pagan accounts of the destruction of the Serapeum by the Nicene Christian mob were in such stark opposition to each other that I took the liberty of assuming neither were accurate, but that the truth lay somewhere in between.
I showed the audience a fragment from a 6th century Alexandrian World Chronicle (held by the Moscow Library of Foreign literature) showing images of the Bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus who was behind the riots, and the gold-diademed Priests of Serapis, the guardians of the Temple of Serapis and responsible for setting the grain taxes. It was the god Serapis who was believed to make the Nile flood annually, and as Egypt’s grain was essential to feed the Empire, it was a very wealthy institution. Money was at the root of divinity in 4th century Alexandria it seems.
Rufius was by this time itching to speak, and so I introduced the cinaedus, the anti-hero of the novel, and explained the laws that became more severe under the Christian Emperors and in 390 AD resulted in a law condemning cinaedi (effeminate men) to death by public burning. This period of Christian extremism not only resulted in the destruction of temples, heretics, books of mathematics, astrology and heresy, but also the condemnation of men of non-normative sexual and gender orientation. Men like Rufius would have suffered, but Rufius manages to keep his sense of humour!
In this extract Peter Faulkner reads from Chapter 1 – Rufius has just arrived in Alexandria and stepped off the boat. He’s not happy as he’s been blackmailed into exile from Rome by the Archbishop of Rome, Damasus (now Saint Damasus, or Damasus the Ear-tickler, or Damasus the Butcher as history has also recorded him on account of his extortion of Roman matrons’ fortunes and the massacre of Christians who followed his opponent in his fight for the papal throne).
After that we had more questions about Ancient Alexandria, my vision in the British Library reading room, and the destruction of the Great Library, as well as a book signing. The lovely Angela Whitney who has been a great support during the writing of the novel was first in line. Thanks to Jana Solfronk for the pen (I’m not used to book signings!)
Thanks to Caroline Deakin for photos