The Queen and the Heretic Some Comments on Character Development

In the novel The Queen and the Heretic it is interesting, I think, to see the development of the characters. Zenobia, the young princess, begins as an impertinent, vivacious girl who is obviously the “apple” of her father’s eye. At the tender age of ten she meets the older teen, Paul, the son of a Greek administrative assistant in Antioch. Paul is smitten by the precocious, impertinent but pretty princess at a social gathering. They cannot forget one another. Nothing happens but a kiss on the cheek. I was astounded by a reviewer who puritanically suggested that this seemed almost like “child endangerment” or pedophilia. Someone who was obviously ignorant of the difference between ancient cultures and modern society. In ancient times a girl who had reached “puberty” was seen as ready for marriage. But nothing happens to Paul and Zenobia except that she quickly kisses him on the cheek and runs away.

Six years later, Zenobia’s life changes radically when she meets Paul again, and falls desperately in love with him. She runs away at the age of sixteen going on seventeen and is married to Paul, taking her maidservant with her (whom she does not know at the time is her half-sister, Nefertari).

Life turns sour when the young people are captured by her father’s servants and the young, pregnant Zenobia is forcibly divorced from Paul in order to save his life. She is allowed to keep Paul’s child.

Zenobia is forcibly taken home to Emesa and must marry Prince Odenathus of Palmyra since the two rulers involved had made a treaty involving the two young people. As a child Zenobia looked forward to becoming a queen, but now her marriage is one of “bittersweetness”. She managed to save her child’s life and the child is reluctantly adopted by Odenathus, but cannot be his heir.

Because of fortuitous circumstances, Paul and Zenobia¬† meet again in Antioch. When Zenobia finds out that Odenathus is unfaithful to her, she begins an “affair” with her erstwhile husband.

Adult life brings many challenges as Zenobia is forced to live in the powerful kingdom of Palmyra with a philandering spouse who does not really love her, although he is infatuated with her. She lives under the thumb of an older queen, who, at first treats her with great suspicion and diffidence. Odenathus is rapidly becoming a powerful general in the East, and greatly useful to a weaker Roman empire.

Embroiled in the intrigue of a much more powerful royal court, Zenobia comes face to face with a different kind of life.

She cannot love Odenathus who is unfaithful to her, but she must protect her son. She cannot do more than find occasional snatches of passionate, clandestine meetings with her beloved Paul. Both of them change as time goes on.

Zenobia is finally placed suddenly and dramatically at the head of the Palmyran kingdom at the height of its power. Her whole world is turned upside down.

Paul becomes quite wealthy and experiences a great conversion to Christianity and catapulted into fame as the controversial and wealthy Bishop of Antioch.

The two lovers find that the affairs of the ancient world are pulling them further and further apart. There is no escape as Queen Zenobia becomes the most famous warrior queen of ancient times, even challenging the mighty Roman empire for control of the East.

Paul is torn by his loyalty to the church and his love for Zenobia. All of this comes to a climax as the Roman emperor Aurelian marches toward Antioch to face Queen Zenobia and her armies.