Authors: Humphry Knipe
“Finally, we have an historically accurate work revealing how astrologers and their followers connived in the imperial court to steer the fate of the Roman Empire... A great book." – Michael R. Molnar (
The Star of Bethlehem
“Fans of astrology will delight in this compelling narrative, as will the lover of historical novels.” – James Herschel Holden (
A History of Horoscopic Astrology
“Imaginative, interesting … a striking example of this preposterous doctrine influencing the course and timing of history.” – Michael Grant (
History of Rome
The NERO Prediction
Award Winner “Best Historical Fiction”
Revised eBook edition ©2012
In Order Of Appearance
Epaphroditus: The narrator.
Phocion: Alexandrian astrologer.
Euodus: Freedman of Tigellinus.
Tigellinus, Gaius Ofonius: Prefect of Nero’s Praetorian Guard.
Agrippina, Julia: Nero’s mother, wife of Claudius, later styled Augusta.
Messalina, Valeria: Wife of Claudius, mother of Britannicus.
Ahenobarbus, Lucius Domitius: Later Nero Claudius Caesar.
Balbillus, Tiberius Claudius: Astrologer to both Claudius and Nero.
Lollia Paulina: Once married to the emperor Caligula.
Claudius: Roman emperor who married Agrippina and adopted Nero.
Xenophon: Physician to both Claudius and Nero.
Britannicus: Son of Claudius and Messalina.
Lucusta: Dispenser of poisons.
Poppaea Sabina: Nero’s mistress and later second wife.
Mnester: Freedman of Agrippina
Anicetus: Admiral of the fleet.
Proculus, Volusius: A naval captain.
Ptolemy Seleucus: Astrologer to Poppaea and later Nero.
Thallus: A haruspex (diviner).
Tiberius Julius Alexander: Nero’s advisor on Jewish affairs.
Zebah: Christian zealot.
Scaevinus, Marcus: Roman senator.
Natalis: Roman knight.
Epicharis: Mistress and ex-slave of senator Mela, Seneca’s brother.
Lateranus, Plautius: Roman senator.
Quintianus, Afranius: Roman senator.
Statilia: Nero’s mistress and third wife.
Phaon: Freedman of Nero.
Sporus: Young eunuch who looks like Poppaea.
Nymphidius Sabinus: Co-Praetorian Prefect.
September 23 – October 15, 48 A.D.
“They’re looking for you Epaphroditus,” he whispered, falling into step with me like a shadow as I emerged from the gloom of the Library complex into the blinding light of the sweltering Alexandrian afternoon. His wizened, worried face looked intently into mine. “Soldiers. They started with all the high ups, the free people, now they’re working their way down. They’re looking for sixteen-year-olds. Mark says they’ve have done it before, Judea in King Herod’s time. They were looking for a two-year-old born in April because of his stars, murdered every one they found because one of them was destined to rule the world. They mustn’t find you either.”
Once a Museum mathematician and record keeper, Phocion had bought his freedom a few years back with the money he made casting horoscopes. Now he had a stall in the market place where he read tourists’ stars. He was a friend of my mother’s, how close I didn’t know. Mathematics was his skill but astrology was his passion. “The universe is linked in all its parts, the smallest to the greatest,” he taught me. “Sympathy is the force that links us all together. Nothing happens alone. Nothing happens by chance. The Nile rises when Sirius rises. The Moon dances with the tides. The future of the planets is in harmony with the future of men. Because their future can be predicted, so can ours. Open your heart to the heavenly bodies, Epaphroditus, feel their sympathy for you. Give them yours. It’s the wisdom of the Stoics.”
I knew who Mark was, the one who knew about the search for two-year- olds in Judea. He was nicknamed the Lion because of his huge tawny beard and loud voice. He’d arrived in Alexandria three years ago with another Jew called Peter. I’d seen them together several times in the poorer quarters of the city, Peter talking in Aramaic and Mark translating into Greek. I’d stopped to listen once. Peter talked softly about something he called “the abomination of desolation” and Mark was translating for him in his booming voice. The “abomination” was some kind of catastrophe when the Sun and the Moon would be darkened and the stars fall from the sky. A dreadful apparition would come riding down on clouds of glory to purge the world with fire. It was the Messiah, the Christ. His eyes would burn like flames, a dreadful two edged sword would dart from his mouth. His face would shine like the Sun and he would hold all seven planets, and therefore Fate itself, in his right hand.
Peter prophesied that this going to happen soon. “Verily I say unto you that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” Some listeners nodded their heads approvingly, poor people and slaves mostly, converts I suppose. Others laughed. Peter fell silent as a police patrol approached, obviously aware that this was not the sort of news our Roman masters would welcome. I hurried on, concerned, because Phocion, eyes glued to Mark, was waiting for him to go on.
“What are they doing to them, I mean the sixteen-year-olds?” I asked Phocion as we walked across the Museum’s crowded courtyard.
He gripped my arm. “Nothing because they haven’t found the right one. It’s you they want.”
“How do you know?”
He searched my face anxiously, looking for something, seeming to find it. “Because the Copy Master came to my stall less than an hour ago. He asked me to check my files. Said the Romans were looking for someone with a glorious horoscope who was born in July.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “I worked out it was yours.”
I stopped, stunned, pulled away from the hand that urged me onwards. “You know my birthday? You told me you didn’t know when I was born!”
“I know the day, the hour, the very minute. It’s on your certificate of ownership, in the Records Office. I’ve cast your horoscope.”
“Why did you…” I was going to say “lie” but I couldn’t. I respected the man, loved him, even. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew my stars?”
“Sometimes knowledge must be forbidden or it becomes a curse.”
Because I was afraid I became petulant. “A curse? Am I cursed? Is that why the Romans are looking for me? If you knew I had an ill-omened horoscope why didn’t you change the date on the certificate a long time ago? Why? You have to tell me why!”
He tried to calm me with a gentle pat on my back. “Your horoscope foretells astonishing things. I thought it would be a testimonial, something to show a patron one day. But someone with greater skill than mine has looked deep into your stars. He must have found things there that interest the Romans, disturb them perhaps, predictions I didn’t see. I’ve just tried to remove it but it’s too late. Soldiers have sealed off the Records Office. They’re in there already, searching for it. They’ll find it and then they’ll find you. Epaphroditus they are cruel, ruthless people. They have come to use you or to kill you. You must leave Egypt immediately.”
“Run away? I’ll be caught for sure! Crucified!”
He put his moneybag in my hand, heavier and fuller than I had ever seen it before. “Take this. Bribe your way onto the next ship that sails. Go now my son. Take my love with you.”
But he was the one who left, giving my arm one final squeeze, hurrying away, head down, hiding his face from the world. I knew why, because his eyes, when he took his final look into mine, were flooding with tears.
There were hundreds of people milling through the courtyard bounded on all sides by the mighty colonnades of the Museum, tourists from all over the empire, come to gawk at the cultural center of the world. They disguised it cunningly, but I was convinced that several were stealing glances at me. My watchers. They never left me alone.
It was a kind of madness, I’d been told. It had afflicted me ever since I could remember. In the last three years it had been growing worse. Some watchers I glimpsed in the corner of my eye, fleeting apparitions that disappeared before I was absolutely certain they were there. Others made no attempt to hide themselves, avoiding my eyes as I approached, pretending they were waiting for someone or just whiling away time.
I was looking at Phocion’s retreating back, so straight for his sixty-two years, my mind seething with indecision, hoping that Peter’s prophecies had driven him out of his wits, knowing that they hadn’t.
“Epaphroditus,” said a deep voice right behind me. It belonged to my overseer, the Copy Master, an immensely fat man with jowls like dewlaps who walked the scriptorium floor with a whip in his hand ready to administer a wake up call to anyone dozing over his papyrus. He frowned when he saw the fear in my face, the way my eyes darted about. “Something wrong?” he asked.
“No sir,” I said, slipping the moneybag into my pocket before he saw it. “A headache, that’s all.”
He ground his teeth as if that was a statement that needed to be chewing before swallowed. “Good. I have another little assignment for you. Ovid, this time. One of his love poems. Sold already, a birthday present for a lady. The original’s in the usual place. Take particular care, the client is a collector. He knows Ovid’s writing as well as he knows his own.”
I nodded, struggling to hold his gaze. “Yes sir,” I said, “this afternoon.”
The Copy Master looked away in the direction that Phocion had gone, plucking at his double chin with the ringed fingers of his plump right hand. “I saw you talking with Phocion. He seems upset too. He was caught trying to sneak into the Records Office a few minutes ago, any idea why?”