Monday Musing – Thaddeus Thomas and Steampunk Cleopatra – My Coffee Pot Book Club Guest

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If you could go back to visit one location in history, what would it be? For many, the answer is the Library of Alexandria which claimed to be the greatest collection of knowledge in history, all of which was lost with the library’s destruction. According to myth, the library fell during the civil war between Cleopatra and her brother, burning to the ground in the fire Julius Caesar started aboard his own ships as he escaped the clutches of the young Pharaoh. Is any of it true? And what secrets might the library have once held and lost? A fascination with the library led Thaddeus Thomas to write his debut novel, Steampunk Cleopatra, and while history gives us the first answer, his historical fantasy attempts to give us the second. 

The Ptolemaic dynasty was the patron of the library, and it was founded not long after the city of Alexandria, itself, which was named for Alexander the Great. The first Ptolemy has been one of Alexander’s generals, and when the lands were divided after Alexander’s death, he took Egypt. He was a Macedonian Greek, and his inbred dynasty culminated in Cleopatra, the first Ptolemaic Pharaoh to speak the Egyptian language. The Ptolemies led a country to which they were always foreign and sealed themselves away in the coastal city they had built for themselves.

19th century artistic rendering of the Library of Alexandria
by the German artist O. Von Corven,
based partially on the archaeological
evidence available at that time
(image: Wikipedia)

Alexandria’s was not the only library of its kind but the most famous and reportedly, the most ambitious. When ships docked, Alexandria seized and copied their books. The copies were returned to the ships, and Alexandria kept the originals. Egypt was the wealthiest nation in the world, and its library had a stranglehold on information. We can hope and assume that the scholars returned accurate, unedited, uncensored books to their owners, but we have only their word on the matter. The library’s collection began with the collections in the royal libraries of Egypt that predated it, such as the Library of Ashurbanipal, the first systematically organized library in the world. It was through its collection that the Epic of Gilgamesh survived. 

This collection and others, like the library of Menephtheion, became the basis for the Library of Alexandria, and from its beginning, the work done at the library astounded the world. It is the birthplace of the astounding inventions and founding scientific principles of the classical era, built on the forgotten work of the world’s oldest civilization. 

We know much of what was in the lost collections of Alexandria, some texts survive, the knowledge of others remains. Many of its masters are legendary. The work of Euclid remained the primary source for teaching mathematics into the early twentieth century, but as Thomas pondered what works might have been lost, he realized there was likely a larger issue. What works had the library hidden?

Political power is the control of information. It is true today, and it was true then. The Library of Alexandria was not destroyed in Caesar’s fire but survived for many years after. It was not lost by accident but destroyed on purpose because knowledge is dangerous. Even the Ptolemies feared it, and two generations before Cleopatra, foreign scholars were driven out and cataloging became the primary focus. The days of great original work were largely gone. Historically, destruction came in 391 CE, under the order of the Roman Emperor Theodosius 1, in his attempt to eradicate paganism in the name of Christianity. The final blow then came in 640 CE, when the Caliph Omar repeated the attack in the name of Islam.

If knowledge is power, then the powerful must control knowledge. Sometimes that has meant hiding or destroying it. Thomas saw the wonders attributed to the early masters of the library and wondered how much of that was rooted in and stolen from the Egyptians. What might this knowledge have been and where it might have taken us? The first century CE, Hero of Alexandria invented the world’s first steam engine, but it faded into history as a novelty without any perceived purpose.

This is the inspiration for Steampunk Cleopatra, an exploration of what could have been…

Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been. 


Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9th and follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.

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