Heliodora; an excerpt

 Heliodora; an excerpt

       The fragmented narrative in Heliodora is set in Roman times. The fictional extract is taken from  
Matryoshka, a longer unpublished sequence, all inspired by the lives and texts of various Devon  literary women - some of which are imagined, and re-invented women. 

    This fragment - one of the imagined pieces - is a fictional extract about a  lady who’s living in mid-Devon in Roman times, influenced by her readings of Greek women poets. She has inscribed a text on a wax-tablet ...

Green lane just north of North Tawton

    No, you do not need to remind me, I know there were not supposed to be any Roman villas west of Exeter – but in recent years evidence of their existence has come to light. There was one for example near Crediton (not far from the site which is now Tesco). At the time of writing, although there are currently talks about future plans to do so, no archaeological dig has yet happened at Nemetostatio - which some believe to be the Roman fort at North Tawton; yet, as I write exciting finds are being found just along the road at Okehampton. I believe there may be reason to consider the possibility that wives of high-ranking soldiers based at the large fort at North Tawton may have lived in the complex. In my imagination they stroll alongside the river Lyd-taw, the Taw, which runs alongside the camp's edgelands. Being of high status, the women would have been literate and avid readers; they may even have written.

Looking toward Dartmoor from a gate south of North Tawton,
near Nemetostatio,
     Heliodora is a cameo of what could have been. Names fit the known facts; the names and texts of earlier women writing in Greece also are factual. The Dumnonii most probably re-established their kingdom as a power in its own right by the time of Magnus Maximus, for, in AD 383, the latter prepared Britain's defences prior to establishing his own claim for control of the Roman Empire. Dumnonia was fully independent by AD410; it incorporated the former territory of the Durotriges. Elen Luyddog was daughter of a chieftain of north Wales named Eudaf or Eudwy, late C4, who married Magnus and became Empress/Queen of England after his death. Known mostly for her work on roads in Wales, she was a friend of Martin of Tours; Broadnymet church in the area, is dedicated to him. Elen appears to have been influential in the early church. No, there is no evidence that she stayed in the mid Devon region, but in my imagination and in this story, she did...

Her mother is given as a bondservant;her husband as a colleague of Magnus Maximus;
it was said she was a forgotten kinswoman of Elen Luyddog
and that she married a friend of Magnus.
Was it true that she was named after the female poet Heliodora?
Was she the aunt of Sevira?
Like Elen, she was given the avatar of Celtic mystic goddess,
nevertheless, she remained in England
after her husband’s departure to Rome
and returned to her father’s lands in Wales
(but her children were reputed
to be progenitors of the kings of Dumnonia).

Elen, it was said, always spoke highly
of her friend’s literary talents and rhetorical skills
and of the aptitudes -
the lilt of her recitations
from her favoured Greek precursors.’[i]
Indeed as an influential wife of a powerful man,
Heliodora had a voice of her own ...

'We were supposed not to live here
in the outpost of the sacred groves
in the middle of Nemetostatio
the shrine within the sacred space.
Nothing is sweeter than Eros’
Why?Because they do not mention the women.
And anyway,
there was not supposed to be a villa here
not so far west
'We were then as silent as the water-glide of the quiet river,
the ‘led-taw’ sinuous in the valley beneath our villa.

Nor do they know of the roses,
those roman roses
loved of love beloved,
our gallicas wreathing the colonnades of our halls.
Look, see our villa sheathed with green glass,
dressed in the finest marble statues
and set away from the precisions
of the main battalion complex
set alongside and above the quiet river'...

She’d wander away from the tessellated pavement
towards the edge-lands of the site
and beside the quiet reeds
at the edge of the water, the Led-Taw...[ii]

How Heliodora and Elen Luydoog laughed together
at the tempestuous nature of that woman,
yet indulged her for her responses.
Sometimes they conversed
on the nature of pagan Hypatia’s recent commentary
 on Neo-Platonist philosophy;
sometimes it was Pamphila’s Miscellaneous Commentaries, 
which captivated them.

Following the snake-shifting silent-river curves
both women wore inscribed bronze bracelets
loose over their arms swirling conjugal figurations
snakes and serpents,
all told a tale in the fabric of the women’s life

the clear sheet of waterjust below the oak saplings on the bank,
footprints on the track ...

[i] The wording of this 'hagiography' is mostly taken from the book by Peter Berresford Ellis, Celtic women: women in Celtic society and literature (Eerdman's Publishers, 1996).
[ii] See A. Non, Classic Women's Poetry (Summersdale Publishers, 2002).


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