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Why did ordinary Egyptian women have so much power?

Egyptian queens during the reign of the Ptolemies had more power and honor than the kings. Likewise, ordinary wives ruled their husbands. In fact, the marriage contract required them to obey their wives in all matters.

Hellenistic women derived their power from Isis. Isis was revered among men as a tender and compassionate mother goddess who took a personal interest in every devotee. Women worshipped her as the goddess of motherhood, the patroness of family life, and the champion of women’s rights. Moreover, they identified with her mourning the murder and dismemberment of her husband-brother, Osiris.

Everyone in Alexandria participated in the festivals to honor Isis. The Fall Festival, the Festival of Seeking and Finding, is a reenactment of her search for the strewn body parts of Osiris. Egyptians believed her tears over his death accounted for the annual flooding of the Nile.

In The Deadliest Lie, after the Isis Festival, Miriam and Phoebe would crowd into The Flamingo’s Tongue, the smoke-filled restaurant that seasons the neighborhood with the aroma of fried onions. There they’d dine with a view of the lighthouse and the thousands of ships moored in the Great Harbor, their bumboats swaying in synchrony with the lapping tide. Perhaps they enjoyed most the luxury of a latrine on the premises and a private dining room crammed with plump couches.

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