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Beacon at Alexandria (1986)

by Gillian Bradshaw

Series: Byzantium (02)

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4341657,987 (4.22)23
In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctor at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw. This historical fiction novel is set during the declining days of the Roman Empire. The main character is Charis of Ephesus, a determined and independent young noblewoman who, when faced with a forced marriage to a cruel man, disguises herself as a eunuch and runs away to Alexandria to follow her dream of becoming a doctor. Although studying medicine was denied to women, Charis discovers she has a real talent for healing and even when she could return to true self, she continues to disguise herself and work as a physician.

Although she loves her life at Alexandria, political upheavals dictate that she must move on. She takes a medical post at a Roman army camp on the Danube River and soon wins the admiration of both Romans and Goths. She is contented with her life and living a lie except for one man that she discovers to her dismay that she is in love with.

The Roman Empire had spread across the world and now in these declining years, there was religious strife, political disturbances, advancing barbarians and simply a lack of good government. With such a diverse population, the Empire was crumbling due to problems within and without. The Beacon at Alexandria gives the reader both an excellent overview of the history at that time as well as an engrossing story of one woman’s burning desire to practice medicine. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Apr 26, 2021 |
Roman girl of Eastern empire studies medicine disguised as a eunuch
  ritaer | Mar 19, 2020 |
Really wonderfully done. The last line in the epilogue literally left me with chills: "the Fall of Rome was, for the west anyway, 'the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind."' Coming on the heels of this story, it was really excellently done. I mourned the empire's demise with the characters. I felt powerfully for many of the characters throughout the story. Particularly in the second half of the book, I was literally heartbroken for Charis at the idea of how unfair it was that she could not be both woman and doctor. Every injustice thrown at her had my hand itching to smack the person who was telling her no.

On top of the good story, it is clear that this author knows this period. This book is chock full of history and I can honestly saw that I learned a lot about the 4th century Roman Empire. In Alexandria she shows you about the struggle between sects of Christianity and Judaism and in Thrace she demonstrates how relations developed between Rome and the Visigoths. It was all fascinating and educational. Some of the information did bog down the story once or twice, but nothing too bad. Overall, really excellently done.

"Love is certainly a great god, to make two intelligent people look so foolish." ( )
  emmytuck | Sep 27, 2013 |
So few historical novels are set in the Byzantine empire - and this proves more should be. Of interest to anyone who likes medicine and the later Romans. Or just strong women coming of age stories. ( )
  rosemarybrown | Nov 25, 2012 |
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In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctor at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.

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A wealthy Roman girl disguises herself as a man and travels to Alexandria in order to study medicine.
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