Theodora: Actress, Empress,Whore by Stella Duffy

TheodoraIn the mid-sixth century lived a woman who is widely regarded as the most influential and powerful woman in the Byzantine Empire’s history. Her name was Theodora. This fictionalized account of her life is rich with all the history and religious politics of the times. In addition, it is an unforgettable love story.

A legend in her own time, Theodora transcended all social castes and mores by moving from a life as an actress, show girl, and prostitute to a religious repentant, to finally become the Empress of Rome. The novel follows Theodora from her earliest years, when the death of her father left a strong mark on her psyche and cast her family into poverty.

As a means of putting food on the table, Theodora’s mother sent her three daughters to a master trainer for acting and the womanly arts of appealing to and pleasing men — a not uncommon role for poor women at the time, and not necessarily one frowned upon by that social class. Because of her skill in the theater and amazing popularity, Theodora was singled out to become the mistress of a low ranking governor.

Alas, this union did not last but it drove Theodora to the church and to a deep religious belief. It was during her religious tutoring that she met a high ranking bishop who sent her to the heir apparent of the Roman Empire, Justinian, in order to serve as a mediator between him and the common people.

As Justinian and Theodora became ever closer, they fell in love and went on to become the most powerful couple of their day. This novel brings to life a time long gone by and gives the reader a heroine of uncommon destiny.

Penguin; ISBN 978-0-14311-987-6; $15.
Theodora: Actress, Empress Whore: Reading Guide

Return to Book Club Choices