Title: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore
Author: Stella Duffy
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Group
Source: Review copy from publisher
“ 'Justinian took a wife: and the manner she was born and bred, and wedded to this man, tore up the Roman Empire by the very roots.' Procopius
Charming, charismatic, heroic - Theodora of Constantinople rose from nothing to become the most powerful woman in the history of Byzantine Rome. In Stella Duffy's breathtaking new novel, she comes to life again - a fascinating, controversial and seductive woman. Some called her a saint. Others were not so kind...
When her father is killed, the young Theodora is forced into near slavery to survive. But just as she learns to control her body as a dancer, and for the men who can afford her, so she is determined to shape a very different fate for herself.
From the vibrant streets and erotic stage shows of sixth-century Constantinople to the holy desert retreats of Alexandria, Theodora is an extraordinary imaginative achievement from one of our finest writers.”
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is the fictional biography of Theodora of Constantinople by Stella Duffy. Theodora was a lowborn woman with a disreputable past who later became Empress of Rome and a Saint in the Orthodox Church.
Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer and a common woman. After the death of her father, at a very young age Theodora is forced to earn her living as an actress next to her two sisters. During those times actresses were also prostitutes who entertained an audience in from and back of the auditorium’s curtain at the Hippodrome. Theodora was not an accomplished singer or dancer but she had an special gift in comedy. It didn’t take long for Theodora to become the most famous and sought actress at the time. Theodora thought she was content with her life until the day she meets the new appointed governor of Pentapolis (Northern Africa), Hecebolus and falls in love with him. Following a short relationship Theodora decides to leave the theater and Constantinople behind and moves with Hecebolus to Pentapolis. After just couple of months in Africa Theodora realizes Hecebolus was not the man she thought he was and leaves him. Looking for a way back to Constantinople takes Theodora to Alexandria where she meets The Patriarch Timothy. He offers her help and safe passage to Constantinople in exchange for the atonement of her sins. After accenting Timothy’s offer Theodora spends one year in a desert camp in Africa where she finds her faith. After her conversion she becomes Timothy’s emissary and returns to Constantinople where thanks to Timothy’s schemes she meets Justinian, the nephew and heir of the emperor Justin. After assisting Justinian with the organization of some events they become friends. Justinian recognize Theodora’s good qualities and sees in her a good partner. After some difficulties they marry and following the dead of Justin, Justinian becomes the new Emperor of Rome and Theodora, his Empress.
I live in Istanbul, old Constantinople, I knew about Theodora but not much about her past; for that reason I decided to read Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore and I’m glad I did. Not only her history is an interesting and an admirable one, but some of the settings in the story are places I know and have visited, this made the story a more enthralling one for me. Mrs. Duffy does a great job depicting the city and the culture at the time, I’m sure you will enjoy this book too if you like to read about different places and cultures.
Theodora was a very interesting character, now only was she real but her life was not an easy one. She was a woman than since day one wanted more and a better life. She was strong and smart and used her wits to get to the place she got in life. Seeing her transformation from a child-prostitute to the moment she is crowned Empress was a very compelling journey.
My final thought: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is a well-written and very interesting read. It’s obvious Mrs. Duffy did a very good job researching the historical facts of the time and intermingled them perfectly with the story. My only complaint when I finished this book was that I needed more. I wanted to learn about Theodora and her life as the Empress of Rome.
After visiting the author’s page on the Penguin Group’s website I discovered than not only Mrs. Duffy is working on the sequel (yay!) but also that Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore and the sequel have recently been optioned for a HBO television series.Other reviews Goodreads
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