Theodora: actress, empress, whore by Stella Duffy – 2010

TheodoraTheodora is a meticulously researched novel about the early life of Theodora, who was born around 500 and died in 548. It starts with the story of a child raised in the excitement and turmoil surrounding Constantinople’s ‘circus’ performers – Theodora, along with her two sisters, trains as a dancer from an early age and rises to be a star performing erotic acts, and a popular prostitute. A move to Alexandria leaves Theodora longing for home, and when things don’t turn out for her there she finds solace in a non-Chalcedonian desert retreat. When she returns to Constantinople she does so under instructions to get to know Justinian – the adopted nephew of the Chalcedonian-aligned Emperor. Theodora and Justinian surprise everyone as well as each other by falling in love – and the stage is set for the actress and whore to become the Byzantine Empress. Duffy manages to juggle the swirling politics and religious schisms of the day along with her vast array of characters, and still present a convincing portrayal of their individual lives and loves. Theodora is a sumptuous portrayal of the Byzantine world and of one of the most interesting women of history.

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