Review: Theodora: actress, empress, whore

Why I picked it: Simple... I knew nothing about Theodora and wanted to learn about her.

Synopsis: For citizens of Byzantine Constantinople, the name Theodora evoked strong reactions--awe, lust, and doubt to name a few. Sadly, Theodora is all but lost to history. Like Elizabeth I and Cleopatra, Theodora was expert at wielding power from the throne. Unlike those famous rulers, Theodora was not born into royalty. Her rise to become Empress of the Roman Empire began in the bear pit of the Hippodrome.

Born to the famed stadium's bear-keeper, Theodora's early life was drastically altered when her father was killed by his beloved bear. In order to keep their family afloat, Theodora and her two sisters were indentured to Menander, coach of one of the city's foremost dancing troupes. A natural performer, Theodora learns dance, acrobatics, and comedy, and by the age of fifteen, became the star of the Hippodrome. Like almost every actress of the time, Theodora was also a child prostitute.

At the age of eighteen and at the height of her popularity in Constantinople, Theodora decides to abandon her career in favor of following her lover Hecebolus to The Pentapolis (modern day Libya) where he is the new Governor. She leaves behind her beloved sister Comito, her theater community, and her daughter Ana, whom she barely knows. When things turn sour with Hecebolus Theodora escapes to a religious community whose views conflict with the contemporary Roman state.

Theodora renounces her former life, undergoes a religious conversion, and is eventually sent back to Constantinople as a spy. She is soon sent to meet Justinian, nephew to the Emperor Justin. Theodora works closely with Justinian and eventually he asks for her hand, changing the law forbidding former actresses from marrying, opening doors for all women. After their marriage, Theodora and Justinian stand side by side as he is crowned Emperor and she, his Empress.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take:  Reading books about the women who made up our world inspire me.  So many women took control of their destiny, a lesson we can all use to our benefit.

Theodora may be smart and sassy but she's not the prettiest of gals.  She loves to entertain and her talents are acknowledged one night but selfish acts force her life to take a different turn.  She does move upward and at times is forced to take a few steps backwards after making poor decisions (her emotions get the best of her at times). 

Her life journey is intense at times but after running from a situation she has a spiritual experience that transforms her life, resulting in setting realistic goals and direction for her life. 

This novel is wildly entertaining, descriptive and enlightening.  Did you know HBO is making a series based on Theodora?  I can't wait to watch it!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

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