Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Empress Theodora - The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

Byzantine Empress

Theodora’s father was a bear trainer and her mother was a dancer and actress. Together, they had three daughters. Although the family was far from being wealthy, neither were they poor. That is, until Theordora’s father died and they soon found themselves destitute and homeless. Desperate, their mother dressed up her daughters and paraded them into the hippodrome n wearing garlands into the hippodrome and petitioned for them to be accepted into the elite Blue faction, a powerful political group of the time.
Still a child, Theodora aspired to be like her older sister, a prostitute, and her mother, an actress. Theodora found work as a prostitute in a grimy, brothel that serviced men of lower rank and wealth. She also performed as an actress, portraying indecent acts on stage and sex for payment off stage. Guided by a new friend named Antonina, Theodora’s exceptional wiliness and ability to perform unusual sexy acts, soon earned her fame and wealth.

She soon came under the attention of a Syrian man named Hecebolus who took her with him to Libya. He treated her badly, and abandoned her with nothing but the clothes on her back. Ever resilient, she slowly goes from country to country until she finds herself back home in Constantinople where she gave up her former life as a prostitute to become a wool spinner in a house near the palace. Very beautiful, smart, and cunning, she soon came to the attention of Justinian, the heir of the emperor. Ultimately, they married and she ruled by his side. Her life story is immortalized in Stephanie Thornton's novel, The Secret History. 

Where Theodora went, trouble followed….

In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

The story of Theodora is one of history’s most fascinating rags-to-riches story and it comes alive by Stephanie Thornton’s pen! The author does an exceptional job at portraying the Byzantine empire with all its political machinations, opulence, and underworld horrors. It is never easy writing about a ruthless woman from the dregs of society who rises to the highest levels, for to do so she will need to have her faults as well as her assets correctly portrayed. The author did a marvelous job at writing the good and the bad about Theodora’s personality and actions without creating a bias. Theodora comes across as credible and real, completely absorbing and insightful. A truly wonderful biographical novel!


Sue Bursztynski said...

She sounds a bit like Lola Montez! Except, of course, Lola never became an Empress. :)

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Rags to riches indeed...interesting story for sure given the sexist attitudes of ancient times about virginity, etc.

Mirella said...

I agree Peppermint. As women, we still struggle today, so I can't imagine how much harder it was back then to get ahead.