1. From brothel to empress

    Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy is the captivating story of a woman who, through sheer will and personality, climbs out of the brothels of Constantinople (Istanbul) to become Empress of Rome. It is a novel based on the real-life woman Theodora. 

    Theodora was born the daughter of a bear-keeper in Byzantine Constantinople. When he is killed, she and her sisters are trained as theater performers and courtesans.
    Theodora was not a great beauty, but she was intelligent as well as a talented dancer, acrobat, and comedienne. Her training as performer was vigorous and intense. As a courtesan she would be expected to enthrall wealthy, powerful men, so she was tutored in languages, conversation, and history.
    By the time she was 12, Theodora was performing on stage and working in a brothel. At 18, when she ran away with her lover, she was already a famous comedienne and courtesan.
    The facts of Theodora’s life read like a novel: from brothel to empress. Theodora also underwent a sudden and startling conversion to Christianity. She was later sainted in the Orthodox Church.
    Drawing on various historical sources, Duffy paints a picture of an intelligent, willful, pragmatic, and spiritual woman driven to escape life as second-class citizen. In Byzantine Rome, courtesans and actress were not permitted to marry and live as respectable women, no matter how virtuous or accomplished they became.
    Even former slaves could marry, but actresses and courtesans were forbidden from advancing and gaining social acceptability through marriage. Theodora’s hateful nemesis, Justinian’s aunt, the Empress of Rome, had once been a slave.
    In winning the love of Justinian, Theodora finally accomplished her goal. When he became Emperor, he changed the law and married her.
    Duffy uses the facts of this remarkable woman’s life to weave a fascinating tale of ambition in the Byzantine era. Her portrait of Theodora is fascinating. As a young woman alone, she travels from Constantinople, to Libya, to Egypt, and finally to Rome. Theodora also traverses the worlds of the Hippodrome, the brothel, and the pinnacle of power in the ancient world.
    Don’t miss this inspiring and spellbinding tale.
    Stella Duffy talks about her book here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXgW1aFxaNE.