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Theodora has often been portrayed as the latter, only concerned with men, with herself in. In reading about her though, it seems to me that her work creating Metanoia, writing On Pimps and Prostitutes , she is more likely to have been the former: a woman who loved men, loved Justinian, but who enjoyed and valued the company of other women.

There is, of course, the political angle— that the Roman Empire was crumbling, the Church was seemingly impossible to unite—when we know we cannot control the present we sometimes feel we might be able to control the future. Further, I suspect Theodora knew she was dying, and I believe that many of us, in those circumstances, try to tie up our affairs, to create a future, even when—especially when—we cannot be in it. I imagine Theodora would have felt that very strongly. There is also a powerlessness, a feeling that we all experience, in terms of the future. We will all die. We will all die leaving behind everything we have created in life.

For many people, having children allows them to feel that they are at least leaving something behind. For others it is their work that they hope will go on. Theodora was very much a self—made woman and I imagine she was therefore even more impelled to create a future as well as a present. Have you done much research on what happened to Justinian and Constantinople after Theodora passed away? Much of the research for both novels was, naturally, about Justinian and his legacy. And many historians tell us that Justinian ruined Rome with his desire to maintain the empire in both the West and the East and also with the building program he and Theodora instigated.

The historians may be right about the last days of Rome, but Europe was very much already on a different path, as was Persia, so the chances of holding it all together from the middle seem very slim. I see this then as a very special time in history where everything might have come together—had early Christianity and nascent Islam found a way to reach out to each other, or had the West and the East not pulled further apart, or had Justinian and Theodora given more support to those who wanted independence from Rome, in a foreshadowing of the recent Arab Spring, it might all have been very different.

The fact that Justinian did not remarry, not even to have children and secure his familial succession, has always indicated to me that his marriage, far from their marriage being merely one of political convenience as some commentators have suggested, it was a true love match as well. Can you discuss the quote and why you felt it was so significant? She would have known, and spoken, both Latin and Greek, and my research tells me that both languages can be employed for different aspects of high rhetoric.

I fully suspect someone as wise as Theodora would therefore have used both languages in order to drive home her point, as I have her do in the scene. Theodora the actress knew the power of words, Theodora the empress had a larger stage on which to use them. As a writer, you move easily across genres and are often working on multiple projects at once. As a reader, are you the same way? What genres or authors are you currently enjoying? I have never read one genre in preference to another, just as I like to take on a wide variety of work, I also love a wide variety of reading.

Share: Share on Facebook. Theodora has often been portrayed as the latter, only concerned with men, with herself in relation to the sexuality and the power of men. What novels or other projects are you working on now? Do these women have anything in common? What risks or challenges do female rulers face that male rulers do not?

The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora

Explain this statement. How is it demonstrated in the novel? Theodora is often caught in the psychological space between her two lives: her coarser Hippodrome self and her role as empress. Find examples in the book where this battle is most clear.

Book review: ‘The Purple Shroud’ by Stella Duffy

Does one side ultimately win? Can you think of any popular novels or films that use this plot? Scholars have suggested that Theodora can be seen as an early feminist because of her attitudes toward women, children, and prostitutes. Do you agree? How do you define feminism? Which of the characters did you enjoy the most? Which did you find the least appealing?

A Novel of Empress Theodora

Was she justified? What did you know about Byzantine and Roman culture and history before reading this novel? If so, in what way?

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Theodora is a complex and compelling character. If you were casting the novel as a film or TV series, which actress would you choose to play her? Who would you cast as Justinian?


Considering what her life would have been like otherwise, do you have sympathy for her frustration? Would you feel the same way? How did this influence your understanding of the novel?

What would you do while there? Related Books and Guides. Red Letter Days. Sarah-Jane Stratford.

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