Far away bird
Imagine a life that is designed and created for you because if your social class station. Protest and rebellion enter the world in 512 in Constantinople and the world as one young girl knows it would forever change. As 14-year-old Theodora and her sister Comito seek out their father, Pata or Acacius, a bear-keeper, the fate of this man comes to light the following day. Their father was killed along with many others in this protest and unrest and from this point on decisions are made, some with forth thought while others in haste and expedience. Maximina, her mother tries to keep a stronghold on her daughters, fate dealt them a financial blow and she’s forced to act even though she would rather not. Sometimes a person who seems to have your best interest at heart is deceptive, unscrupulous and deceitful. Magister Origen approaches Maximina with an offer of financial security if she agrees to marry Samuel a candidate for the bear/keeper position in order to keep the profession in her family. This simple action changes it all but when the Magister suggests that Theodora and Comito be sent to the dancing school to learn how to entertain men as actresses and courtesans, she puts a firm hand down and says no.
Theodora has a strong mind of her own and wants to be sent to the school and overrides her mother’s protests and authority a choice she might come to regret. She wants to be on the stage and flaunt her beauty and be important. She does not realize as she and her sister arrive that they must work hard, do chores and hopefully be granted the right to attend the school.
Falling and mesmerized by the magnificence if the Hippodrome and theater life in general she seemed to be under them a spell and blinded by ambition. Lessons begin and at first, she seems to do well and then something changes as Madame Glyceria explains that since the Magister is her benefactor he’s entitled to certain privileges and nightly visits. Selling out her virtues and losing faith in she’s there she even falters at dance practice allowing her sister to excel over her. But Theodora is resourceful and makes her own fate as she finds a sharp knife in the kitchen and would use it for to take matters into her own hands.
Samuel lost his position and Theodora had a plan that her mother agreed to and the scene in a Hippodrome taught those called the Greens what happens when the Blues band together and the expression on Magister’s face priceless. Theodora meets a Roman officer and being brazen and smart enlists her to work as a spy to get information from influential men in power using her feminine wiles and any means feasible to get what they needed.
At the end of part one things change as Theodora and her sister are now part of the dance group. But the competition between the sisters is creating tension and Theodora has her own perception about the audience and Comito wants her out of the scenes even though she made the audience laugh.
Theodora has another dude and her skills with men are wide and varied as prostitution helps bring her funds. The author describes her way of taking care of clients and ten Macedonia offers her an opportunity to make money as a spy and get secrets from a top official of the Greens and all she has to do is adhere to his needs and allow her to train her as a spy. Theodora is self-absorbed and thinks she’s smart enough and good enough that she does not need her help and the conversation ends on a negative note and so does a friendship.
In retrospect she realizes what the world thought of her and how she really wanted to be viewed. As Macedonia’s words hit hard and strong as not being suited for the task she presents, and Theodora no longer wanted to be a woman of no worth .
Theodora learns the ways of subduction and dance from a Macedonia and after much training she meets the man she has get the information needed for the Blues. Hypatius is high up in position yet as we hear his conversation with a Theodora, we realize that she was beginning to gain his trust.
Justinian was who she wanted and eventually she became his wife after according to history gave birth to at least one child out of wedlock. But her reputation preceded her and for her to marry him special legislation had to be created and passed legalizing unions between actresses and men if senatorial rank and higher. Even before that she worked her magic on both Hypatius and the man vying for governor Hacebolus. Her on stage performances were fantastic and she gained fame. She remained with Hacebolus fir four years. Then she went back to Constantinople. The Blues and the Greens were in opposition of each other as political parties. They united in their opposition and set up a rival emperor, Belisarius, Justinian’s general wanted him to flee but Theodora told him to remain and save his empire. But Belisarius managed to get the rioters to the Hippodrome and cut them to pieces.
The author’s depiction of many of the events are so well crafted that you feel as if you are experiencing the event in the past along with Theodora. She was tough and is remembered as one of the first rulers that fought and recognized the rights of women. In the present there is so much written about human sex trafficking, yet she passed strict laws to disallow and prohibit the traffic in young girls. She even changes the divorce laws in order to give women more benefits and control. She at one point was converted to become a miaphysite and she succeeded trying to create laws against this. She fought hard and ended their persecution in 533 but unfortunately, she failed in changing Justinian’s religious policy which focused on emphasizing orthodoxy and friendship with Rome.
She might have been 20 years younger than Justinian, but she was a force. She was crowned as empress in the same ceremony or coronation as her husband on April 1, 527 CE.
Both were bright, intelligent and filled with ambition and energy. Finally, we learn that she was vital in helping to create her husband’s reforms and she did work for charity, foundations for orphanages and hospitals. Most noted is her creation of homes for firmer prostitutes that wanted a more positive and respectful life.
It’s a story about destiny, despair, social status, defilement, treachery, hope, uplifting your life, sibling rivalry and a mother whose decisions changed the course of her daughter’s lives. As we come to the final scenes and chapters of the life of Theodora. What might have been different if her father had lived? Telling it from her point of view we hear her voice and understand and feel her emotions. Her one ally Macedonia explains that she needs to work on a kind of partnership, and it should be equal without rank, class or status. She explains the importance of equal power and its positive ways of helping her rule and in life. The author brings in her daughter at the end hoping that Justinian will partner with her. Some endings are new beginnings as the author leaves us wondering what is next for her as an arrangement was made and we are reminded she is not a member of aristocracy and not in the right social class but what happens next has yet to be revealed in the next chapter of her life. Far away bird leaves readers wondering just how much of this history in the past is still happening in the present.
Fran Lewis just reviews