The Secret History

Written by Stephanie Thornton
Review by Lucy Bertoldi

A whore who rose to become empress, Theodora was the woman who co-ruled Byzantium in the 6th century, but her life wasn’t easy.

Wretched horror marks Theodora’s youth, beginning when her father dies suddenly. She must then help her mother and sisters fend for themselves for day-to-day survival. Living at a time where ruthlessness and barbarism were the norm, Theodora quickly learns the trade that will keep her from starving: acting. Not gifted in terms of either talent or physique, Theodora devises a scheme to render herself unforgettable. Playing the role of Leda in an outrageously vulgar performance (even for those times), Theodora inevitably makes a name for herself and quickly becomes a sought-after courtesan.

Wanting nothing more than to become a ‘Kiria’ (Greek for ‘noble lady’) and to support the daughter she loves (she becomes a mother at 14), Theodora does what it takes, morals aside, to ensure stability and wealth. To get there, Theodora lives a life of pure hell.

The Secret History is descriptive to the max. Stephanie Thornton manages to make the most revolting scenes true to the times without repelling readers. She plunges you right into the moment and makes you feel like you want to be there! Fortunately, after enduring drudgery, suffering, and betrayals, Theodora turns her life around by rediscovering her faith.

Theodora’s life is so incredible that you’d think it was amazing fiction. The truth is that Theodora did end up marrying the most powerful man of her era (Emperor Justinian), who loved and accepted her for everything she was. Together they rebuilt an empire that flourished, and Theodora went on to become an important advocate for women’s rights.

If there is one book you choose to read on ancient times, let it be The Secret History. Theodora is a true Byzantine icon, and her story is a timeless inspiration that needs to be heard.