I’m on a bit of a history spurt, it would seem. Today’s post brings to you a poem about Emperess Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian, of what we call today the Byzantine Empire. They considered themselves to be simply the Roman empire, since earlier the vast empire had been divided into east and west to make governing easier. Though the western half had crumbled, the eastern half–Justinian and Theodora’s half–remained strong.
That’s probably more than you care about, but here’s a poem about a woman who was, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating people of the past.
Listen now to hear recounted
Of the greatest queen ever crowned.
Not Elizabeth or Cleopatra,
But the Emperess Theodora.
Ignobly born of actress mother
Wed to lowly bear-training father,
Dora started life in the streets,
Earning wages on stage or on sheets.
But fortune showed her tenderness:
She gained favor with Governor Hecebolus.
They lived in Africa four short years
Till he abandoned her–but spare your tears.
Had she not born this tragedy,
She might never have converted to Christianity
And, in old Alexandria town,
Lain her life of immorality down.
Determined to live no more a sinner,
She returned to the capital a humble spinner,
And soon drew the eye of Justinian
With her beauty, wit, and quick grin.
So her life changed evermore
In 525, when she wed the emperor!
This actress-queen stepped right aboard
And acted more as king than he as lord.
Then riots broke out at the Hippodrome–
A political sport, unlike in old Rome–
The Greens and Blues fought each other
And turned their swords toward the emperor!
Forced to flee their home by night,
Justin and ‘Dora lived bound by fright.
Justinian wanted to flee;
Theodora said, not she!
“Be the mob however violent,
I’ll remain adorned in violet–”
(The color only royalty was allowed)–
“Purple makes the noblest shroud.”
Her speech gave heart to those with her,
The patricians and the emperor.
They drew their swords and decided to stay.
Because of her, they won the day.
Oh, after, she did many things,
Accomplished more than most kings,
Built twenty-five churches, the greatest of these,
The Hagia Sophia, still stands east of Greece.
She always championed downtrodden women:
Gave them rights to protect their children,
Built a convent for refugees of ignoble career
And lessened the punishments most severe.
Women could now own property
And couldn’t be killed for adultery.
When a canker stole her life one day,
Theodora’s influence did not fade away.
Justinian changed his religious policy
And tried to bring conflicted Christians to harmony.
Thus the girl born into deep taint
Grew up to earn the title “saint.”
She really was the greatest queen
This world, perhaps, has ever seen.
Let me know what you think! Comments and likes help keep me motivated 🙂