Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Post: Melanie McDonald, author of Eromenos

Please join me today in welcoming Melanie McDonald to the blog.  Melanie is the author of Eromenos, which was released in March of this year.

Mothers, Courtesans, Empresses, Slaves: Women in Imperial Rome

Michelle, thank you so much for hosting me on The True Book Addict. Today I thought it might be fun to look at a few female characters in Eromenos—some based on actual historical figures, some invented in service of telling the story of Antinous and Hadrian.

Although the ancient Greek and Roman cultures both offered women only limited, codified roles in society, within their intimate circles—even at the level of the imperial court—individual women often held more power than might be acknowledged in public.

An example of such a woman was Empress Plotina, the wife of Hadrian’s predecessor, Trajan, and an adoptive mother and mentor to Hadrian himself. Convinced of Hadrian’s intelligence and capabilities as a leader, Plotina deftly helped maneuver Hadrian into the position of frontrunner for succession as emperor after her husband, and helped cement his position by encouraging Hadrian’s marriage to Trajan’s great-niece, Sabina, a relationship which was a political arrangement rather than a love match, in the tradition of the aristocratic class.

Although Sabina eventually gained the title of Empress herself upon Plotina’s death, Hadrian never seemed to enjoy the company of his wife, according to ancient sources; he much preferred the company of Plotina, and even of his mother-in-law, Matidia, to that of Sabina. Hadrian also mourned the deaths of these two wise older women more than some thought seemly for a man. At some point a few of his rivals and enemies also tried to spread rumors that Hadrian and Plotina had had an affair, but their behaviour with each other convinced contemporary witnesses that the relationship was that of affectionate, proud foster mother and appreciative, attentive son.

More troubling were rumours that, in the haste to see Hadrian crowned emperor, Plotina may even have helped along her husband’s demise, or helped engineer the murder of a couple of contentious senators who opposed her foster son’s succession. These rumours, too, eventually faded, due to lack of convincing evidence.

In this novel, I also took the liberty of inventing a conversation between Plotina and Antinous, in which she takes it upon herself to assess this youth for whom Hadrian clearly has strong feelings, and finding him guileless and loyal, signals her approval.

Here’s a description of this strong, intelligent woman who was Hadrian’s great ally:

“Like Lucretia reborn, Plotina always appeared to embody purity, as befits an aristocratic Roman matron. Despite knowing, from a comment Hadrian once made, that her elaborate hairstyle alone required an hour of dressing by her attendants each morning, I do not believe she was a vain woman at all. Her coiffure, like the heavy gold jewels and tasteful, expensive clothing she wore, merely announced her status, confirmed her position in society—wife to one emperor, foster to another. That elaborate styling became as much a component of a designated uniform as the crested helmet worn by a centurion.” (p. 80)

Some of the female characters I invented for the story were Antinous’ own mother and grandmother (since little is known of his actual childhood), and the various female servants with whom he interacts, both at home in childhood, and at the imperial court.

In one scene, I chose to have Antinous chide Hadrian in an oblique manner after he sees the emperor strike a servant in a fit of pique when she spills wine on him. Some readers may wonder if this particular incident is true. Actually, I made it up, to show how the emperor sometimes failed to rein in his temper, and also how Antinous might have reacted to such a loss of control. (In reality, Hadrian did once blind a scribe in one eye, when he lashed out at the man while holding a stylus. Hadrian was appalled by what he had done and offered profuse, abject apologies afterward. However, this accident occurred years after Antinous died, so I didn’t feel comfortable using it in the novel.)

Another imagined woman of the court is Amyrra, the courtesan who befriends Antinous. While this character is invented, she conforms to the qualities and behavior evinced by courtesans who consorted with emperors, senators, and the aristocracy: beautiful, intelligent, educated and witty, and with a weather eye always turned to the best offer, since she must make her living by cunning as well as romance.

These are a few of the women that readers will find in the company of Antinous and Hadrian in Eromenos, and I hope they will enjoy meeting them.

Michelle, thank you again for inviting me to stop by The True Book Addict during the virtual tour, and congratulations on your nomination for Best Historical Fiction Book Blog!

I thank you for visiting us, Melanie, and for sharing such an interesting and informative post. Also, thank you for your congratulations. I was very honored to have received a BBAW nomination this year. =O)

Visit Melanie: Website | Facebook

Visit the tour schedule HERE
Twitter event Hashtag: @EromenosVirtualBookTour

Stay tuned for my review of Eromenos, coming this Thursday!

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