Dear readers, tonight with me is a woman who came to us as a Judaean slave girl, only to catch the eye of our divine emperor. she is here to tell us of her remarkable journey, and about the highest echelons of Roman society.
What were your first impressions of Rome, after being sold to slavery in Judea?
I survived the suicide massacre of Masada when I was about four years old; one of seven survivors. The rest of my family died, and then I was enslaved and brought west. I don’t remember much of Judaea, but even so, Rome has never felt like home to me. It’s hot, teeming, raucous, and quite frequently cruel.
Is Emperor Domitian as bad in person as the senate makes him out to be?
It depends which side of him you see, and he has as many sides as a set of dice. To his soldiers he is blunt, honest, brave–they worship him. To the Senate he is arrogant, overbearing, dismissive–they despise him. To his family is he capricious, fearful, fickle–they quiver before him. To me . . . well. I fascinate him because he doesn’t frighten me. He likes to test that, and it’s kept me alive so far.
Of all your lovers, who did you like the best?
Not a difficult question. I’ve only ever had one.
I’ve had many men. Only one lover. I’ve been a slave most of my life; I didn’t choose the men who bedded me, so I wouldn’t call them lovers. Slave girls service their masters–we all expect that; it’s another duty for us like laundering togas or scrubbing out mosaic tiles. Mostly they aren’t cruel. I spent some bad months in a brothel after being sold by the worst of my mistresses; I don’t like to think about those times, but I got out and that’s all there is to say. When I became a singer and performer in Brundisium I had several admirers and was quite fond of a few of them–Tribune Paulinus Norbanus of the Praetorian Guard was always kind and friendly, but it still wasn’t love there. And it wasn’t love when Emperor Domitian bought me, either. Very far from it. The only lover I’ve had–a man I chose for myself, for no reason but love–was a gladiator I met when I was fifteen. Another slave; a fighter from Britannia who they called The Barbarian in the arena, but he was never barbaric with me. He was very silent, and very gentle, and in some ways very broken. Then again, so was I.
What was the worst point in your affairs, and what was the best?
Any time I watched my gladiator fight was the worst moment imaginable. I never knew if this was the day they’d finally drag him out through the Gate of Death on a hook, and chop his body into food for the lions. There’s no feeling like that in the world. As for the best point in my affairs . . . well, slaves have to find their joy in the little moments. When you finish a song and the audience has tears in their eyes. When your child smiles up at you, melting your heart even when he’s been a fiend all day. When a man looks at you with bewilderment, as if he can’t understand why you make him so happy–those are the best moments.
Any plans for the future? Would you like to settle down somewhere?
I would like to be a free woman. I would like to sing for pleasure and not for money. I would like my Emperor dead, and my gladiator alive. And I would like to live in a cool green place instead of a hot paved one. But who knows if I’ll ever get any of those things?
Kate Quinn is a native of southern California, with a Master’s degree in Classical Voice from Boston University. Kate has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox. You can find Thea on the pages of Mistress of Rome.
Next week with us will be a commander from an army unit, in a most Uncivil War. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right), via Twitter or like our Facebook page to be notified when the next interview is posted.