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Deviant Women

Cultural, Linguistic and Literary Approaches to Narratives of Femininity

Edited By Tiina Mäntymäki, Marinella Rodi-Risberg and Anna Foka

This multidisciplinary collection of articles illuminates the ways in which the concept of female deviance is represented, appropriated, re-inscribed and refigured in a wide range of texts across time, cultures and genres. Such a choice of variety shows that representations of deviance accommodate meaning-making spaces and possibilities for resistance in different socio-cultural and literary contexts. The construct of the deviant woman is analysed from literary, sociolinguistic and historical-cultural perspectives, revealing insights about cultures and societies. Furthermore, the studies recognise and explain the significance of the concept of deviance in relation to gender that bespeaks a contemporary cultural concern about narratives of femininity.
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Beyond Deviant: Theodora as the Other in Byzantine Imperial Historiography


← 28 | 29 → Anna Foka


This chapter focuses upon the depiction of Theodora in Procopius’ Secret History as a sexually deviant young performer and her actions of cruelty and violence in her political and social career as an Empress. Immense sexuality and cruelty in her contemporary context was constructed as different modalities of the same deviant example. I will show how the paradigm of Theodora, in Secret History, can be read as both making visible coercive social, political and religious power structures as well as disenfranchising femininity in early Byzantium.

In the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, a church that is most famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics (Bustacchini, 1988: 26), there are two powerful images dating from the sixth century CE: the depiction of Emperor Justinian I and his wife Theodora. The two figures are placed in separate mosaics, in a form sometimes referred to as ‘rhythmical composition’; they are arranged in a symmetrical manner where Emperor and Empress stand respectively amongst military and religious officials, and women of the court, thus embodying political and religious power. These mosaics have often been cited as conveying the spirit of Byzantium (Treadgold, 1997: 708–23 and 1998). Contemporary historians have left us a contradictory set of impressions about the imperial couple. The rulers were described as on the one hand, deeply religious and known throughout history for their acute political, religious and military ambitions (Cameron, 2006: 721; Maas, 2005). On the other hand,...

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