This week on Guest Blog Wednesdays at The Australian Bookshelf we are joined by Australian writer, Elisabeth Storrs. Welcome Elisabeth!
In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbour, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs.
Leaving behind a righteous society, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a mystical, hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as a chance to persuade the Gods to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.
Elisabeth’s Storrs first novel, The Wedding Shroud, was released last September by Pier 9 /Murdoch Books in Australia and New Zealand. Elisabeth is currently writing the sequel which will be released in 2012. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney.
I have two obsessions – writing and ancient history. Luckily I was able to combine both while researching and writing The Wedding Shroud over a period of ten years.
One of the main themes of my book is the exploration of the lives of women in the ancient world through the characters of a Roman girl, Greek slave, Cretan courtesan and Etruscan matron.
So what was the status and role of these women in classical times? In both Greece and Rome they were chattels possessed by men. Athenian women were cloistered within women’s quarters and were restricted to household duties. In Rome they were second class citizens without the right to vote or hold property. What’s more, Roman women rarely ate with their men and could be killed with impunity by their husbands or fathers for adultery or drinking wine.
In both cultures a woman’s primary purpose was to bear children in order to ensure the continuation of her husband’s bloodline. Their identities were defined by their relationship as either daughter or wife. Roman women were only known by one name, that of their father’s surname in feminine form. In death their remains were placed in a man’s tomb and they were not commemorated.
Furthermore, while wives weren’t given the opportunity for education and social freedom – in Athens, courtesans were. These hetairae were allowed to dine with men and drink wine at banquets while discussing politics, philosophy, literature and enjoying entertainments. Of course they also provided sexual favours to the patrons who owned them.
Discovering this made me realise that gender inequality is still prevalent today and varies only by degree. Many rights that women of the western world take for granted such as education, suffrage and property ownership have only been acquired in relatively recent times. Certainly the concept of women being either ‘damn whores or god’s police’ is still held by many cultures.
Imagine my surprise then to discover a photograph of a C6th century sarcophagus depicting a life size husband and wife embracing on a couch in a tender embrace. What type of society would portray both a man and a woman in such a sensuous pose? The answer led me to the Etruscans.
These people were a race that lived in Italy from archaic times and were situated in the area we now know of as Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio but whose influence spread across most of Italy as well as throughout the Mediterranean. They were as enlightened as the classical Athenians except for one major difference – they afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to their women and as a result were considered wicked, decedent and corrupt by both the Romans and the Greeks.
Etruscan women were believed to hold positions as high priestesses and even conduct businesses. They could share their husband’s dining couch and drink wine. They had two names denoting both paternal and maternal bloodlines. Some accounts also state that wives had sexual freedom and may even have been able to claim their illegitimate children in their own right.
My protagonist arrives in Veii as a treaty bride determined to remain true to Roman ‘virtues’ but instead grapples with conflicting moralities as she is slowly seduced by the freedoms offered to her by her husband. I hope you enjoy reading about her journey and those of the other women in my novel. Perhaps you’ll discover also that customs, laws and religious beliefs may have been very different in past societies but emotions and motivations don’t vary between modern and ancient man. Power, love and duty remain eternal.
Thank you for your post Elisabeth.
I have just received a review copy of Elisabeth’s novel, The Wedding Shroud, it has a beautiful cover and I look forward to reading it. I hope to get the review up in the next few weeks.
If you would like to feature on Guest Blog Wednesdays at The Australian Bookshelf- whether you are an author, reader, writer, blogger- drop me a line at jayne.fordham(AT)live(DOT)com.au and tell me a bit about yourself. Regards, Jayne.