Questions and Topics for Discussion
A.D. 69. Nero is dead. The Roman Empire is up for the taking. With bloodshed spilling out of the palace and on to the streets, chaos has become a way of life for Rome. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything—especially the lives of one family with a very personal stake in the outcome.
Cornelia embodies the essence of the proper Roman wife. She patiently waits to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor of Rome, but instead witnesses his brutal demise at the hands of the Praetorian guard. Her sister Marcella is content merely to watch the politics and turmoil, until she discovers she has more of a penchant for shaping history then for writing about it. And while their cousins Lollia and Diana are both beautiful girls, they each come to find that beauty and wealth cannot quell the desires of the heart. But when a bloody coup turns their world upside-down, each of these women must maneuver carefully just to stay alive…
ABOUT KATE QUINN
Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she first got hooked on ancient Rome while watching I, Claudius at the age of eight. Her first novel, Mistress of Rome, has been translated into multiple languages. Kate lives in California with her husband.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSIn the opening prophecy Nessus has a vision of the future: “Clear as day he saw widowhood for three of the four girls; a fair amount of misery for one and fame for another; a total of eleven husbands and eight children between them—and of course, that one little hand spilling over with blood” (p. 4). Discuss the foreshadowing in this event. Which Cornelia did you think the bloodied hand belonged to? Which girl do you think saw misery and which one saw fame?As the story develops, the relationship between Cornelia and her sister Marcella begins to change. How would you describe their relationship at the beginning of the book? Do you think that they have any unresolved issues? At which point does their relationship begin to change?What are your first impressions of Lollia? At the beginning of the novel she gets into a heated argument with Cornelia because she buys a body slave from the market. But when there is a massive flood in the city, she is giving out money and food to the refugees and thinking: “I might like my parties and pleasures when times are good, but at least I know how to roll up my sleeves when necessary” (p. 133). What do you think this says about her character? Do you think Lollia changes at all throughout the novel? If so, how?The relationship between Lollia and her grandfather is a complicated one. He often uses his granddaughter to acquire a better position in society through her various marriages—depending on who is favorable at the time. How do you think Lollia feels about this? Do you think that this is one of the reasons she bought Thrax, her body slave?After he is released from prison, Marcella has a conversation with Marcus Norbanus, in which he tells Marcella the following: “I’ve always liked you, Marcella—you’re an intelligent woman, after all, and I like intelligent women. But I find I don’t like you anymore, and I don’t precisely know why. Perhaps it’s just my feeling that you’re a schemer” (p. 328). Why do you think he perceives her in this way? Do you think that his perceptions of Marcella are correct?Do you think that it’s possible that Marcella really did influence the decisions of three different Emperors the way that Diana claims? Do you think that Marcella’s actions shaped the events in ancient Rome in any way? What do you think was a coincidence and what was planned by Marcella?Discuss the changes in Cornelia throughout the novel. She begins the year of Four Emperors expecting to be named the wife to the future Emperor of Rome, but ends up widowed and without the security she had become accustomed to. How do you think her husband’s death changed her? Do you think she still would have ended up with Drusus if she had not been widowed?Throughout the book the youngest cousin, Diana, seems to be obsessed with nothing but horses, yet at the end of the novel it becomes apparent that she has been paying much closer attention to her cousins’ activities than anyone thought. What are your observations about Diana? What do you think she picked up on that the other girls overlooked? And why do you think she keeps her perceptions to herself until the end? Uncle Paris creates busts of each of the four Cornelias depicted as goddesses: Cornelia as Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home; Lollia as Ceres, the goddess of the earth and the harvest; Diana as Diana the Huntress, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt; and Marcella as Eris, the goddess of discord and chaos. Why do you think each woman is represented this way? When do you think he began creating the statues and what do you think it means?There were many strong men portrayed throughout this boo. From Lollia’s gentle slave, Thrax, to Cornelia’s caring guard Drusus, to Diana’s strong-willed and moody Llyn, and to Marcella’s opinionated and domineering Domitian. Describe their differences and similarities. How do the men in the novel shape each of the women? Do you think that Cornelia, Marcella, Lollia, and Diana would have faced different outcomes if they were not involved with these men?At the end of the novel, Marcella walks through the streets of Rome as the Empress, just as she desired. What do you think her life is like? Do you feel sorry for her or do you think that she got what she deserved? Has there ever been something that you desired in life that—once you acquired it—was not as great as you thought it would be?