Victorien Sardou’s pièce Théodora, staged for the first time in Paris in 1884, was written during a period of increasing interest in Byzantium on the part of French culture and drew renewed attention to the figure of Justinian’s empress consort. If Sardou’s debt to pioneering Byzantine studies is certain - not only and not so much to Gustave-Léon Schlumberger as to an unrecognised and avant-garde cultivator of Byzantine history like Augustin Marrast, whose character is highlighted and whose role in the history of Byzantine studies is here rediscovered – the real success of the pièce owes much to Sarah Bernhardt, icon of the fin de siècle Femme Fatale. Her interpretation of Theodora brings new relevance to the figure and makes Byzantium known to Western public opinion, eliciting admiration (in the young Freud) or disdain (in the young Charles Diehl). The moralising bourgeois conformity of Diehl, venerated founding father of French Byzantine studies, would correct and censure the image of Theodora created by Bernhardt and Sardou. The sex-phobic, moralistic terms used by Diehl in the querelle with the playwright are at the origin of the stereotypical image of Byzantium that would emerge in the twentieth century: a vacuous, decadent kingdom riddled with female or effeminate intrigue.
Ronchey, S. (2002). Teodora e i visionari. In "Humana sapit". Etudes d'antiquité tardive offertes à Lellia Cracco Ruggini (pp. 445-453). TURNHOUT : Brepols Publishers.