I'm a bit of a sucker for literary antiquity. As well as Graves, I've tried Mary Renault's Alexander thing, which I couldn't quite get into and Valerio Massimo Manfredi's Alexander trilogy, which I could. I've just finished Stella Duffy's Theodora - subtitled Actress Empress Whore. This is sort of a spoiler but the sub title gives away the general idea. It's not really set in the antiquity I speak of so fondly as a literary genre (if such it be) - the story is set Christian Byzantium and we are talking 6th century - the same era as Graves's Count Belisarius - a man who also figures as a very minor figure in Theodora. Theodora is an actress and actresses pretty much inevitably becomes prostitutes - our heroine no exception. She is thus a seriously not respectable person, albeit admired by all for her acting talents and lusted after by many. Theodora becomes the mistress of an Imperial functionary in North Africa but can never marry him because of her history and lack of status. She eventually has a religious conversion experience - initially she sets out on this road cynically and for reasons of self-preservation but becomes genuinely - well - converted. Her spiritual teachers are of an unorthodox strand of Christianity considered by many to be heretical. She is sent back to the capital to make herself influential with the powers taht be in general and Justinian (who is not yet Emperor but is in line) in particular. Theodora's sass, intelligence and practical abilities win Justinian round and he passes a law making her a respectable woman.
Okay, let's round things off with Graves's In Dedication...
All saints revile her, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apollo's golden mean -
In scorn of which I sailed to find her
In distant regions likeliest to hold her
Whom I desired above all things to know,
Sister of the mirage and echo.
It was a virtue not to stay,To go my headstrong and heroic way
Seeking her out at the volcano's head,
Among pack ice, or where the track had faded
Beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers:
Whose broad high brow was white as any leper's,
Whose eyes were blue, with rowan-berry lips,
With hair curled honey-coloured to white hips
.Green sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But I am gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
I forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt may fall.
Just how bloody wonderful is that?