The Life of Pantasilea

Original title: Vita di Pantasilea

Author: Romano, Luca

Publication Date:




Original language and publisher

Italian | Neri Pozza


Historical Fiction

The Life of Pantasilea

Original title: Vita di Pantasilea

Author: Romano, Luca

  • 2 Seas represents: Dutch rights.
  • English sample available


“Luca Romano has a talent for retelling history – on a macro level, and also on a day-to-day micro level – skilfully weaving details into the novel’s plot.” – Corriere della Sera

A wonderful portrait of Rome in a compelling and gruesome novel that recounts the hard life of a strong woman through an accurate historical reconstruction

Rome, 1527. Pantasilea is a unique courtesan, elegant without being rich, cultured without being noble, a young girl with a real zest for life. She is in love with the famous Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini and is pregnant with his child. Cellini, who works as a goldsmith, will not allow his feelings for a woman to block his path to success. So Pantasilea must seek other ways to make a future for herself, encountering the cold opportunism of the rich and powerful, who will use her and cast her aside. History plays its part in this woman’s personal story when a seemingly unshakeable Rome is threatened and stunned by one of the bloodiest events in Italian history: the sacking by soldiers from the army of Emperor Charles V. Spaniards, Germans and Lansquenets occupy, destroy, rob, rape, and show no mercy, killing innocent and guilty, young and old alike. But the violence unleashed by the imperial army’s looting will level the score, bringing together the humble and the powerful, offering a chance of redemption for some, taking away wealth and power from others, unmasking hypocrisies and extolling true loyalty.

Luca Romano magnificently highlights the many faces of Rome, from the unbridled luxury of the clergy and nobility to the hard, hand-to-mouth lives of everyday people, and extols the great beauty of the eternal city, where the monuments of antiquity sit proudly alongside the greatest expressions of Renaissance art. A city buzzing with life that never misses a chance to party and that oscillates between the sacred and the profane, between official religion and pagan rites, where a woman’s life was not at all simple. Courtesans, even the most beautiful and cultured, would top up their earnings by selling their body and were quick to find a husband before they were left old and alone and at risk of ending up in disgrace, literally marginalised by society.

Vita di Pantasilea is a compelling choral novel, full of unexpected events and twists and turns that give the story the flavour of real life. This is a work of skilful historical research that carefully reconstructs the dialogues, the environments and customs of the time. Almost forgetting they have a work of fiction in front of them, the readers are taken by the hand and led through a world described as the past, but still all too current, both in terms of conflicts and social disparities: today, just as in Pantasilea’s time, women must struggle to establish themselves and be masters of their own destiny.

Luca Romano was born in Innsbruck. He graduated in International Relations and Contemporary History at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and was a correspondent in China, Germany, Russia and Great Britain from 1981 to 2001. He published Il risveglio del drago, an essay on the power of China under Deng Xiaoping (Sperling & Kupfer, 1995) and the novels Il segretario di Montaigne (2018) and L’Angelo egoista (2008), both published by Neri Pozza.