Emperor’s Babe


Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo is a novel that is written in verse that tells the story of Zuleika and her life in Londinium. One of the things that interested me as I read this novel, was the characters Aemilia and Valeria and the relationship they had with Zuleika.

Aemilia and Valeria are first presented in the novel as wild slaves that Felix had ordered for Zuleika before he left for Rome. One of the things that seems unusual in this is that it is a person who immigrated from African owning slave from up north, modern day Scotland. Evaristo had stated that the Romans did not care about enslaving Africans more than any other group. The section “Zuleika and Her Girls” her depiction of the arrival of these slaves is very savage, “When they approached, they clawed the air with filthy talons, mucus ran in clotted rivers form pinched little noses, their eyes were splattered with mosquitoes courtesy of Tranio, to shut them up.” Despite this describing these two as wild creatures, Zuleika calls them her pets. It is important take into consideration at this point is that Zuleika is not allowed to leave her own house. According to her husband she was to remain there.  Aemilia and Valeria were Zuleika’s only company, they are the ones that spend time with her on a day-to-day basis. In a since they all were captives to the house, Zuleika was not allowed to leave for the longest time and Aemilia and Valeria were strictly a commodity that had to do what Zuleika said.

Only occasionally do you see Zuleika think of freeing Aemilia and Valeria throughout the novel. Once she begins to think about it, she tends to digress onto another thought and remove the thoughts of freeing her slaves from her mind. Looking at the conditions of her slaves forces her to look at her own condition of being married to Felix. The comparison of the two is shockingly similar, all of them were acquired through economic gain, and they have no say in any of the things that go on around them in their lives. Because it is so painful for Zuleika to think about her own situation, she tends to ignore these issues with her own slaves, being easier to turn a blind eye rather than look at the similarities.

Ultimately Aemilia and Valeria are the ones who expose Zuleika’s affair to Felix. They did this because Zuleika continued to ignore there needs by denying there wish to find a husband. When they ask Zuleika permission to go and find a husband, she denies them, and scolds them. When she was a child her father had told her “When you’re a slave you dream /of either owning slaves or freeing them.



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